Learning from Experience: How Connecting with Professionals Expanded My Options

 January 29, 2020


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While applying for graduate programs, I had a very specific education and career path in mind: get my master’s degree in Bioethics & Science Policy, attend law school, and become a bioethicist lawyer. Despite what I learned from researching Duke’s Science & Society program, I thought that people who were interested in ethics only became lawyers or professors of ethics. My narrow view expanded when students in the Bioethics & Science Policy program had the amazing opportunity to engage with representatives from industries intimately engaged in bioethical issues. This event was possible with support from The Graduate School’s Professional Development Grant. These representatives from IQVIA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, UNC Cancer Center, and Precision BioSciences made me realize how many options I actually had.

In order to prepare for the dinner, our program helped us accomplish two tasks: learning how to network, and obtaining official business cards. The training session for networking and professionalism was held a few weeks before the dinner and included a presentation by Assistant Director for Graduate Career Services Laura Coutts, who taught us how to build up our professional profile on LinkedIn, and helped us seamlessly break the ice in networking situations. Prior to the dinner, the Science & Society staff sent us short biographies of the industry representatives who’d be attending, so we could plan who we wanted to speak with. Additionally, the staff facilitated the creation of business cards for each of us, making sure we received them before the networking event. Both of these actions helped ensure that everyone going to the networking dinner had enough information and the right tools in order to effectively network.


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Our program draws in students from many fields, such as Biology, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Medicine, Medical Humanities, and Economics. Because the program is exceptionally interdisciplinary, we had an equally diverse body of representatives at the dinner, from healthcare insurance lawyers to international researchers, all of whom welcomed us and provided us with useful knowledge on what we could do after graduation. I sat at a table with another classmate and Kathryn Massana, Ph.D., a data scientist from IQVIA. With the help of her bio, I had a few starting points for conversation. Kathryn was open about her research, clinical trial, and consulting experiences, which gave my classmate and I the opportunity to gain valuable insight into some possible career paths pertaining to our bioethics degree. It would have been difficult to have a conversation that was so engaging and helpful without having had the opportunity to prepare and research the representatives we would be talking to. Networking is challenging, but the networking workshop and knowledge of the representative’s resumes made it a lot easier to start and sustain meaningful conversation.

More classmates joined our table and we discussed our previous conversations, everyone listening to each other’s stories and gauging whether the representatives had similar interests to ours. During our dinner, the Deputy Director of Bioethics and Science Policy, Buz Waitzkin, J.D., L.L.M, gave each representative a chance to tell us who they were representing, what their career path was, and what they did at their place of employment. Each person told us their story, starting with their schooling, then their career path to the position they currently hold. While they were speaking, it really hit me how many options my classmates and I had. Sure, we deal with a lot of theoretical and practical bioethical issues in our class, but it was not until I heard all these representatives telling us how bioethics and science relates to their fields that I realized how expansive the field we were studying actually was.


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Once everyone had given their mini-speeches and my classmates and I had determined who else we would want to talk to, dessert was served. We did another table shuffle to sit with the person whose pitch aligned most with our career goals. I talked with Susan L. Watts, who is a Global Regulatory Leader at G1Therapeutics.  We discussed various policies regulating treatment of human research subjects and their biological materials. I stayed until my ride tapped me on the shoulder to let me know it was time to leave. I wish I could’ve had more time to speak with Chris Evans and Kathryn Millican, two representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield, who had eloquently described their passion for their careers.

Overall, my classmates and I had a great time learning about our options after graduation. The networking dinner provided us with the opportunity to meet potential future coworkers and to practice our networking skills, particularly sustaining meaningful conversations and having the confidence to talk to people. Before this experience, I had organized networking events for undergraduate clubs, but never really participated in the actual networking itself. Now I know that confidence and preparation are key to making good connections. Every step of the way, The Graduate School and Science & Society staff have been extraordinary in preparing us for our futures, reflecting positively on the willingness and foresight of Duke to put on events that benefit its students and alumni.


Megan Boyd
Megan Boyd

Master's student, Bioethics & Science Policy

Megan Boyd is a master’s student in Duke’s Bioethics & Science Policy program who is interested in the intersection of genetics, ethics, and law. Prior to coming to Duke University, she worked as a Lab Assistant at a biotechnology company in California, fostering her skills in genetic analysis and document control.