Author: Aaron Friedman, PhD, Principal Startup Solutions Architect, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Amazon Web Services
ASHG: For those who went straight into industry, did you feel you were at a disadvantage for not having a postdoc?
Aaron Friedman: Originally, yes, especially because I was moving from a non-genomics field into genomics and imposter syndrome is real. However, I quickly realized that once I was in the startup arena, the most important thing was whether you delivered results. Once I understood this, I no longer worried about my background and focused purely on how I could contribute to moving the business forward. This focus continues to pay dividends years later.
ASHG: How did you land your first industry job after academia? Did you rely mostly on your network? If so, how did you acquire industry connections while still in academia?
AF: I focused a lot on building my network by starting with one person and at the end of the informational interview ask if they had others they could introduce me to; my naivete became an asset. I wanted to do industry, but because I was switching disciplines, I didn’t think it was really an option. In the end, I ended up writing a F32 grant for a postdoc, but I got lucky and my PI was helping start a new company and I was ushered in. I’ve never looked back.
ASHG: What qualities do you think most important for young professionals to have when beginning the industry career?
AF: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was “what got you here may not get you there.” That’s not to say that you should abandon what’s brought you success thus far, but you should always be flexible and willing to pivot into new things that pique your interest. Learning to have the right judgment of when to say “yes” to things and then backing it up with delivery is key to going far, quickly.
ASHG: When taking up a role in industry which is primarily virtual or work from home, does it have any limitations on the advancement of career or prospects of promotion at that company.
AF: Personally, being in tech and working with customers in healthcare and life sciences, I have not seen it. Amazon has been great in ensuring equitable recognition of success in this time of vast uncertainty. This does highlight the need to be at a place with a great workplace culture that recognizes that we all have challenges that are often hidden from the video conference of the hour.