Treks allow for on-site career insights and networking

ADDENDUM: See also the 2019 Silicon Valley Trek

Trek to Boston to explore industry careers- 2018

Visits to Biogen and Vertex. Tours of facilities. Talks with biotech professionals. Networking with alumni. A great way to test if this career path is for you!

BESTies Daniel CheungYehudah PardoBunyarit Meksiriporn and Frank He took advantage of the College of Engineering Career Services trip, organized by Christa Downy, guided by Newton DeFaria, and topped off with support by the BEST Program to learn more about what it’s like to work in Boston, specifically at a biotechnology firm.

Here’s what these BESTies say the trip did for them:

“The Greater Boston area is known as a world-class hub for biotechnology, making it a very attractive place for Biomedical Engineering (BME) doctoral students seeking post-graduate opportunities. On Jan 17th, 2018, the Cornell Engineering Career Services organized a career trek for BME students to visit Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston and Biogen in Cambridge. We toured the laboratories, participated in panel discussions, and networked with Cornell University alumni. Because we opted to stay an extra day, we had the opportunity to re-connect with colleagues in the Boston area. Overall, the trek was highly rewarding. We gained insight into Boston’s robust biotech ecosystem, made valuable connections, and have collectively become much more motivated in our job search.”-Frank He

“The Boston BME trek was a unique opportunity to speak to many different industry scientists in one relatively short period of time and gain a broader perspective on what a career in industry entails.  We visited both Vertex pharmaceuticals and Biogen, speaking to a number of employees (nearly, if not all Cornell alumni) at each location. The individuals with whom we interacted came from a broad array of fields ranging from biomedicine/ biomedical engineering to statistics, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering.  The diversity of experiences helped better illuminate the variety of industry career paths.  In addition, the trip provided an excellent chance to build our networks.  Since the Boston area has a particularly high density of biomedical companies, such connections could be invaluable for advancing our careers in the future.”-Yehudah Pardo

“During the Boston BME Trek, we visited two biopharmaceutical companies Vertex and Biogen to speak with Cornell BME alumni about their experiences at the company and their path to their current position.

At Vertex, the senior panelists (e.g. Principal, Associate Director, etc.) gave us an overview of their pathway to the company, their different jobs in their department/field in relation to the company’s goals, and additional tips to be successful in industry. Most of the panelists had PhDs and some had postdoc experiences, so it was also good to hear their input on comparing and contrasting industrial research and academic research. While we were not able to tour the facilities in detail, their presentations gave me insights into the company’s culture and values.

Similarly, at Biogen, there were a handful of Cornell alumni with a mixture of senior and junior employees to answer our questions about the company, projects they were working on, and their pathway into Biogen. Additionally, we were able to tour part of the labs and facilities.  

In addition to the site visits, I was able to connect with three fellow BME alumni (one of whom was part of the BEST program) to learn about their current experiences. Two are post-docs, but one works in a small pharmaceutical and the other at MIT. Both have aspirations to eventually work in industry, so it was interesting to contrast their post-doc experiences in terms of industry vs. academia.

Overall, through this event, I learned about the companies’ cultures and values. Additionally, I was able to connect with several employees at both companies and learned about potential opportunities I want to pursue, including internships.

I want to thank the BEST program for sponsoring this opportunity for the PhD students because I would not have had the chance to go otherwise.”-Daniel Cheung

Silicon Valley Trek – 2017

Mincong Liu (MEng); Ariah Klages-Mundt, PhD student iDavid Agyeman-Budu, Catherine Wong, Jessica Elmore, Rick Wang, Mitch Pender and Madhur Srivastava.The Silicon Valley trek is a collaboration between the BEST Program and the College of Engineering. Michael Roach, the Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management organized the October 25-28 trip to offer eight graduate students the opportunity to visit various companies and expose them to a variety of industry and entrepreneurial careers.

