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BCBA is an invaluable experience for those interested in non-academic careers

by Charles White | July 22, 2020

Unlike many students eager to pursue a career in academia, when I began my PhD program at UCSF, I had already made up my mind that I would be pursuing a career in the biopharma industry. I had seen the broad and intellectually stimulating work of my supervisors during my undergraduate internships and was determined to one day do the same. When I arrived at UCSF however, this all changed as I was quickly presented with an extensive landscape of career options – one that stretched far beyond traditional PhD roles in academia or industry. To make sense of these opportunities, I participated in a UCSF career exploration program. I had previously identified consulting as an interesting career, but it was in this program that I first encountered BCBA as a way to experience the career path firsthand. Having a slightly lower workload after finishing my qualifying exam, I decided to apply for a project.

From the beginning of my BCBA experience, I was hooked. The project took the creative and intellectually stimulating work that I had sought out in a PhD, and combined it with fast-paced, collaborative approaches that are often lacking in a research lab. Working with a multi-institutional team, and supported by a network of experienced mentors, we identified and interviewed industry professionals and distilled this information into actionable, data-driven solutions for our client. I not only learned the scientific background information related to the field, but also gained an invaluable appreciation for how all the different units of a biopharma company work together. Ultimately, this project was essential in identifying and developing the structuring, problem-solving, and communication skills essential to strategy consulting.

During my project with BCBA, I noticed that the organization offered more than just consulting projects, they also hosted career exploration seminars and networking events. I wanted to stay involved with BCBA, and so I joined first as the UCSF Events Officer and eventually as the VP of Operations. In these roles I was able to explore the other side of BCBA and interact with seminar speakers from incubators, VC firms, pharmaceutical companies, and more. These interactions were instrumental in gaining a broader understanding of the biopharma ecosystem and developing my professional network. Through regular BCBA networking events, I was able tomeet other students and postdocs with similar career aspirations. When the time came to interview for consulting positions, these other BCBA trainees were vital in providing support during the process and being as prepared as possible for the case interviews.

While the value of BCBA to those pursuing the consulting career path is clear, it also offers a wealth of opportunity for those interested in other non-academic roles. Whether it is a career in writing, business development, or as an industry scientist, BCBA provides opportunities to interact with a broad network of individuals outside of academia – something often difficult to do during a PhD. It also serves as a supportive network of trainees interested in learning about and pursuing non-academic careers. Ultimately BCBA affords their trainees unmatched opportunities to develop teamwork and communications skills while expanding their professional network, effectively preparing them for a career after graduate school.