Transition Tales with Martina Felderman, Scientist

By Leah Cannon, Ph.D.

This is the next in our series of interviews with Life Science professionals who transitioned from the bench to industry. Martina Felderman transitioned from being a postdoc to working as a scientist at Synthetic Genomics. LSN sat down with her to find out how she made the jump and what advice she has for scientists who are interested in moving to industry but staying in research.

What did you do as a Scientist at Synthetic Genomics?
I did mostly lab work at first. Then I spent more and more time preparing presentations, having phone calls with academic and industry collaborators, in strategic meetings talking about how to meet project goals and overcome scientific obstacles. I worked in a team of five people and managed one research associate.

How did you get that first industry job?
I saw a job posting on Synthetic Genomics’ website for a scientist in the vaccines department. Then I looked on LinkedIn to see if I was connected to someone in the company. It turned out that a friend of mine knew the hiring manager and forwarded my resume. I applied on the company’s website and emailed the hiring manager separately with my resume and cover letter. I then followed up with phone call a week later. I was invited to an in-person first-round interview and met with two hiring managers. After that I was invited back to do a full day interview including a one-hour presentation of my previous work. These talks are open to all employees in the company, so the audience size can vary. For this interview, I met with HR, Senior Directors and a program manager.

At the same time, I also interviewed for a different company. I didn’t know anyone there in person but set-up an informational interview with a scientist. This was very helpful and gave me valuable insight into the company.

How did you know you wanted to work at Synthetic Genomics? I was interested in their technologies and research projects. The people who work there are accomplished in their field and I was excited to work among pioneers.

Did you do any extra training as a postdoc that helped you to get your first industry job?
Yes, I did a lab management course with a German company called hfp Consulting, which provided great tools for time and self-management as well as team building.

One of the most helpful things I did was an interactive webinar with Raymond Gooch, a career coach, as part of the BIOCOM program. This included two free career counseling sessions with him via Skype. Raymond is an excellent coach and provided useful tips for every stage of my job search.

Why did you decide to transition to an industry job?
I wanted to work on something that was closer to an actual application and had an impact on human health. I wanted something faster paced. I really enjoyed working at Synthetic Genomics. The resources at hand meant we could get work done very quickly.

What was the hardest thing about transitioning?
The hardest thing was getting used to aggressive deadlines and how to set up constructive timelines and goals for research projects. Sometimes I would set up experiments and then be pulled into last minute meetings and I had to learn to work around that. The biggest difference between academia and industry is the time pressure.

You were also part of the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable when you were a postdoc, what did you learn from that experience that helped you transition?
I learnt how to build my network and how to feel more comfortable networking. I’m always surprised how willing people in San Diego are to help. I had a lot of people contacting me when I was at Synthetic Genomics asking how to transition and I was always happy to help and so were my co-workers.

Do you have any other advice for people looking to transition?
It is really important to find out as much as you can about the company and the job that you are applying for. Make sure it is really something that interests you. Tailor your cover letter and resume to that company. Follow up and show interest after you apply. Talk to people who work there to get insight into the company culture and what the posted position entails.

If you would like to share your Transition Tale, please contact Leah at lcannon@lifesciencenetwork.com.