How I Built my Network and Explored Careers through Triangle Biotech Tuesdays (and How You Can, Too)
Networking is a powerful tool that, when leveraged strategically, can set you on the path to a fulfilling career. For graduate students in the sciences who are interested in transitioning into industry after graduation, networking with industry professionals while still in graduate school is all the more important to learn about careers beyond academia (and as I learned from my personal research, there are many out there).
The blog previously highlighted a departmental career series where featured alumni and professionals could give current trainees tailored advice on how their graduate training program can prepare them for a career in industry. More broadly, the Career Center’s resources for doctoral and master’s students and The Graduate School’s Duke OPTIONS tool allow students to identify key performance indicators for core competencies needed for their desired career and avail themselves of opportunities right at Duke to hone those skills.
While I liked being able to explore career options from the comfort of campus with these tools, I knew nothing could replace the value of in-person networking to stay updated on potential jobs and business developments in the Research Triangle. Additionally, networking would have personal benefits beyond making professional connections. I knew that many companies were moving into the area, but I faced the obstacles of not knowing who they were and what jobs would be available to someone with an advanced degree. It was at this point that I came across a post by Triangle Biotech Tuesday (TBT) on LinkedIn promoting a networking event, which proved to be a pivotal moment in my professional development.
Established in 2012, TBT is a not-for-profit networking event for life science professionals that meets on the second Tuesday of every month from 5:30-7:30 pm at a rotating list of local venues. Pre-registration is $12 through TBT’s website and is open from the last week of the month up to 24 hours before the event, while same-day registration is $15. Dr. Bailey DeBarmore, president of TBT, leads an executive board who volunteers their time organizing each TBT event to ensure adequate representation of companies within the Triangle and that attendees can expand their professional networks across a range of life science industries. The board’s hard work has paid off—what started as a series of flash talks on topics of interest in industry in a conference room for 50 has grown into a meeting of almost 200 people from around the Triangle each month.
The increase in attendance could be traced to people’s eagerness to get involved in the community with the ease of COVID-19 restrictions, speculated DeBarmore, who holds a Ph.D. in epidemiology from UNC and who oversaw the safe reopening of in-person TBT events in 2022. “People moved [to the Triangle] during the pandemic and thought, ‘Sure, we’ve been here two years, but they don’t count.’”
The increase in quantity has also increased the quality of the networking process itself. “Having more professionals brings value to the students who come,” DeBarmore said, referring to the smaller but notable presence of graduate students and postdocs at TBT events. “Everyone is involved in science somehow.” Given that about 70 percent of TBT attendees are industry professionals, I’ve been able to talk to research scientists, life science consultants, product managers, operations directors, and medical writers representing different companies in the Triangle at these events. Of course, it’s always nice to run into someone from the remaining 30 percent who are in academia, especially if they’re a fellow trainee whom I encouraged to come to a TBT event. While not all attendees, industry or academic, have a similar Ph.D. background, I found it refreshing to be able to talk to people from all walks of life about, well, life—it’s often those casual interactions that led to the most fruitful professional connections after the event.
An added benefit of rotating venues for these networking events is highlighting local businesses and the facilities of Research Triangle Park (RTP). Previous TBT events I’ve attended were held at nearby Hi-Wire Brewing, Clouds Brewing, and Alexandria Amenities Park with ample parking as well as free food and drinks for registered attendees thanks to the 16 Triangle-based companies that sponsor TBT. I’ve been able to meet individual representatives and connect with others at staffed booths that provide a range of perspectives for career trajectories in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies of varying size, organizational structure, and goods and services provided.
For those interested in more specialized networking opportunities, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center has compiled a list of exchange groups in the RTP region, whose members can often be found promoting their smaller groups at TBT events. Based on growing interest, the TBT board plans to expand their programming beyond their monthly networking events over the next year in their mission to serve as a valuable liaison between academia and industry in the Triangle.
- Be consistent. Make small, concerted efforts to expand your professional network by attending events like TBT’s monthly networking event. A strategy I use is to center a networking event I plan to attend around a certain “theme.” I’ll focus on learning more about a particular industry, company, or job and maximize my time connecting with people who can provide relevant information at the event. By directing my interests and portioning out my time and effort, I’ve been able to sample many career paths in a high-throughput manner over the span of a few months. Outside of networking events, I do my personal research familiarizing myself with the culture and language of industry by reading relevant books and articles.
- Be curious. Networking events are a great lead-in to informational interviews with the people you meet. I like to think that if networking events are about quantity, informational interviews are about quality. I adopt a positive mindset around networking by leaning into my curiosity—one of our greatest assets as developing scientists—whenever I meet a potential connection. I find that it not only helps me learn more about an opportunity in industry, but also lessens the internal feelings of brown-nosing and inauthenticity that sometimes comes with the process. This mindset caries over when I schedule an informational interview with a connection, where I have even more of their time and attention to continue our conversation and foster our professional relationship. Finally, even if I’ve determined that I’m not interested in the exact industry or job my connection is in, I can still learn valuable information by asking about the company they work for to see if there are other careers there that are better aligned with my interests.
- Be cognizant. Take your new LinkedIn connection one step further and follow their company’s LinkedIn page. Engaging with more platform elements curates your LinkedIn content to recommend similar jobs at similar companies of interest. As you explore potential careers, notice which aspects of a job interest you and which don’t based on the job description, and use the algorithm to further shape your delivered content. Building a network takes time as you iterate through rounds of self-assessment and career exploration, but by trusting the process, you’ll have a high-quality network that you can confidently tap into when you’re ready to leave the ivory tower.
Ph.D. candidate, Neurobiology
Kayla Fernando is a Ph.D. candidate in Neurobiology. Her work in the Hull lab uses a combination of in vivo and in vitro techniques to study synaptic plasticity mechanisms underlying cerebellar motor learning. Outside of lab, she’s involved with Duke F1RSTS, Duke BioCoRE, and Duke Pamilya. Her hobbies include cooking and Filipino martial arts.