Selected to participate were:  Mincong Liu (MEng); Ariah Klages-Mundt, PhD student in Applied Math; David Agyeman-Budu, PhD student in Materials Science and Engineering; Catherine Wong (MEng); Jessica Elmore, PhD student in Immunology; Rick WangMitch Pender and Madhur Srivastava, all PhD students in Biomedical Engineering (BESTies in bold). Read on to see what the participants thought of the trek.

“This was a fantastic networking event to understand the process of entrepreneurship and commercialization of university technology.”-Mitch Pender 

The Silicon Valley trek was an invaluable learning and networking experience. It was great meeting like-minded individuals fellow trek members, alumni, founders, facilitators who all share a passion for entrepreneurship and startups.

Overall, the Silicon Valley trek is a great experience for PhD students considering either founding or joining a startup. It is quite inspirational to hear from Cornell PhD alumni who have made the transition from academia to entrepreneurship through commercialization of university research. Prof. Mike Roach did an excellent job organizing and coordinating the trek, which was made possible through generous support from the BEST program and the College of Engineering.”– Rick Wang

“The Silicon Valley trek was an amazing opportunity to explore an entrepreneurial side of research. The startup ecosystem around San Francisco is different from anything you can find in Ithaca. I’ve worked in New York, and it’s comparable to that in the level and sophistication of activity, but unique in a sort of communal mindset of helping to get a wide range of ideas off the ground. This mindset came across at each of the companies we visited and, after the trek, in meeting up with friends at Stanford and in SF.

I am thinking about starting a technology business in the future. The experiences and connections that I made through this trek will be invaluable along the way.“-Ariah Klages-Mundt

“I would like to thank Michael Roach, the College of Engineering and the BEST Program for organizing and sponsoring the Cornell PhD Silicon Valley Trek. This trip provided an excellent opportunity for me to interact with different stakeholders involved in a start-up and entrepreneurship. In the two-day trek, we visited start-ups working in different technologies, such as artificial intelligence based, biotechnology based Applied Molecular Transport and material science based TeraPore Technologies, where we interacted with co-founders and scientists about their experience, career path and challenges.”-Madhur Srivastava

“I am honored to be one of the 8 Ph.D. students selected to go on the Cornell Silicon Valley Trek. The trek consisted of a two-day visit to the Bay Area and it connected us with some early-stage Cornellian companies and startup resources in the area.

In this trek, we met with some recent Ph.D. graduates from Cornell who have started their own companies with licensed technologies from Cornell. Through talking with them, I understood more about the challenges to start a company. I met with founders of one-person companies to more established start-ups with venture capital funding. I saw how a company progresses and learnt about the pitfalls as a company grows. These conversations are going to help me a lot when I start my own with an intellectual property later on.“-Catherine Wong

“Overall, what resonated with me on interacting with the entrepreneurs and early employees at the various startups was the common drive to take the technology that they have invented and are working on to create opportunities and significant impact in the real world. All were candid about the challenges they have faced and currently going through. They also gladly shared how they found solutions to the challenges and learning opportunities that complemented those experiences. In all, this humanizes the experience having had the face interaction and hearing their stories. 

I will like to thank the College of Engineering and BEST for making such opportunities available for PhD students to take advantage of. This experience has been eye opening and helped me craft a perspective of what to expect in pursuing a career in building a company, and I have also had the opportunity to expand my network in getting to know more Cornell Alumni. I will also like to express gratitude to Prof. Mike Roach for leading the trek and putting together such a great itinerary which included the necessary background and preparatory materials of interest in the field of entrepreneurship and startups. The information was extremely helpful and helped put things in context during the trek.” David Agyeman-Budu

Silicon Valley Trek – 2016

The BEST Program and the College of Engineering sponsored students to participate in a Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship Trek organized by Michael Roach, the Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. The trek took place on March 6-8 to expose PhDs to various companies and organizations, including university spinouts, incubators/accelerators, venture capitalists, and large innovative firms. The event included a full day of site visits and a networking dinner with Cornellians working in the area. The trek exposed participants to about a variety of careers in start-ups, large innovative firms, finance, law, and consulting, and was an excellent opportunity for PhDs to network with over 500 Cornellians attending the Cornell Silicon Valley Conference.

