If you had told me four years ago that I would be working in consulting, I would have responded with a question:
“What’s consulting? And, why am I doing it?”
As recent as a year ago, I was positive that I would be pursuing a PhD in Systems Biology (or, as it is sometimes referred to, Computational Biology or Mathematical Biology) after college. The field was vast and exciting to me. It was (and still is) full of untapped potential. I spoke eagerly with professors Erin O’Shea and Michael Brenner about how I could prepare myself and what I could study. Having worked in the lab of professor Tom Maniatis for almost two years at that point, and being exposed constantly to the joys and tribulations of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, I was fairly certain that being a graduate student doing research full-time was what I wanted.
With almost a sense of smugness, I looked down at the more “business-y types”. I thought what they were doing lacked rigor, and it was hence not worthy of my time. I believed it was mere mental child’s play compared to the rigor and intellectual excitement of trying to decode complex gene networks and how invisible molecules could determine whether we were healthy or sick.
So what did happen? Well, I can think of four main reasons. The first and most immediate was that I was part of the organizing committee behind the 2006 Harvard College Asian Business Forum, which was the HPAIR (Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations) business conference. The experience was very rewarding and eye-opening, but more than that, it was an impetus to follow the paths of the many excited delegates, most of whom were early professionals or about to be, who were hoping to be future business leaders.
The second factor was a growing awareness of what life in academia meant. Yes, I was well aware of the struggles that junior academics had to go through on their way towards tenured professor when I decided I wanted to be a graduate student, and those were, in my mind, fair sacrifices to pursue what I was interested in. But at the same time, towards the end of the summer, with my experiments facing multiple setbacks andthe doubts in my mind over my ability to be a good grad student, I began looking to other alternatives.
The third consideration stems from the fact that I have always been interested in application. My approach towards science has always been rooted in searching for possible applications, whether commercial or for public interest. Even the reason that I chose to specialize in Systems Biology stems from a belief that traditional molecular and cellular techniques will soon face sharply diminishing marginal returns with regards to finding the causes and cures for diseases. Having lived from almost all of my pre-college life in the Silicon Valley, it is no wonder that I am accustomed to and would like to see more of science being moved from “bench to bedside” and would love to manage a successful transition from brilliant idea to profitable one.
The final factor is of course that it’s always exciting to try something new, especially something competitive — and even though I cursed recruiting at times, it was kind of like a fun competition. Although I did not expect to receive a job offer from any firm that I would consider, I actually did reasonably well in the interview process and did indeed receive an offer which I simply could not turn down.
All roads, at least for me, led to consulting.