John Robinson, PhD

There is a general agreement within the organization that the hardest role in a project is that of a Project Manager (PM). They not only bring out the best in our consultants but also deliver successfully on fronts that engage our clients to return for more engagements. This year, John Robinson accomplished that and more!

In his time in BALSA, he has led four projects as a PM including engagements with Mallinckrodt and Beiersdorf. We are extremely grateful for his hardwork and proud to acknowledge him as our Project Manager of the Year 2018. 


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Please briefly describe your background and your current work.
I got my start in BALSA while working on a PhD in biochemistry here at Washington University in the laboratory of Dr. Steve Beverley. After defending my thesis, I now work as a post-doc in the laboratory of Dr. Jeff Henderson in the Division of Infectious Diseases. There, I juggle multiple projects and collaborations leveraging the versatility of mass spectrometry to answer various diverse questions. My main projects use mass spectrometry-based metabolomics to explore the biology of disease and hopefully develop fast, sensitive, and non-invasive diagnostics.
 
What motivated you to join BALSA? 
Originally, I intended graduate school as a springboard to a tenure-track faculty position. Over time, however, I realized that the job description for a research professor was not appealing to me, which led me to seek out alternative career paths. Around the time I started exploring other options, my father-in-law, who is the head of an accounting firm, asked my wife and me to evaluate a biotechnology start-up that hoped to partner with his firm for financial management. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of learning about the new technology and helping my father-in-law understand its strengths and weaknesses. He suggested I consider consulting as a career, so I decided to join BALSA and give it a try.

What have you learned so far by working on BALSA projects? 
I think that the most important thing I learned from BALSA is how to encourage a positive environment when working in a team. When I first started working for BALSA, I was struck by how thoughtful and encouraging the project managers and advisors were, and by how they maintained that tone while also maintaining high standards of quality. Since moving up to the manager role myself, I have done my best to replicate that experience for each team I lead.

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled? 
As I mentioned above, I originally joined BALSA to explore consulting as a career option. I also sought to develop professional skills that I could use in any career. Working on diverse projects prepared me well for my post-doc position, where I manage four or more projects and collaborations at a time with little to no overlap. Taking on management roles has also been particularly valuable, both in my current position and as I look toward my future career. I find that the skills needed to help first-time consultants are also useful when training new members of the Henderson lab.


What do you envision your career to be in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help you with your goal?
I envision myself integrated somewhere in the pipeline between basic research and the business world, helping translate new discoveries into tangible benefits for society. I am currently exploring various options within that space, including technology transfer and scientific consulting. Beyond direct exposure to the commercialization process, BALSA also provided me with opportunities to experience the business world and its modes of thinking about problems. Most importantly, I hope to bring a piece of the supportive BALSA culture with me wherever I go.

Rishabh Chandak

We are very proud to recognize Rishabh Chandak as our Outstanding Consultant of Fall 2018.

Originally from India,  he came to Washington University as an undergrad and continued as a graduate student in biomedical engineering program. His current research focuses on using insect models to elicit common principles in olfaction-based memory and learning - for example, how do the neurons in our brain decide that we love the smell of coffee and hate the smell of spoiled milk? ; by combining behavioral and electrophysiological techniques with machine learning, he hopes to understand how our brains can decode and encode complex sensory cues with such ease


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What motivated you to join BALSA? 
Prior to joining BALSA, I was always intrigued by what the world of consulting was all about. My eventual goal is to join industry, and I hoped that BALSA would give me some real-world exposure and perspective. 

What have you learned so far by working on BALSA projects? 
Through BALSA, I have gained a strong grasp of the various aspects of consulting - most importantly, the expectation that you must become an expert on something you had probably never heard of (and the believe that you can do it!). Through the different projects, I most value the ability to work as part of a team and learning from others how to present my work in a way that is very different from academia. BALSA projects have helped me learn a lot about the innovations taking place in life sciences and about the people and companies bringing them about.

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled? 
I would like to join industry after my PhD, and consulting is definitely one of the options I am considering. BALSA allowed me to gauge whether or not consulting would be a good fit for me. Through all my projects, I have had a great time being a consultant and I've realized that this is definitely something I would love to do full-time.

What do you envision your career to be in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help you with your goal?
I am currently about midway through my PhD and aim to go into industry directly after. Over the next few years, I hope to continue working with BALSA at different levels to complement the skills I learn through my graduate work. Having such long-term industry exposure will hopefully make me a lot more confident and comfortable when I venture out of the academic bubble of graduate school.

Kim Thomas, PhD

We are very proud to recognize Kim Thomas as our outstanding consultant of this summer '18 quarter. Kim started her research career during her undergraduate years in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Her research focused on old-school methods of sequencing the HCV genome. She completed her PhD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her dissertation work focused on cellular and molecular immunology. She further continued her research in immunology as a post-doctoral fellow and is currently working as a staff scientist in WashU. 


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What motivated you to join BALSA? 
I had come to a cross roads during my training and career development and was trying to figure out what skill sets I had to offer outside of academia. Dr. Jessica Hutchins had mentioned BALSA to me as an opportunity to develop some transferable skills, such as team work, project organization and management.

