A CHECKLIST FOR SUCCESS: MAKING THE MOST OF THE MEMP PROGRAM
Many students enter HST’s MEMP PhD program with an eye to continuing academic research or working directly in the biomedical industry. However, that’s not always the case. Numerous alumni find themselves pivoting to other successful careers, utilizing the skills and experience that they gain in the MEMP program.
Meet Nina Menezes. Currently the Associate Director of Healthcare Strategy at Becton Dickinson (BD)—a global medical technology company that seeks to advance healthcare by improving medical discovery, diagnostics, and delivery of care—she admits that pursuing a medical career was never her dream. But with strong influences in her family and her own thoughtful consideration of the viability of such a career, she entered university intending to study medicine.
When she began as a freshman at Cornell, however, she decided to study physics. Nina was fascinated by physics; she enjoyed problem-solving, tackling tough questions with the knowledge she could bring to the table. She found it satisfying to discover elegant solutions to compelling problems. Upon graduation, she wanted to pursue her growing interest in medicine, so she began searching for graduate programs that would combine her physics skills and knowledge with the medical field.
“When I found the HST program, I felt really drawn to it because it was the perfect blend of the two interests. So I felt like I could do something that made all of these things that felt different and disparate and I could make them whole. There was a reason why I was interested in both, and I could end the story in a way that seemed coherent.”
Nina found this cohesion present in how the MEMP program was organized—she took the same medical courses as students in the HST MD program and the same physics courses as students enrolled in the MIT Physics department, known as one of the best in the world. “It was built on really solid pieces.”
She tried out a few research areas before settling on MRI. Nina wanted to pursue something that would tangibly benefit from her physics background, and MRI was just the arena for that. She studied under Professors Deborah Burnstein (MEMP ’86) and Martha Gray (MEMP ’86), focusing on using MRI to detect early signs of osteoarthritis in cartilage.
When Nina concluded her training, the Children’s Hospital at the University of Philadelphia offered her a faculty position. She was on the verge of accepting when she had a major change of heart. She realized that academic research could be a very isolating environment, and she decided that wasn’t what she wanted to do long-term. She chose to divert from the path of pure research, instead embarking on a career of marketing and management consulting. She took a position at Leerink Partners, an investment bank with clientele in the pharma space. She was there for a half dozen years, moving up through the ranks to become one of the Directors. Later, she joined the BD company, where she has been for the last four years.
Nina says that she enjoys the short turnaround for projects in an R&D company. “You can see an idea go from a concept stage to full fruition/full product development and commercialization in a few short years. Whereas, in a research career, you’re only able to tell that kind of story after a couple of decades. I enjoy the tangible bi-products of my work.”
Nina attributes her success throughout her career to the skills gained during the HST program. She says, “Most people don’t have as deep a clinical toolkit as I do. I really benefit from a deeper understanding of the disease state, and I find that the medical coursework has proved to be indispensible. When I was doing the program, it included a 12-week full-time rotation at Mt. Auburn hospital where we were taking care of patients along with other interns. I found that to be just as valuable as the formal course work. It gave me a very good understanding of how healthcare is actually delivered and how hospitals systems function.
In retrospect I see how it really helped me understand how care is ultimately delivered to patients in high acute settings like hospitals. What happens on the floor, in the ICU, etc. These are things that I previously thought were easily gleaned from other sources, like written materials. I didn’t really realize that it was an education I was gaining through that experience until years later when I was in management consultation and now in my job at a medical device company. I can give inside information about how hospitals actually work and how healthcare is delivered.”
Nina also appreciated weekly seminars that gave students the opportunity to learn more about biomedical research taking place at Harvard and MIT, which broadened her perspective. Her advice to students is to take advantage of that element of the HST experience—being plugged into the wider world of innovation—and to get out of one’s own laboratory to learn from everything else going on in the community.
NINA’S CHECKLIST FOR SUCCESS AT HST:
*Broaden your focus, or focus on different things. Graduate school can be a deep study of a particular area, but there’s great value in analyzing how well your deep knowledge will serve you in the next phase of your life and career. Picking your research area and thesis topic with an educated look into the future is extremely important.
At the time that Nina was in HST, genomics was just gaining traction, and she took a basic molecular biology and genomics class for an exam she needed to pass. Much later in her career, that knowledge helped lay the foundation for her work in creating a strategy for BD that lead to the successful acquisition of businesses and launching products in that space.
*Lift your head up and take a look around you. Once you’re a student at MIT, you’re already equipped with everything you need to succeed. Coursework and research are important, but don’t neglect to take advantage of the opportunities that being at MIT affords you to build your network and to get experiences that take you outside the classroom and the lab. Look for things that are interesting and intriguing and get exposure to them.
*Create a body of new work. While it’s important to study works of other researchers and PIs, the bread and butter of your time is in the new work you create.