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Making Lasting Connections through Local Biotech Interest Groups

 

February 21, 2024 | By Tiffany Ko
Originally published by Duke The Graduate School


When I applied to Duke, the proximity of campus to the Triangle’s thriving local biotech scene drew me in. I’ve always been excited by translational research and the gradual development of life-changing therapeutics. The accessibility and openness to biotech industry at Duke is refreshing and inspiring, and I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities to learn about the biotech industry. Thanks to information shared by Duke’s Office of Biomedical Graduate Education (OBGE), I’ve become a member of two local biotechnology interest groups, through which I have learned a lot more about the range of local biotech career options.

Last year, I received an email from Duke OBGE about the Triangle NextGen Sequencing Intellectual Exchange Group (NGS IEG). This group meets monthly for lunch at noon, followed by a seminar (also available through Zoom) and networking. As a neurobiologist who has recently taken a deep dive into genomics and bioinformatics, I was interested in learning more about techniques and methods that career bioinformaticists were using. I made the quick 14-minute drive to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which hosts a variety of networking and training events. Because I was relatively new to genomics, I felt apprehensive about entering a room full of industry experts, experienced postdocs, and principal investigators. The first time I attended an NGS IEG lunch seminar, I quietly grabbed a sandwich and sat down between empty chairs. Before I even started eating one of the organizers introduced himself to me and asked if I was a graduate student. Slowly, more people congregated around us, and they were all very excited to have a graduate student in attendance at the seminar. Many reminisced about their own Ph.D. experience, and all of them were curious about my thesis project. The half hour of lunch scheduled right before the seminar went quickly.

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NGS IEG meeting, boardroom with presentation

The seminars hosted by NGS IEG are typically given by research scientists at local biotechnology companies or PIs (principal investigators) from local universities and government organizations. Over the course of the past year, I have heard research talks by professionals from Tempus Labs, Bioskryb Genomics, and PIs from UNC Chapel Hill and the NIEHS. It’s been inspiring for me to hear about the many types of genomics data and how they can be leveraged for drug discovery or even to recommend better treatments for different types of cancers. The seminars are similar to academic research talks, which makes the NGS IEG lunch seminar feel approachable to us as graduate students. Most speakers even encourage the group to ask questions during their presentation to prompt discussion. After the research talk, there is built-in time for networking and socializing. Regular attendees use this time to catch up with their colleagues at other companies and institutions and also introduce themselves to the new faces in the room. These casual research seminar-centered monthly meetings are a great change of pace to engage with fellow scientists across biotech and academia during the workday.

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More recently, I attended another event that brings together computational biologists and bioinformaticists across the Triangle. TriBix hosts a monthly happy hour at a local brewery on a weeknight. This gathering is a relaxed social event where bioinformaticists and computational biologists can get together over beer and pizza to talk about their work and their lives.

I found this event thanks to LinkedIn connections I had made at NGS IEG seminars. At the two TriBix events that I have attended, I recognized a few familiar faces from the NGS IEG seminars and got to jump into conversations with people I had never met before. During these conversations, I heard about the day-to-day routines of people working as bioinformaticists or research scientists at large national companies, small startup biotech firms, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. I had a lot of fun hearing about people’s work lives and their career journey to their current job, all while comparing notes on interests or skills that we share. Talking with folks who have established careers in biotech about their day-to-day and the choices that led them to their current roles was very encouraging to me as I consider what my own career will be like.

Just as I had hoped when I applied to Duke, I’ve found endless opportunities to network with Triangle area biotech groups, which have helped me build lasting connections with people by seeing them on a regular basis and connecting over shared scientific interests. I am especially thankful that there are different kinds of meetings that can accommodate different schedules. Whether you are looking for a seminar to remotely attend during the workday, or a casual happy hour for scientists with similar interests, there seem to be options that could work for anyone. More groups can be found on the NC Biotechnology Center’s list of Exchange Groups, including groups for specific career paths, general networking, and specific scientific topics.