Dr Fatma Guettou is a structural biologist with a PhD in X-ray crystallography from Karolinska Institute. After completing her PhD, Fatma moved to Munich for a postdoc position. She is is currently working as a crystallographer at Medivir.
In episode 16 of PhD Career Stories, Dr Fatma Guettou shares the story of her transition from academia to industry and gives us a few tips and tricks on how to successfully complete the journey.
Dr Fatma Guettou is a structural biologist with a PhD in X-ray crystallography from Karolinska Institute.
After completing her PhD, Fatma moved to Munich for a postdoc position in the field of cryo-electron microscopy. However, she soon made a career transition to industry and is currently working as a crystallographer at Medivir.
Fatma is involved in drug discovery projects where her main responsibility is to understand how proteins and drugs interact. The structural information generated by X-ray crystallography is very useful for the design of new and improved drug molecules.
In this episode, Fatma will share 4 tips that she found useful throughout her career pathway.
Hi! My name is Fatma Guettou and this is my Tips & Tricks podcast. In the next seven minutes I will give you some advice that I have learned throughout my journey, going from academia to the industry. But first of all, I am going to tell you a bit more about myself.
Back in 2005, I started my master’s degree in biochemistry at Stockholm University. I finished the degree by doing my final project at Karolinska Institutet. Fortunately, the project went well and I was offered to stay in the lab and continue as a PhD student. In summary, my PhD time was really fun, intense and very exciting. I got to learn so many new things, everything from solving protein structures to writing papers, going through the publishing and reviewing cycles. Since I was working in a crystallography group, I also got to travel to different synchrotrons and of course also to conferences and workshops. This enabled me to early on meet and create a network of scientists and friends from all over the world.
I remember that towards the end of my PhD time I was thinking a lot about what to do when I’m done. I was sure that I wanted to continue with research; there was no doubt about that. But in what form and where? This led me to apply for a career course offered by Karolinska Institutet. The course was amazing! I got to learn how to write a CV, cover letter, how to network, how to use LinkedIn, how to behave at interviews, how to apply for jobs and how to find jobs and many other things. We also got to meet scientists that had chosen different pathways in their career. I got really inspired by their stories. In the end of the course, we got to meet representatives from different companies and authorities. We could use our fine-polished CVs and cover letters to apply for an internship at those places.
Since I already knew that I wanted to continue with research, I applied to a pharmaceutical company called Medivir. I was offered to come for an interview and then I was offered an internship over the summer. During my internship, I made sure to talk to as many people as possible at Medivir. I visited different divisions, I learned what they were doing there and what people liked or disliked about their positions. Of course I also made sure to do a good job. The summer passed by very fast and I finished my internship by doing two presentations: a summary of my results at Medivir and also a summary of my PhD projects since there were so many over there that were curious about what I’m doing for my PhD.
My conclusion after finishing my internship at Medivir was that I really enjoyed working in a company environment, but I could always do that later in life. I felt that by first doing a postdoc I would be able to develop and become an even better researcher before going over to the industry side. After finishing my internship at Medivir, I went back to KI. I finished my PhD and then I moved to Germany to do a postdoc. While I was doing my postdoc, one day, I got an email from a friend at Medivir. She told me that the company is looking for someone with my competence. Indeed, when I saw the ad, it looked like it was written for me! I applied and contacted the people at that department and asked them a bit more about the position. Soon enough, I was called for an interview and after that I got to know that the job was mine. I was so happy!
As soon as I got the contract from Medivir, and after looking at it, I realized that I have no experience or knowledge about how to go through an employment contract. I had never had a proper job before. So, what should be written in it and what could I or should I negotiate about? The first thing I did was to email my contract to some close friends that had normal jobs and they gave me some good advice. I also contacted my union; they also went through my contract and gave me some good feedback. In summary what I learned from negotiation about the contract is that one should not feel intimidated to ask for better conditions. By saying “better conditions,” I’m not only referring to the salary. Sometimes it’s even more appreciated to have more vacation days than higher salary. One should always remember that the company really wants you and that they have chosen you among many, many applicants. They will be ready to improve your contract if you ask for it.
Now when you have got some background about my career pathway, I would like to go on and give you three tips that might help you on your own pathway.
Tip #1: Start working on your network. When you are a PhD student, you are surrounded by other PhD students, postdocs and professors. Try to get in touch with them, talk to them, attend your division seminars, pubs and try to meet as many people as possible. Ask them about their research, what is good about their position and what could be better. This would get you prepared for what is to come. You should also ask yourself if you would like to be in their position or not. Once you have found a group of people that you enjoy being around, stay in touch with them, even when you are not working in the same place anymore. As a matter of fact, it is even better if you are not working in the same place because then you can get some inside information about how it is to work in other places. You might also be able to help and inspire each other when you least expect it. For example, a lot of job positions are given to someone that has some kind of connection with the seeker. So if you are looking for a job, it might be good to start by talking to your network. For example, if your employer is looking for someone, it is good if you let your network know about this. Today, LinkedIn is an excellent tool for this kind of professional connection.
Tip #2: Do an internship during your PhD time. See another environment, make new connections there. As I mentioned earlier, KI does offer an excellent career course. If you have the opportunity and the time, you should really apply to this course or some other similar course.
Tip #3: Find out what you like to do. The thing is that as long as you are doing your PhD you will be in the PhD bubble, surrounded by likeminded people in the university. Most people around you might tend to repeat the same type of advice. “Finish your PhD.” “Do a postdoc.” “Apply for grants.” “Get independent,” and so on. What you have to do is to go out of that bubble as soon as you finish your PhD. I think it’s wise to take some time off and do something else once you have finished your PhD. Travel or get some distance and think about who you are and what you really like to do without getting influenced by other people around you. Let this thinking take some time. It will be worth it in the end, I promise. Also remember that there are no bad choices. If something does not make you happy, you have to make a move and change your situation. Maybe talk to your network, they will help you out for sure.
While recording this podcast, I felt that I have to give you one last tip. That would be to learn about the Swedish system. What are your rights? What are your responsibilities? You can find a lot of information online and through your union. It’s really worth it, spending some hours reading and asking about your rights if, for example, you would get unemployed, pregnant or something else. An example from my own case is that when I was about to move to Munich to do my postdoc, I figured out that Trygghetsstiftelsen [the Job Security Foundation] could help me with the move, the flight tickets and even provide me with language courses when I was in Germany. This was a great thing! It really pays off to read about your rights and what you can do. This could really help you out in the future.
Okay guys, these were my three tips plus a bonus tip. I’m sure that if you apply them in your life you will have less things to worry about. I wish you all good luck. Thank you for listening! Bye, bye.