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Industry Transition Spotlight: Diana Roccaro, PhD

An interview with Diana Roccaro, Ph.D.

What is your name, your full job title, and the full name of the company you work for?

Diana Roccaro, Scientific Assistant @Directorate of Technology and Innovation (DTI), University Hospital of Bern (Insel Gruppe)

What is your favorite part about working in industry?

Since I have two small kids (4 and 1), work-life balance and the flexibility to work whenever and wherever I can, are in fact important issues for me. My position allows me to – most importantly – work part time (50% at the moment), to adapt my weekly planning to the demands of my private (especially family) responsibilities as well as to also work from home. In my opinion, this is however not thanks to my position being industrial vs. academic, but rather a feature of the specific position I have. On the whole, I have loved also my position as a PhD student in (behavioral) neuroanatomy. However, my PhD work has mostly focused on investigating a tiny little aggregation of cells in the hypothalamus (interbrain) of rodents, and it happened two or three times that I ended up asking myself the question on the possible contribution of our findings to potential clinical applications – obviously not the smartest question to be asked by a student in fundamental research 😉 My position at the technology directorate of Switzerland’s largest and leading healthcare system is kind of at the opposite end of the “spectrum of practical applicability” – in close vicinity to real data of real patients receiving state-of-the-art treatment, which opens up the possibility for me to contribute a tiny share to making our future world a better place.

Can you describe what a typical day at your job looks like?

Since I have started only two months ago, I have so far had quite some introduction courses on the general processes and information systems of the hospital. My specific role can more or less be viewed as the one of a Medical writer belonging to the newly established “Insel Data Science Center”. As such, it obviously involves reading publications, press releases and other efforts aimed at getting an overview of and staying up to date with the latest developments in medical and healthcare-related technology (some keywords: big data, artificial intelligence, deep learning). It further involves the composition and proofreading of various kinds of documents in English and German (publications, ethical approvals, business-related documents and more). Evidently, it also involves close communication with a handful of key persons.

How is your current industry position different from your academic postdoc or experience as a graduate student?

My work in the academic setting had definitely involved much more practical work: behavioral experiments with rats and mice, immunohistochemical stainings, confocal and electron microscopy, teaching problem-based learning, student supervision, assistance at practical exams … At university, my purpose had been to bring my own projects to a successful conclusion and to publish my findings. At the DTI of the Inselspital, my task is to complement a team of great people with tremendous working experience – all specialists in their respective domains –, with the aim to as a whole team, publish the findings of the newly established data center as efficiently and successfully as possible (, and in addition to support the whole team in preliminary steps ultimately leading to this goal).

If you could go back in time, to before you received your job offer, and give yourself one piece of advice or encouragement, what would it be?

Be thankful about every single rejection, since each of them means that a position exists somewhere out there that even more closely resembles the position of your dreams. Even if it may take a while (in my case somewhat between 5 and 19 months) to find it, don’t lose hope: the problem is never, that your skills were insufficient or you were too bad a candidate, you were just not the perfect fit. In both directions!

What was the most memorable moment for you (so far) as a Cheeky Scientist Associate?

It was funny that my success in getting this position was not so much influenced by becoming a CSA member. I joined CSA after a free webinar on 05/23, two weeks later on 06/07 sent the CTO responsible for the job a friendship request [accidentally], followed by a personal message [intentionally: does it make sense to apply to your scientific assistant/STUDENT job as a PhD or is this a waste of effort? – followed by a summary of my background in one single, long sentence], three hours later already “won” the job interview (scheduled for 06/29) without even having officially applied at that time (“great profile! Looking forward to talking to you”). When after completing my application via the official route, I was begged by the director’s assistant on 06/11 to specify my salary expectations, I ran into serious trouble! Only after receiving my response, she would proceed to invite me to the interview… There I stood, having ZERO CLUE about what salary I should expect (x+/-20% was my guess…). During all of my previous little industry jobs I had still been at school or studying, and my two side jobs after graduation were both paid on a per-hour rate… At this point, the CSA came into play: Isaiah’s materials as well as a handful of other cheekies provided me with very helpful advice on how to behave in that peculiar situation. I followed the general advice to not give out a specific number, but instead state that every reasonable offer will be considered. The most memorable moment for me as a CSA so far has been the moment, when after one hour and eighteen seemingly endless minutes of waiting in suspense, I received the response of the director’s assistant, confirming that we can thus proceed to performing the job interview. Thank you, CSA! Within the first five weeks of my work for the company, I could charge off my CSA membership fee.  

What do you see as the next step in your career?

My transition from academia to industry has been rather gradual. I have worked for several companies in various industries (somewhat or not at all related to my study branch) before accepting this most recent position. Originally, I had studied five semesters of human medicine before deciding to not become a physician, but continue in biomedical sciences instead. This position at Insel Gruppe kind of marks my path back towards more clinical medicine (from another viewpoint), and – as already mentioned in 2. – away from basic research towards more “directly applicable medicine” (I had worked as a Medical Writer already in my previous position, but in the domain of Medical Device Regulatory Affairs). During my job search of the last two years, I came to the conclusion that programming skills are very highly demanded in today’s job market. Therefore, I am terribly grateful for now working in an environment living on the latest technologies, for being surrounded by data engineers and data scientists, artificial intelligence and machine learning. My goal for these coming years, while my kids are still young, is to widen my IT knowledge and hopefully to finally learn programming in Python & CO!

How can the Association and the Association’s members help you continue to achieve your career goals?

Well, I believe that there are quite some IT experts and computer scientists among us… I might end up having some questions for this population of PhDs in the months to come. Furthermore, I currently have no clue about where I want to be in 10 or 20 years. Thus, widening my horizon concerning the various types of position that exist out there (e.g., in the hospital setting) will definitely be helpful again sooner or later. And, what I almost forgot: if there are any other cheekies working as Medical/Scientific Writers (or similar) in a hospital setting, it would be great to connect!

Now that you’ve spent some time working in industry, what is the biggest takeaway(s) you’d like to share with those who are still executing their job search?

Nothing in life is in vain – even during the times you are desperately in search of your next job, be it the first big industry job after a transition or between several industry jobs. Difficult situations with detours instead of a smooth linear career path and months (to years) of job search should not be viewed as a sign of failure, but as an opportunity for personal growth and development. The right job for any of you is somewhere out there if you just 1) know what you want, 2) are patient enough to wait until it finds you, 3) follow CSA’s secret hints to give your fate a helping hand, and, in my opinion most importantly: 4) never lose hope or give up, but ceaselessly continue believing in yourself!

To learn more about how you can transition into an industry career like Diana, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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