What have you learned so far by working on BALSA projects? 
I would categorize what I have learned in two ways: personal development and career opportunities. Working with project managers and advisors has led to some very good feedback and helped me in identifying areas where I can individually work to be a better team player. Additionally, the projects I have participated in have been very eye-opening to an field of Technology Management that I had limited information on previously. There are so many aspects of taking an invention from a theory to a profitable product and working on certain projects really highlighted how many different career types/styles it takes to help this process along.

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled? 
My goal was, as I mentioned, to obtain transferable skills which would help with a career transition out of academia. At this point, I am happy to still be in academia, but have definitely obtained skills regarding project organization and team work, which are very useful in my new position.

What do you envision your career to be in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help you with your goal?
In 3-5 years, I see myself as a faculty member at an academic research center with my own independent lab and maintaining collaborations with my current mentor. I think the continual education I receive through BALSA projects will be very helpful in my future, as running a lab is essentially managing multiple projects simultaneously, as well as being able to understand and provide for your team. Moreover, the number of networking opportunities with BALSA participation is astounding, and I feel this will be very useful along my career path.

Anna Damato

Please join us in congratulating Anna Damato on being named BALSA’s outstanding consultant for the spring quarter of 2018! Here's an interview with Anna.


What motivated you to join BALSA? 
BALSA first caught my eye when I was applying to graduate schools and was a factor in my decision to attend Wash U. The opportunities that it offers to network and learn skills other than science, as well as the prospect of having a career path outside of academia, were what motivated me to apply. Having started my first rotation during the summer, I was able to jump right into the application process and start working on a project during my first semester.

What have you learned so far by working on BALSA projects? 
Having completed just two projects, I feel that I have already learned quite a bit. In brief, my presentation skills have been improved and I can now synthesize tons of information into a concise report and subsequently communicate that information to my team. Learning to rely on and working well with teammates have also been invaluable. Additionally, my projects have demanded a level of creativity that I have really enjoyed. 

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled? 
I had a handful of BALSA goals. I hoped to meet people with diverse career trajectories that I could learn from, I wanted to build my professional/business skillset while working on my PhD, and I wanted to explore consulting and working in biotech as career options for myself. These goals are all currently being fulfilled.

What do you envision your career to be in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help you with your goal?
In 5 years, I hope to be setting my thesis defense date. Beyond that, it is unclear at this point. However, my dream job after my PhD would be an international post-doc followed by a career in consulting, teaching or something else. I would like to think that my experience in BALSA along with a PhD from Wash U and abroad work experience would put me in a good position to apply for whatever path I find most interesting at that point in my life.

Rafael Saer, PhD

Congratulations to Dr. Rafael Saer for being named BALSA Project Manager of the Year for 2017! 

Rafael obtained his bachelor's degree in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Miami (Miami FL), and later obtained his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver BC, Canada. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University-St. Louis.
Rafael’s research interests have involved investigating the mechanism by which photosynthetic organisms, such as plants, algae, and bacteria, capture energy from sunlight and move it to a useful location where the organism can tap into that energy. In addition to his research, Rafael has completed eight total projects during his tenure with The BALSA Group. His experience and leadership make him a very valuable member of our team! 

We asked Rafael to tell us more about why he joined BALSA and what he has valued most from his experiences.

What motivated you to join BALSA?
I was feeling perpetually stressed by the traditional career path of academic scientists. I don't want to fool anyone here, there's a special place in my heart for basic research. However, academic scientist positions are limited by the availability of government funding, which hasn't really gone up or down in the past decade. The problem with this is that it doesn't support growth in the scientific community. I can go on for pages ranting about how this has transformed (negatively, in my opinion) the job profile of a young professor, but I'll cut to the chase here and say that, after considering the job profile and the impact that it would have on my personal life, an academic scientist's career just seems like a bad deal. I was hoping that BALSA would open the door to opportunities that offered a more reasonable balance between my work and personal life. 
 
What have you learned by working on BALSA projects?
I've certainly learned a lot about how technologies transform from a bench experiment to a marketable technology, and particularly the important role that technology management offices play in this arena. What I really feel I've improved on, however, is my ability to make compromises and judgement calls in project management when given a limited time frame. It's like being on a six-week Iron Chef episode, except the special ingredient is the client and the kitchen is your team; you have to make the best dish with the time you have!
 
What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled?
The honest answer here is that I was inclined to get something out of BALSA, but I couldn't pinpoint it at the time I applied. I didn't have some specific end goal; I was hoping that working in BALSA would help me specify what kind of goals I needed to be setting in order to progress in the direction that I wanted to go. BALSA certainly helped in this respect, and I have the added benefit of meeting a great network of individuals. 
 
What do you envision your career in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help with your goal?
I would love to be developing scientific technologies in the agricultural sector here in St. Louis, either as a hands-on staff scientist or as part of a business development team. My BALSA experience has certainly helped me improve my so-called soft skills to undertake either of these career paths. 


Jeremy Huynh

Please join us in congratulating Jeremy Huynh on being named BALSA’s outstanding consultant for the final quarter of 2017!

