Behind the Scenes of the ASHG Career Accelerator, Interview with Danjuma Quarless, PhD, MBA

By: Jordan H. Whitlock, PhD 

Spring is a transition time full of change and fresh starts as everything comes back into bloom. In this spring edition of ASHG’s Nascent Transcript, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of ASHG’s resources available for trainees and members of all stages to help navigate through seasons of change in their scientific careers. The Genetics and Genomics Career Accelerator is a resource provided by the ASHG Career Development Committee (CDC) to help members explore careers in genetics & genomics and provide helpful advice for the job search, interview, and negotiation process across career stages, sectors, and diverse job families. We interviewed Danjuma Quarless, PhD, MBA, and former CDC chair who aided in the Career Accelerator’s initial inception. In our interview, we dive deep below the surface and uncover the heart and usefulness of ASHG’s largest career resource. 

JW: You were part of the team helping to conceptualize the Career Accelerator at its initial inception. What was the goal of the Career Accelerator? 

DQ: The idea behind the Accelerator was born by a suggestion to help people realize that degrees in academia are just the start of the potential that one can step into with a PhD. I remember this overwhelming feeling in the middle of my PhD that graduate school was everything, my entire world, but I realized after the fact that it was a small piece and only the first step of my career that I would spend decades pursuing. The Accelerator aimed to put people in a position to take advantage of the vast resources at their disposal within the ASHG community to ultimately land the dream career that an individual wants. I learned that I am more than a computational biologist while working in Pharma, and I am equipped to do so much more than what I focused on during school. That is the real ethos behind the career accelerator– to enable individuals to reach their full potential. 

JW: What were you most excited about for the ASHG community with the development of the Career Accelerator? 

DQ: It all boils down to confidence, having the confidence to try new things, be excited about different opportunities, and get exposure to the plethora of opportunities out there. However, it is difficult to know where to start. The job market has its challenges, but the Career Accelerator equips individuals and members to step into new roles and transition across career stages. As scientists, we are trained to solve problems, and the path to a PhD can be challenging. The Career Accelerator is a solution, especially for trainees and early career individuals, that provides new tools at their fingertips to open doors within an organization, a company, or a team outside the classical X’s and O’s of science. Some of those tools include resume, reference, and interview tips and advice, as well as a job search database to highlight open positions to potential applicants.  

JW: What, if any, role has the Career Accelerator played in your path?  

DQ: I wish this resource had been around a few years earlier when I was in an early career and trainee stage. I am currently the Assistant Director at Abbvie Ventures. Even when I started engaging with ASHG through conferences, I was working on my graduate degree in computation biology and genomics. I started at Abbvie as a computational biologist in the genomics division of a pharma company. I was fortunate that my exposure to the pharma industry introduced me to all the different levers and avenues in drug discovery and how large the industry is– genomics is an important piece, but one of many and only one aspect of a well-oiled machine. The opportunities within that career space are unlimited. The Career Accelerator, if it had been around for me, would have allowed me to maximize my potential as a scientist and expand my knowledge of the doors available, potentially making the path to my current position more efficient. That is why I believe the Career Accelerator is invaluable for current ASHG members who have the opportunity to interact with it early and often. 

JW: Is there anything that could be added to the Career Accelerator that is not already there? 

DQ: I believe the quality derived from the tool is a function of the tool’s user. Accessing and using the tool earlier in your career path maximizes the benefit of it. The Career Accelerator includes information on soft skills such as networking, reputation management, and mentor-mentee relationships. As the ASHG community engages with the Career Accelerator, the engagement of individuals across sectors in the latter half of their careers who have already achieved success will be an important component. The Career Accelerator provides the foundation for these accomplished individuals to connect and pay it forward to the next generation of young scientists and mentees. 

JW: What advice would you give to a trainee or early career stage member starting to engage with the Career Accelerator and the job search? 

DQ: Our superpower as scientists is that we do things for love, we are motivated by intrinsic deep interests in various topics. That is a spark I tell people never to let go of, and that essence is what gives you value in your career. You do what you love better than you do anything else. As much as we all want success in careers and life, at the end of the day, the trick is to do what you love to achieve exactly that. I always keep that central to the “Why’ for everything I do in my career.  


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