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#26 Michael Gralla Story

Michael Gralla is a PhD student at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and also a Leadership Consultant and Career Coach who has just started his own company: fby – find the best in you.

Published onJul 07, 2017
#26 Michael Gralla Story

Michael Gralla is a PhD student at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and also a Leadership Consultant and Career Coach who has just started his own company: fby – find the best in you.

During his career, Michael has never followed the given path. With a Master in Nutrition, he switched fields to get a PhD in Molecular Biology. During his PhD studies, Michael repeatedly guided fellow PhD students and postdocs in career related questions and helped them organize their next career moves. Furthermore, he holds an executive position in a German travel agency start-up.

Due to various reasons, Michael is pausing his PhD right now to start his own company. As his passion lies in people and team development, he started fby – find the best in you – a leadership consulting company. Michael’s constant interest in broadening his network and meeting people to discuss talent development-related topics has given him the opportunity to team up with experts of different areas covering leadership.

In her TED talk in 2015, Emilie Wapnick introduced “multipotentialites” – a type of personality that easily gets interested in different areas. Multipotentialites quickly consume a new field of interest. By repeatedly doing so they become fast learners, adaptable and innovative.

– Michael Gralla, CEO and Founder of fby – find the best in you


Hi! I’m Paulius Mikulskis from PhD Career Stories podcast. Today I would like to introduce Michael Gralla, a PhD student with many different interests. I invite you all to listen to his story. I would also like to invite you to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram.

Hi, my name is Michael Gralla. I'm a PhD student at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. My PhD time was quite an adventure with many ups and downs, with a lot of unexpected things happening.

My journey started in 2008. Back then, I held a master in nutrition. I just came back from the US, where I conducted a research project in [Professor] Janos Zempleni’s lab. I wanted to continue with research. I wanted to do cancer biology. I applied for a PhD position in Professor Lorenz Poellinger’s group [at the Karolinska Institutet] and I got accepted. I moved to Sweden. I’d been to Sweden and Stockholm before. I liked the people, the city and the fact that everybody spoke English. I thought this would be a good opportunity to go abroad one more time but not too far to still be close to family and old friends, and enjoy the time abroad.

My PhD started as I guess all other PhDs start. A lot of reading, optimizing, testing out new things, discussing new ideas, talking to people about my project in conferences or at lab meetings. It took me one or two years to become really confident about talking about my project. At the latest around my half-time seminar, I felt on top of things. It was fun talking about my lab, results and project. Nevertheless, I always had an eye for things happening outside academia, so I was involved in other activities. 

I soon realized that PhD students are very focused and very much into their projects. I also realized that PhD students don't take care of their career development to an extent they should. There was a Nature paper in 2010 saying that less than 10 percent of PhDs will end up in tenure track positions in academia. Still, 70% continue with a postdoc, which makes sense in a way. People have entered the academic path, of course they would like to succeed. They have the ambition to be a professor or group leader. We then decided to organize career events and career courses for PhDs to show them there's a world outside academia and to show what possibilities they have.

Organizing those career courses has been a lot of fun. It was appreciated by all involved. People in the organizing team learned a lot. I made sure to have three different teams within those three years. The idea was to have different people bringing different ideas and input. It paid off. We had three different courses in three years, all different but still related. We discussed career-related topics. We invited experts on interview training, CVs, social media and consulting. We had a discussion about recruitment trends in the life science sector. We invited professionals from biotech companies, big organizations and academia. We invited venture capital investors. We discussed patenting. We had entrepreneurs. We discussed branding, media and advertising, digital health. We covered a wide range of different topics. Key to all was the remote location of the venue. We really had one week with all the participants and it was a great networking opportunity.

Organizing those courses those courses have been a great opportunity. If you think about it, we have been involved in team selection, project planning, event organization, budget planning (the course was sponsored by the department), report to a supervisor, advertisement, speaker contact, giving feedback, receiving and dealing with feedback from the participants, team leadership, communicating, vision, teamwork, motivation. All those things that might be useful for future roles. I can only advise all of you to get active and start organizing something. Learn and meet people that might be very valuable contacts in the future.

In 2016, many unexpected events happened. In the beginning of the year, my supervisor died. Lorenz’s death was unexpected and very sad. Of course we all miss him. For my projects it meant some of them could not be continued. I joined another group. Our department took could good care of us. It was a hypoxia-related group, which is good. But of course it needs a little bit of adjustment to combine my project with the research idea of our new group. In 2017, I reached the maximum number of years I could stay at Karolinska as a PhD student. 

The information that I have to pause my PhD never came as a shock. Rather, I see it as an opportunity. Ever since we organized the career courses, I not only looked into the whole field of talent development and team performance optimization. I educated myself by taking online distance courses and I joined other certification programs. Now I’m ready for diving into the next adventure by starting my own company. 

In that company I team up with experienced professionals. Most of them I have met during the career courses. Those courses have not only been very valuable to my personal development, but also my new role.

Thank you for listening. I hope you had a good time listening to my story. I’m sure your story is as unique as mine. If you ever feel like discussing anything, please feel free to contact me. Bye, bye!

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