Human Genetics Scholar, Jordan Hughey, Shares Success in Transitioning from Trainee to Industry Career

Posted by: Katy Brown, ASHG Career and Workforce Development Coordinator

ASHG: What was the process for finding your position? What was the interview process like?

(Photo Courtesy of Jordan Hughey)
(Photo Courtesy of Jordan Hughey)

Jordan Hughey: Putting everything being virtual due to the pandemic aside, I wouldn’t say my job search and interview process was different than anyone else’s experience.  The whole process is equally exciting as it is stressful.  You constantly search for positions that fit your level and experience, hope the companies respond back, and prepare for the gauntlet of interviews.  More specifically, I wanted a position that would help me build upon my research interests and experience gained as a PhD candidate in Dr. Dajiang Liu’s group at Penn state.  I focused on roles and companies that had projects tailored to integrating gene expression and epigenetic signals across the genome to understand the genetic associations behind complex traits. I found the interview process was grueling, yet rewarding.  Surprisingly, the hardest part of the process was timing between companies.  For most companies there were three interviews: an initial 30-minute interview, a  30-minute technical interview, and the final job talk/panel interview that ranged from a half day to a full day.  Trying to align these across the companies you apply to so that you have sufficient time to weigh your offers is truly an art.  Nevertheless, I learned from the interview process and enjoyed interacting with other researchers about projects and life in general.

ASHG: What academic or extracurricular activities were you involved in during your training that helped you stand out among your peers?

JH: To stand out, I believe it starts with highlighting your technical ability on your resume.  Aligning your experiences with the job posting will gain the recruiters interest and give you a chance for the initial interview.  Although I landed an industry position, it became clear during the interview process that my publication and grant record still holds some significance.  Beyond those academic experiences, every interviewer I talked to was interested in a summer internship I did at a pharmaceutical company.  This made it clear to them that I had already been exposed to the differences between academic and industry culture.  Being a Human Genetics Scholar didn’t hurt either as it was clear my commitment to human genetics research and diversity aligned with that of GSK, the company I ultimately joined.

ASHG: What skills would you encourage trainees to develop to prepare for a computational geneticist position?

JH: Beyond the emphasis on technical ability that I stated above, I believe developing your soft skills will really help you stand out regardless of industry or academia.  With that said, I do believe there is more focus on this in industry.  This is not a knock on academia, but I’ve seen that collaboration is an essential part of industry culture.  As a data scientist, I’ve seen this collaboration with experimental bench researchers as well as other computational researchers.  Making sure you implement practices where your code is shareable, reproducible and scalable is important for your computational colleagues.  For our experimental colleagues, I was asked on a few interviews if I had some experience with developing web applications, such as R Shiny, to give experimental collaborators and clinicians a simple interactive way to view our analyses and results.  I enjoyed how candid GSK was on the importance of collaboration and it being essential to solve many of the problems posed in human genetics research.

ASHG: Did you know this was the career you wanted to pursue during your training? How did you learn about this career?

JH: Over my tenure as a graduate student, I slowly transitioned from wanting to stay in academia to pursuing a research career in industry.  My only experiences were in academia so there was much uncertainty with pursuing a career at a pharmaceutical company like GSK.  Getting to interact with industry researchers at ASHG really helped me learn about possibilities in industry and was a key in helping me land an industry internship.  The great experience I had during this internship confirmed my hope to pursue an industry career. The Human Genetics Scholars Initiative (HGSI) has been helpful in so many ways.  The most important of these was introducing me to my soon-to-be manager when he was invited to give a presentation on the cutting-edge research he performs in the human genetics department at GSK.  From here, I also learned about GSK’s commitment to increasing diversity not only in the human genetics research workforce, but also in the populations we study.  This shows that not only am I picking up career development in HGSI, but I am granted access to a huge network of scientist and staff that are really helping me with my future career goals.

ASHG: How can a trainee gain experience in your field while doing research? What steps are necessary for a trainee to get involved in your field?

JH: If I have learned anything through this process, it has been that networking is important.  In my experience, I fared better with positions I applied to  where I knew someone in the group.  I would encourage trainees to build their network and learn about their career opportunities.  The HGSI community is a great place to start. Furthermore, I’d say don’t be scared to try something new and step out of your comfort zone. I have an experimental background and didn’t start to code until my PhD program.  To my surprise, my experimental background was looked at favorably from most positions I applied to.  With all the online resources, you can pick up skills that are relevant to your trade or one you want to pick up.  As you step out of your comfort zone you might fail in some of your endeavors and that is fine.  My first interviews didn’t go so well and I even got turned down from the HGSI program the first time I applied.  It’s about picking yourself up and trying again.  HGSI has been amazing and has certainly enriched my career.  If it wasn’t for that meeting the HGSI staff put together I would have never applied or landed at GSK.

See more information about the Human Genetics Scholars Initiative.

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