Translating the science leaders of tomorrow

WRITTEN BY

Seila Selimovic, Ph.D

It’s impossible to overestimate the power of mentoring in the sciences. Even with PhD or MD degrees in hand, we still look for guidance from those who’ve come before us and have established careers in science and medicine. That’s why postdoctoral and fellowship opportunities are so important—they help us improve our skills and use our knowledge through practical experience. And, they offer access to “teachers” and leaders within our industries who can advise our futures. With opportunities like these, we’re challenged to innovate and think bigger than we thought possible. Without these opportunities, we would all be stagnant and innovation would seldom happen.

Fortunately, our industry understands and embraces this. Even so, there are some moments that broaden our paths beyond expectation. This was certainly the case earlier this month at the inaugural Leaders of Tomorrow Summit. The summit was part of the Maryland Regional Biotech Forum, which was hosted by AstraZeneca/MedImmune at its Gaithersburg campus, in partnership with BioHealth Innovation and Tech Council of Maryland. This first student-led, cross-functional and inter-generational summit for the Maryland/DC/VA region provided graduate and postdoctoral students and fellows, as well as young biotech entrepreneurs, an opportunity to connect with established leaders from across the biopharmaceutical industry, government and academia.

For several of my peers and me, personally, it also was the opportunity of a lifetime. As part of this summit, participants were invited to work in teams to submit research projects for the “Idea Challenge,” a unique competition designed to encourage attendees to exercise their innovation and gain valuable experience in presenting concepts, ideas and products in a professional setting. Ultimately, five teams were selected to pitch their projects to a panel of judges during the summit. I led the team that won the competition. You can’t imagine how gratifying something like this is until it’s happening to you. Our project—a novel technology platform for rapid individualized antibiotic allergy diagnosis—was awarded support for patent filing. Now we’ll be looking at prototype development, but perhaps more importantly, we’ll have the mentoring of science leaders behind us helping us to take our idea from theory to reality and, ultimately, to market.

This was a terrific thing to happen for us. It’s that spirit of support, camaraderie and mentorship that pervaded the summit. This competitive project aside, I—and the hundreds of participants at this summit—discovered multiple success stories and perspectives from established leaders from many sectors of our industry. These individuals who were willing to share their wisdom and knowledge offered valuable insights about both the challenges that we face as well as the promise of the future.

Many PhDs in particular are trained for careers in academia, but there are often not enough positions available. What this summit demonstrated were the opportunities outside of academia that we have throughout multiple sectors—industry, policy and government, for example. But, beyond just a demonstration, we heard from and talked directly to people who have lived it and done it, and who are more than willing to impart their wisdom, share their experiences and do what they can for the next generation of science leaders. That’s mentorship, and that’s what will continue to shape, inspire and lead science innovation.

Attendees of the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit watch panel discussion