Academia EOF && cat > eGenesis <<

From academia to industry

If you came here it is because the twitter wasn’t enough for you and somehow you are curious about why I moved to industry after so many years in academia. Although I am sure this event has a p-value > 0.05 , then ~is not significant.~ (wink wink)

But if you know me a little bit, you may be surprised about this change in my career. It was a difficult decision for me, indeed. Somehow, I see this as a no turning back point, maybe is not totally true. I have advocated, so many times, that my reason to stay in academia is that there are more chances to help each other, to create open-source resources, to move forward together… that somehow, moving to industry is the opposite of all that.

However, academia couldn’t give me more, and I didn’t feel I was giving more. I decided a while ago to give up on a tenured career and dedicated many years to work inside a core facility at HSPH. I met awesome people, I learned from the best, I got to work with really amazing data…but there is a price for that. Being mainly an analyst made me see some parts that weren’t that nice. I realized many researchers will see you as a machine of producing data/figures/tables. They only care about that figure that will show the reviewer they were right. I saw how I couldn’t get into the project more than for a ‘quick’ analysis of the data, without getting into the biology or the goal of the project.

Not only that, but I realized I hadn’t a future, I would be stuck forever in that position, it was a senior position, but I really want to move forward and up. And after my second try at MIT, in another Bioinformatics core, I didn’t see that coming any time soon.

It was time to think about why I am in the science business. Somehow, when I was young, I felt attracted to this world. I forgot about why, but what I liked was to work with people, together, to understand the molecular biology of a system. There was something else, it needed to be something that I believed in.

And this is when eGenesis Bio - Engineering Life came into my sight. The vision is simple: stop people dying because of a lack of compatible organs. The solution is almost science fiction: genome editing on pigs to clone them and use those organs in humans.

I went to meet them, and I found a wonderful team and a challenging project. It was time to decide, and it was hard. Curiously, the main reasons that were stopping for saying yes, were mainly related to fear. A fear that the system put on me:

  • You need to publish Nature, you need to be known on twitter, to be invited to conferences… otherwise, you won’t move forward in your career, you won’t have a good job.

And yes, I don’t have first-author papers in Nature, I am not ~famous on twitter,~ I am not invited to conferences, and leaving academia means I will never be that, for sure. I felt like a failure. Because I didn’t get any of that, and I will never get it. And somehow, I ended up thinking that was the only way to measure success.

Luckily me, I read this book I had since months ago: Brave, Not Perfect: Reshma Saujani, and helped me to see that feeling, those thoughts, as something external and not something that was part of me. At this point, I really wanted to forget about all the pressure I had on my shoulders and do just my job, my job on something that I consider relevant, and with the people I want to be.

So, of course, I decided to move on. If the only reason why you won’t make a change is because of fear to fail/change/future, then you should definitely do it. (read the book, seriously)

In summary, I got to meet myself again, after so many years doing what the system has told me to do to get a good job, and have a future. I remembered what is my passion, I remembered to believe in myself, and let life to reward my decisions differently (this I will know in a year or so).

Some other things I did meanwhile I was in this crisis:

  • Write my research, teaching and diversity statements and apply for Associate Professors to 5 different positions to 5 different universities. I didn’t pass any filter.
    • Good mental exercise, yes, I know, 5 positions are nothing, you should apply to 30, or that was the main advice I got.
  • I explored to change totally my career, as a project manager or data scientist in a non-biomedical field.
    • I took some courses, and I didn’t feel the click that I expect when you are in the right place.
  • I felt miserable and with the lowest self-esteem in my life.
    • I started climbing indoors and working out with a personal trainer. All those negative feelings went away with time. Now I can do 2 pulls-up is a row for the first time in my life at the age of 37.
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Lorena Pantano
Research Scientist - Bionformatic Core Supervisor

My research interests include distributed robotics, mobile computing and programmable matter.