Industry Transition Spotlight: Henna-Maria Sihto-Birbaum, PhD

An interview with Henna-Maria Sihto-Birbaum, PhD

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

Henna-Maria Sihto-Birbaum, Microbiological Engineer (Senior Scientist) at MSD Werthenstein Biopharma GmbH in Switzerland (company is called Merck & Co., Inc. in USA and Canada).

What is your favorite part about working in industry?

My favourite part is that I have the opportunity to work with different people with different educational and cultural backgrounds. Through my experiences in the current position I have learned to embrace diversity more and more. I would go crazy if I had to work with the people exactly like me.

Working in a pharmaceutical company also means strict documentation practises. I like that the most of the actions are based on the company´s Standard Operating Procedures (totally a new concept for me when I started my job search in the industry) and are accountable to a specific person.

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

In the morning I catch up with the compulsory online trainings about Standard Operating Procedures, safety trainings, regulatory affairs etc. To communicate the tasks and priorities of the day, we held a stand-up-meeting with the engineer group including the manager and supervisor microbiology. Later I edit the most urgent document drafts like study protocols required for the process change, reports about microbiological investigation results of the drug candidates etc. I visit our microbiology lab in a daily basis, mostly to review and approve raw data generated by technicians. If any deviations occur (e.g. in environmental monitoring of classified areas), I am responsible for investigating the event. “Reseacher-me” gets out when I need to test and evaluate the suitability of new laboratory equipment. This involves collaboration with equipment developers or even with other pharmaceutical companies.

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

I work now together with the team, the tasks are more variable and I have to react quickly to the unexpected changes. I have more responsibilities and my actions have more direct consequences than what I experienced during my PhD project. Deadlines are more concrete in my current industry position, since the batch release can depend on our reports or approval of the laboratory data. For me it means that my work has now more clear goals and purpose too.

Communication with the manager is much more structured (1:1 meeting every two weeks) compared to the communication in the academia.

Last but not least, I am paid for every minute I work and the salary is about 3-fold compared to the PhD student salary.

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 patient and active (networking!), ask for the advice from others. If you do not believe in yourself, nobody will. I also tried my best to avoid a “martyr/victim complex”, especially as a foreigner when you may feel that are being treated unequal. In the end, “What makes you different or weird, that is your strength” (quote by Meryl Streep). I would also advice to apply for the positions even if you would not be a best fit on paper.In my case it was so that I got chosen to another position that I originally applied.

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

First of all, it was beneficial for me to discuss about the job search in Switzerland with my previous work colleague from the university because without her I would have not got aware about the Cheeky Scientist Association.

When I joined, I already had some promising interviews ongoing, including my current position. I was a bit skeptical if the modules would bring me much, or if they would be just a repetition what I have already seen. But when I read the first step in the first module about living with a purpose, I knew that I had made a right decision to join the association.

The first meet-up with Associates in Switzerland was a memorable moment for me as well, even though I already had found my industry position at that point.

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

It is a difficult question to answer but in future I see myself as a group leader or a project manager. It would be also interesting to get an overview to a commercial manufacturing in addition to R&D.

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

In the form of active networking in LinkedIn, occasional Cheeky Meetup events and useful video clips in Associates FB group and Executive FB group.

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?

Piece of advice before landing in the job interview(s): Be creative in your job search, network, use resources that are offered to you (courses, CSA modules). Do not overlook contractor positions (depends naturally on the country/situation/field): I started as a contractor and after less that two months I was offered a permanent position.

Piece of advice for the interviews: Demonstrate your communication skills and show the interest on the people. Usually you would have not landed in the interview if they had been concerned on your level of technical knowledge. If possible, participate to a mock interview and get it recorded (especially useful to recognize unconscious body language gestures and other habits). Life and work consist of much more than cold facts; have a courage to reveal your personality behind your resume achievements and numbers.