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Jeremy grew up in a small North Carolina town and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he spent several years as a technician studying RNA viruses with a brief stint as a traveling farmhand. 


Jeremy is currently a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis program at Washington University-St. Louis. His thesis work focuses on the immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Jeremy joined The BALSA Group earlier this year and has already had a tremendous impact on the two projects he has helped complete.

Here's an interview with Jeremy. 


What motivated you to join BALSA?
I was interested in applying the skills I have developed in the course of my PhD studies to problems outside of the realm of basic scientific research. I also wanted to become familiar with the biotechnology industry and learn to present myself and my work in a more professional way.

What have you learned by working on BALSA projects?
I have particularly enjoyed the chance to learn about the problems BALSA clients face, how clients approach these problems, and how they evaluate the solutions and options that BALSA presents them. I have also learned quite a bit about interplay between science and business in the pharmaceutical industry. More practically speaking, I have improved my communications skills and learned new ways to approach difficult questions.

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled?
I joined BALSA in order to develop professional skills, evaluate consulting as a potential career path, and learn about the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. I am still learning, but the supportive and instructive environment that BALSA provides has enabled me to make a great deal of progress towards these goals in a short amount of time.

What do you envision your career in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help with your goal?
In 3-5 years I hope to have completed the transition from academia to industry. Ideally I will be part of a research team working to develop and launch novel therapeutics targeting the immune system. My BALSA experience has already given me exposure to the scientific and business challenges faced by companies developing novel therapeutics. I am confident that this experience and the practical business skills I am developing at BALSA will distinguish me in future job searches and help me to break into the biotechnology industry.

Bhavna Murali

Our Outstanding Consultant for the second quarter of 2017 is Bhavna Murali! 


Bhavna is currently a 6th year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Molecular Cell Biology in Dr. Sheila Stewart’s laboratory at Washington University in Saint Louis. Her thesis work is focused on understanding how age-related changes in the tumor micro-environment impact tumor progression. She joined BALSA in January 2017 and has completed three projects. We asked Bhavna to tell us more about why she joined BALSA and what she values most about her BALSA experience. Join us in congratulating Bhavna on her excellent work with The BALSA Group!

In her own words:
What motivated you to join BALSA?
I became interested in BALSA when I learned that it provides a unique opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with tackling real-world problems and interacting with clients. As I began exploring alternative career opportunities for PhD scientists, BALSA appeared to be the perfect platform to gain insight into the business perspective of science.

What have you learned by working on BALSA projects?
Overall, I have learned a great deal from participating in BALSA projects – both on a professional and personal level. It has helped me develop valuable skills such as market analysis, technology assessment and marketing. Moreover, working on projects outside the biomedical field has been refreshing and provided an opportunity to apply my graduate training beyond science. Besides business skills, BALSA projects have also helped me strengthen my communication skills by learning how to present data in a client-focused manner and offering feedback to other team members. I look forward to expanding my knowledge of the business aspect of science and continuing to develop these skills.

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled?
I joined BALSA to understand if a career in consulting is right for me. Beyond that, I wanted to learn professional skills that would help me transition away from bench science and expand my network. Every BALSA project so far has helped me learn new business skills. Additionally, by working on a team of consultants with diverse academic backgrounds and experiences, I learned to approach problems from different perspectives.
 
What do you envision your career in 3-5 years and how do you think our BALSA experience will help with your goal?
After graduating, I wish to pursue a career in consulting with a healthcare firm. The experience of working on a team, interacting with clients and building connections beyond academia will be invaluable in achieving this career goal.

Tabbetha Bohac

Congratulations to Tabbetha Bohac on being named our Outstanding Consultant for the first quarter of 2017!


Tabbetha is currently a second-year PhD student in the Chemistry Program at Washington University-St. Louis focusing on organic chemistry with an emphasis on the study of bacterial virulence and combatting antibiotic drug resistance. Since joining BALSA, Tabbetha has contributed to over 6 projects and is now serving as a Project Manager. We asked Tabbetha to tell us more about why she joined BALSA and what she values most about her BALSA experiences.

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In her own words:

What motivated you to join BALSA?
I initially joined BALSA to investigate alternative career paths to that of academia for PhD-level scientists.

What have you learned by working on BALSA projects?
BALSA has introduced me business concepts such as market research as well as helped me improve more tangible skills such as public speaking and networking. Additionally, I feel I now have a platform to continue to develop these skills even further with each additional project throughout graduate school. Furthermore, I value the peers I have met and friends I made in BALSA while working to towards the common goal of completing a project of excellent work. 

What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled?
Upon joining BALSA, I hoped to gain transferable professional skills and to be challenged and grow as an individual and scientist. Each BALSA project fulfills these goals as each engagement involves a new technology, different aims for the client, and a new set of peers to learn from and grow with.
 
What do you envision your career in 3-5 years and how do you think our BALSA experience will help with your goal?
Upon graduation, I aim to work in consulting or in pharmaceuticals. BALSA has opened my eyes to the possibility of these career paths as well as provided me with business and problem solving skills that will aid me in achieving this goal.