Adrianna ShyScientist, AltPep Corporation

Can you describe your career path and how it has led to your current work?

I received a BS in Chemistry from Hampton University in 2017. From there I came to Brandeis as a PhD student in Chemistry. I worked in Prof. Bing Xu's lab studying gelation and the production of peptides as anticancer drugs. I found the work really interesting so as my defense date came closer, I started applying for industry positions in those areas. At the same time I was writing my thesis and attending conferences. I attended a Gordon Research Conference on Peptide Materials and made a lot of great connections. One of the people I met at the conference messaged me on LinkedIn about a small biotech company in Seattle called AltPep Corporation which focuses on peptides as diagnostics and drug candidates for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. I didn't find many jobs that focused on peptides, so this oddly fit my background pretty well. I applied to the company as a Research Associate, which I didn't believe I would get since I had a PhD, but I was desperate to find a job so I applied anyway. Ultimately, they created a Scientist position for me and I moved to Washington in June. Things move quickly here and I've learned a lot in the past few months, so I'm excited to see what will happen next. 

What advice do you have for current students as they embark on their job search? 

Network, network, network. I was really struggling to write my thesis and apply for jobs at the same time. I also didn't have the luxury of being without a job for a few months after my funding ended, so networking definitely helped me gain a job in the meantime. I also wouldn't have heard about AltPep if I didn't attend that conference. As I made more connections (LinkedIn, Brandeis, etc.), I found that a lot of people were willing to help me with informational interviews, resume writing, and interview practice. People also gave me referrals and sent me job postings they found. Make sure to build a community both inside and outside of school. There are a lot of great resources to take advantage of and most people understand the struggle of a job search so don't hesitate to put yourself out there and ask questions. If someone says "no" move on and try again. Also, tailor your resume to the job you want. It is tedious, but it helps. I learned a lot of communication skills and biological/chemical techniques during my PhD, so I applied to any jobs which posted about those skills, rather than limiting myself to my research alone. 

What skills from your Brandeis degree have you found most valuable in your current work?

Since my lab was interdisciplinary, I learned techniques from cell/bacterial culture to microscopy and chromatography. Being at AltPep I could be doing purification one day, finding parts to repair an instrument the next, and then I may do something entirely different the day after. I think learning to be flexible and having a little experience in different areas has helped me become more involved with other projects.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently as a graduate student that may have made the transition to your career easier? 

Once I felt my time at Brandeis was coming to a close I should have been more proactive with finishing my dissertation. I was so focused on publishing a paper that I didn't think about how much time I was losing. I also should have started the job search way earlier. I gave myself very little time to find a job and virtually no time to rest after defending which all became very stressful financially and mentally in the end. If I could go back I would definitely sit down with my professor to create a clear timeline on finishing my degree, and I also would have created backup plans for jobs.