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The Industrial Doctoral School gave new perspectives

PROFILE Steven Shen received his medical degree from Fudan University, China, in 2001, and worked as a physician for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for three years before he moved to Sweden to pursue his PhD. He joined the first group of students at the Industrial Doctoral School (IDS) at Umeå University in 2008.

The reason for coming to northern Sweden was because his medical school mentor in China was trained in Umeå University and he highly recommended it.

What was your IDS project about?
My IDS project was to investigate the molecular mechanism underlying the interaction between plasminogen and the inflammatory system during wound healing, and to help develop plasminogen as a novel drug for the treatment of chronic wounds.

How did you experience IDS?
I had a great experience with IDS and the IDS teachers. I came from a science background, and before attending IDS, I barely had any business-related education. At IDS, I completed many business courses such as project management, business development, and presentation techniques. IDS also helped me connect with a local biotech company and allowed me to obtain real-world experience of working outside of academia, which completely changed my perspective on the career path of PhD graduates.

When you look back, what did you especially value with IDS?
IDS gave me the first taste of working outside of academia and let me know that the future might not be only in academia. According to a study that tracked 10,000 PhD career outcomes of University of Toronto graduates from 2010-2015, more than 40 per cent of PhD graduates ended up working outside of academia. IDS also helped me build my self-confidence. I remember when I just started at IDS, my presentation and language skills were poor so the instructor had to give me extra sessions to help me. When I approached the end of my time at IDS, during an international exchange in the UK, I, as a non-native speaker and the only non-EU student, defied the odds and won the best commercial project pitch and now my job heavily relies on face-to-face communication.

Are there things that could improve within IDS?
When I was studying at IDS, the companies that participated in the IDS programme were mostly local and Swedish. I don't know how much has changed but I feel that students who are looking for local employment would benefit more from IDS than those who moved away from Sweden. Having said that, I, being the one who moved away still benefit significantly from the IDS programme.

What happened after you completed your PhD?
After my PhD, I immigrated to Canada and worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia and a preclinical consultant for a Canadian biotech company for four years before joining one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

What is your current job?
My current job is called Medical Science Liaison. I serve as a bridge between science and clinical practice. I provide clinical experts with high-quality, balanced, accurate, and non-promotional scientific information relating to their research interests and our company's therapeutic areas of interest, at the same time seeking potential collaborations to improve the outcomes for patients.

What advice would you give a graduate student who is considering applying for IDS?
Everyone is unique when it comes to career choice. Some may enjoy academic life; and others may thrive in an industry environment. The key question is how to find out which one is a more suitable career option for you? Like many PhD students, I used to have a closed mind. I didn't know what the world looked like outside of academia until I joined IDS. And IDS offered me the extraordinary opportunity to get a glimpse of a industrial career while I was still pursuing my academic degree, so when I reached the end of my PhD education, I was able to make an informed decision based on my own experience, my own feeling that I learned during my IDS days. I was able to find my own career path.

It is challenging at the beginning to embrace the collision of academia and industry, but like the old saying, "no pain no gain", you should take advantage of this opportunity to see and feel the differences and similarities of academia and industry. At the end of the day, not like others who need to rely on second-hand information from families and friends or even from the internet to help them decide their career path, you know what you really want. You just need to follow your heart. Don't miss this opportunity.

Short facts about Steven Shen:

Comes from: Shanghai, China
Lives: In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with my wife and daughter
Hobbies: Travel, studying history, watching movies and stand-up comedy, being an amateur iPhone photographer
Favourite film: Marvel movies
Unexpected talent: If being sarcastically funny could count as talent, then yes.
Likes to do: art or science projects with my daughter
Umeå in three words: Peaceful, Kind, Calm