From Projects to Project Management with Dr. Cecilia Sedano

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Shwetha interviews, Dr Cecilia Sedano, a Project Manager at the Biomarker division of Genentech (Biotech company based in San Francisco, California). Cecilia graduated, with a PhD from Stanford University and after a brief stint as postdoc at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, she returned to Bay Area and joined Genentech in 2015. Here, she talks about her experiences in academia, her phases of career exploration and her role as a project manager at Genentech.

SS: Tell us a little about yourself, Cecilia

CS: I was born and raised in Peru. I was seventeen when I moved to Fremont, CA in U.S.A. I was already hooked on to research, at the community college in Fremont. At that time, I got an opportunity to do couple of internships in a company in Emeryville, called Chiron. They were among the first few to start working on Hepatitis C, HIV vaccines and diagnostics. I spent two summers there at their protein chemistry department, purifying massive amounts of proteins in huge protein columns, and felt that I could this for a living. One of the things I really liked about industry, was that it was diverse with scientists from all over the world. It seemed very welcoming at that time, when I was still new to U.S. Then I went to UCLA for my undergrad and came to Stanford to do a PhD with Dr. Peter Sarnow at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

SS: After your PhD, did you immediately start applying for jobs at the industry or were you inclined towards a career in academia?

CS: Being at Stanford, I got a lot of space and room to explore what I wanted to do while doing my research. I did a lot of science communication and science education programs. I looked at science policy. I ruled out many things early on, like consulting, marketing and business development. I knew, my personality wouldn’t fit there. I definitely didn’t have ideas to start my own company or to be an entrepreneur. That got me thinking about the set of skills that I have, not just as a scientist, but also as a human being. What is it about science that I enjoy?

I loved being at bench and getting the first look at results. But, I knew that I won’t be able to reinvent my research constantly. I thought, I would be a five-year professor, have some mediocre success and that’ll be it, I’ll be out of ideas. But I did enjoy being at bench, and wanted to take it as far as I could. I did a postdoc at Mount Sinai, but it didn’t work out very well. At some point after investing so much in my education and training, I didn’t want to waste my time anymore. So, I wrapped it up fast, came back to Bay Area and started looking for jobs.

SS: With a background in academia, how was your experience of job hunting in the industry?

CS: Applying to an industry job is so different from applying to a postdoc or a fellowship, it was a bit of a learning process for me. I put in really useless applications for a couple of months not knowing how to even apply to a job. Later on, I learned that the process tends to be through connections, networking and talking to recruiters, so that people start viewing you as an employable person. I stalked a lot of people on LinkedIn, some I knew and some I didn’t. Everything I had done aside of the lab was very interesting, but it wouldn’t vouch for my ability to fit in the industrial setup. In industry, one of the main things you have to do, is put yourself out first, show that you can deliver results, stick to timelines, are highly dependable and can think outside the box. Once that clicked, I started to get a few interviews and I reached out to more people. I found a Stanford alumnus working at Genentech, who circulated my resume around. I was called for an interview and they asked me to come and work for them the next week!

SS: What is your role as a Project Manager at Genentech?

CS: My position is called Biomarker Operations Project Manager. I work specifically in the oncology space and currently support four studies. As human specimens are used in biomarker research, the main thing we do is oversee the life cycle of every sample right from the collection phase to data delivery. We review the trial protocol, and are involved in obtaining the informed consent of patients. The samples go through a lot of processing steps in between. In the end, we make sure that the clinic ships samples to the right vendors, in a timely manner. If we have data, that we are hoping to file with the FDA, its much more interesting and stringent in terms of documentation. As we are involved in all these different steps, which are part of multiple studies, at different stages, it’s quite dynamic and that’s the reason I like it.

SS: With so many projects in hand, is it difficult to meet the demands of time?

CS: There is a lot of flexibility at work. My day starts at 7 am and is usually done by 4 pm. I can also take a couple of calls from home and go to office later on. It is nice for people, who have families and children, that are very organized and detail oriented. Unlike early phase, where I used to work, the late phase trials are global and lot of my team members are located in China and Asia pacific. Therefore, I have to adjust my schedule to do a couple of meetings after dinner. In that case, I leave at three and make up for the time later. We have to remain flexible with our work hours, which as a scientist I think is great.

SS: What are the challenges that you face at work?

CS: There are many things that we have to monitor without actually being there. There are a lot of putting out fires. When there’s a chain of report, one has to respond right away, if responsible. Generally, wherever there are human beings involved, there is miscommunication. So, there are lot of people skills and email etiquette involved, which I hadn’t faced in academia.

SS: What are the opportunities available to move up the ladder from the position you are currently in?

CS: In the biomarker group, we have the project manager, and the next level would be project lead. The project manager oversees studies, whereas project lead oversees the programs. Project lead also develops biomarker strategies and is more influential in making big decisions. The next level, at least in the biomarker area, is biomarker therapeutic area lead. There’s also a lot of cross group mobility. We recently, had someone from our group move into clinical science, where one is responsible for looking at the clinical data rather than exploratory biomarker data. One can also go into data management, it depends on one’s interest.

Author: Swetha Sivaprasad

Shwetha Shivaprasad is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University. She is a virologist by training and loves to learn something new every day, expanding her knowledge base and skill set. She is currently in a phase of career exploration and trying her hand at science writing and reviewing.

Editors: Paurvi Shinde, PhD and Sushama Shivkumar, PhD

Paurvi Shinde is a Post Doc Fellow at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle, where she’s studying the mechanism of how alloantibodies are formed against the non-ABO red blood cell antigens. Apart from doing bench research, she loves editing scientific articles, to help convey message behind it, in a clear and concise form.

Sushama Sivakumar is a Post Doc in the lab of Dr. Hongtao Yu at UT Southwestern Medical center, TX, USA. She is interested in studying the regulatory mechanisms that control proper chromosome segregation during mammalian cell mitosis.

Cover image: Pixabay

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