To learn more about how you can transition into an industry career like Henna-Maria, 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.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

Similar Articles

Industry Transition Spotlight: Ester Boix Garriga, PhD, Area Sales Manager

Industry Transition Spotlight: Ester Boix Garriga, PhD, Area Sales Manager

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview With Ester Boix Garriga, PhD, Area Sales Manager 1. What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for? My name is Ester Boix and I am currently an Area Sales Manager at Infinitec, in Barcelona, Spain. 2. What is your favorite part about working in industry? In this specific role, I have the chance of having a very good manager and being part of a very nice team, with a good atmosphere in terms of personal relationships. I feel listened to, valued, and that there is space for…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Asjad Ali, PhD, Agricultural Scientist

Industry Transition Spotlight: Asjad Ali, PhD, Agricultural Scientist

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview With Asjad Ali, PhD, Agricultural Scientist 1. What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for? Asjad Ali, Plant Breeder/Agricultural Scientist, Department of Agriculture & Fisheries – AustraliaCompany: Sygnature Discovery 2. What is your favorite part about working in industry? It’s a very good work-life balance as well as office-field activities balance with more independence in conducting experiments. My job requires me to go to the field station and work on plants to develop new hybrids and I really enjoy doing that. 3. What does a typical day…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Satrajit Chakrabarty

Industry Transition Spotlight: Satrajit Chakrabarty

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Satrajit Chakrabarty, PhD, Data Scientist 1. What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for? My name is Satrajit Chakrabarty. I work as a Data Scientist at a Swiss telecommunication company called UPC. 2. What is your favorite part about working in industry? My favorite part of working in industry at my current company is the team. I am part of the Advanced Analytics team in the company. The team consists of like-minded, motivated people who like taking on challenges that in the end enables the company…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Gad Sabbatier

Industry Transition Spotlight: Gad Sabbatier

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Gad Sabbatier, PhD, Project Leader in Innovation and Business Development  1. What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for? Gad Sabbatier, Project Leader in Innovation and Business Development, SOVAR. It is a mandated technology transfer office. 2. What is your favorite part about working in industry? I really love the team spirit in the company. I have a lot of autonomy and I am learning a lot. I really enjoy the work-life balance as well. 3. What does a typical day at work look like for…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Deep S Bhattacharya, PhD

Industry Transition Spotlight: Deep S Bhattacharya, PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Deep S Bhattacharya, PhD, Senior Scientist Formulation and Process Development 1. What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for? Deep S Bhattacharya, Senior Scientist Formulation and Process Development, Pfizer. 2. What is your favorite part about working in industry? I am intrigued to see my efforts making an impact on patients’ lives. The therapies that I am currently working on, looking at the bigger picture, and understanding how valued scientists are in the industry is incredible. 3. What does a typical day at work look like…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Manish Pareek

Industry Transition Spotlight: Manish Pareek

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Manish Pareek, PhD, Senior Scientist 1. What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for? Name: Manish Pareek Job title: Senior Scientist Company: Sygnature Discovery 2. What is your favorite part about working in industry? My favorite part is being able to learn the steps involved in drug discovery through different drug discovery projects. Life in academia was ok, but in industry, I am able to collaborate more with other teams. I am learning more about biology as well. Work-life balance is much better than my previous…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Julie Dela Cruz-Mulders, PhD

Industry Transition Spotlight: Julie Dela Cruz-Mulders, PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Julie Dela Cruz-Mulders, PhD, Medical Science Liaison What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for?    Julie Dela Cruz-Mulders – Medical Science Liaison, Dermatology – Eli Lilly What is your favorite part about working in industry?  Collaborating with all my teammates and the flexibility of this job. I am responsible for my own schedule, for the most part What does a typical day at work look like for you?    That’s the great thing about this job: It is never boring. I don’t really have a typical day,…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Rachel Reichman, PhD

Industry Transition Spotlight: Rachel Reichman, PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Rachel Reichman, PhD, Business Analyst What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for?    Rachel Reichman, Business Analyst, Lifescience Dynamics What is your favorite part about working in industry?  I really like interacting with a wide variety of people and clients and having multiple projects that span completely different disease areas. I like learning and becoming an expert on multiple diseases and therapy areas. I like watching how treatment options for patients change over time. What does a typical day at work look like for you?    I…

Industry Transition Spotlight: Karineh Petrossian, PhD

Industry Transition Spotlight: Karineh Petrossian, PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Industry Transition: An interview with Karineh Petrossian, PhD, Director of Development in Philanthropy Communications What is your name, your full job title, and the name of the company you work for?    Karineh Petrossian, Director of Development in Philanthropy Communications, City of Hope Medical Center. What is your favorite part about working in industry?  It’s a great feeling to contribute to teams who seek scientific knowledge from an expert. Also, having the extra time to read books, enjoy the weekends, and plan vacations feels great. What does a typical day at work look like for you?    I work in a team…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.