Eleven years ago, I was nearing the end of my doctoral program and actively trying to find the right career path. By all measures my graduate studies were successful; good publication record, awards, and an imminent degree from a top-20 department. With interest and motivation I would have been well primed for a successful career in academia. However, as the seminal graduate student from a newly tenured professor, I had seen firsthand the stress and uncertainties of the funding and tenure processes. Compounding this perception was the fact that I was losing interest in my research—the problems that once seemed grand and far-reaching suddenly seemed small and too narrowly focused to sustain my interest. It ultimately became clear to me that I did not have the passion to be successful in the traditional academic route.
This set me on a path of exploration leading to development of the SKILD program.
I recall clearly the face of the pharmaceutical company interviewer when I asked if the entry-level research scientist position offered a “career track for researchers to develop into a business role.” The interviewer was my main champion at the company; he had visited me on campus, arranged my seminar, set the visit schedule, and was caught completely off-guard by my question. Since it was early in the day, I tested the waters with a few other people, who were similarly surprised. Ultimately I did not get the job, but a valuable lesson was learned.
After my thesis defense was completed, I felt less pleased than depressed. Things had gone well and I was on my way to a post-doctoral position at a national laboratory. It seemed a viable third option at the time, but I could not shake the feeling that I was on the wrong track. By this time I had concluded that I wanted to develop a career track that led to management, business, or entrepreneurship. Recognizing that I had no experience or formal training in business, I began to look for options.
In short, they were limited. After completing the 20th grade I didn’t want to spend two more years in school and $30K-$50K to obtain a MBA. Moreover, with student loan payments looming, I was not in a position to “work for free” as an intern. Eventually, I was fortunate to land in a “technology transfer office” at Washington State University. Here, I was able to both leverage my research skills and develop expertise in business.
Now having been in this role for nine years, I have come to realize that I am not alone. The business world is filled with scientists, engineers, historians, artists, and mathematicians. Each has his or her own unique story of how they landed that first job without the demonstrated skills needed in the business world. While many argue that a degree in the arts or sciences impart the critical thinking, research, and problem-solving skills necessary for success in the business world, the resume still needs demonstrated proof. There is a dearth of programs that serve to provide advanced technical and non-business students with such tangible, resume building experiences.
The Scholarly Knowledge, Innovation and Leader Development program at WSU (SKILD at WSU) fills this niche. The program does not serve to supplant formal curricular training in business nor does it aim to train students in the nuances of managerial theory. Participants will emerge with basic knowledge and baseline experience in the evaluation of a technical opportunity from a business perspective. The program is focused on identification and advancement of research at WSU. It pairs the innovation at the school with the translational thinking and development efforts needed to realize the value embedded in the innovation. It offers a route for students to apply their disciplinary skills within a business setting and provides real-world experience in the application of innovation.
I look forward to working with WSU faculty and students University-wide to advance research, knowledge, skills, and innovation to improve the world.
Director, SKILD at WSU