BESTies Jocelyn Wang, Immunology; Ezen Choo, Pharmacology; Colin Jermain, Applied Engineering and Physics; Harvey TianPoornima Gadamsetty, Tiffany St. Bernard, Biomedical Engineering; Mitchell Ishmael and Levon Atoyan, Material Science, received the generous support of the College on Engineering, Cornell BEST Program, and Cornell Silicon Valley to be part of this opportunity.

I was honored to be one of the 8 Ph.D. students at Cornell to be selected to participate in a trip to CA to visit the Silicon Valley startup scene! We had a VERY booked schedule. Our days were packed with startup related activities from 8AM – 10 PM each night. We got to meet with successful entrepreneurs, a Venture Capitalist (Canaan Partners), and alumni. Additionally, we visited Y Combinator, Stanford and StartX. Lastly we attended the CSV16 conference where we met amazing Cornell alumni that were happy to share their wisdom and experiences with us. I was even able to connect with the Head of Policy for Pinterest and she will be meeting with me this coming week to advise me on HairDays. My highlight of the event was getting to know with my fellow Cornell peers that are also passionate about being in the startup scene once they graduate. We were able to swap ideas and discuss challenges we might face in the future. 

A couple of the speakers during CSV16 mentioned things that could directly help me right now. For example thinking about customer service when releasing a product, and how you should consider having a person on your team that has had an exit before. These things seem obvious but when you have so much to think about it is helpful to have someone remind you of things that should be prioritized. One suggestion that may change the direction of my research is that there may be a way to enter the market sooner with my nerve stimulation project. My initial goal was to go through the long FDA approval process. However, after talking to a Cornell Alumni at the conference they gave me the idea of creating a lower barrier initial product that could be sold without FDA approval, and then to later secure FDA approval.-Tiffany St. Bernard

The Silicon Valley PhD trek was a great opportunity to learn about the entrepreneurship scene in California, and to build relationships with founders, alumni, facilitators, and classmates. Prof. Roach organized two full days of meetings and events that encompassed all different aspects of starting a company, from the challenges of founding to the role of working as an early startup employee. From meeting with over 8 PhD founders and having informal Q&A discussions with our group, I learned about building a team, funding issues, acquiring mentors, and keeping employees incentivized. Each speaker had a different perspective to add from their experience, which allowed me to build a fuller picture of the startup scene. I also enjoyed learning from my fellow classmates, who each brought up interesting questions and engaged in the conversations throughout the trip.

Overall, the Silicon Valley PhD trek pulled together all of the essential elements for working in a startup, and how that relates to having an advanced degree. The trips focus on PhDs substantially distinguishes it from the Boston trek. I highly recommend this trek be repeated each year, to help other PhDs understand the Silicon Valley scene and engage with alumni in the area. Having Abby and Felix for part of the trip was a great addition. This trek was made possible by the funding and support of the BEST program and the Engineering school. I’m grateful for the proactive and insightful organization of Prof. Roach, and his leadership of the trek.Colin Jermain

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to visit the bay area and attend the Silicon Valley Tech Trek with Michael Roach. This trip has been absolutely invaluable to me. For the past five years that I’ve been at Cornell, I’ve had an interest in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship post- graduation and having lived in California during junior high school before moving with my family to Arkansas, I have always longed to return to the San Francisco bay area and Silicon Valley one day.

For me, this trip has truly solidified my desire to enter entrepreneurship as well as to eventually move to the Silicon Valley. Having already stayed in touch with friends both from my lab as well as undergrad that have joined startups in the bay area, meeting local entrepreneurs on the Tech Trek and getting an intimate feel for the strong entrepreneurship culture in the valley truly sold the idea in my mind.-Harvey Tian 

This spotlight is from the time period of the NIH grant (Sept. 2013- Jun. 2019) to the Cornell BEST Program now housed in the Graduate School as a university-wide initiative “Careers Beyond Academia” to encompass all disciplines.