Beyond Academia--Putting my Ph.D. to Real, Practical Use at L.E.K.

I’ve just finished my first two weeks here at L.E.K. and I can say with full confidence that I am where I am supposed to be.

Around year three of my Ph.D. at Caltech, I started realizing that academia was not for me.  I really loved the lab I was working in and the work that I was doing was incredibly interesting, but I felt that staying in academia would stifle my curiosity and limit the amount of impact I could have.  I wanted to use my six years of training to affect how science touches people on a day-to-day basis, and I started looking for careers where I could do that.

At that point I started attending any info session targeted towards Ph.D.s who were looking for non-standard career opportunities. After sitting through info sessions about industrial positions and patent law I discovered management consulting. Here was a place where I could use my critical thinking skills, and work on short-term projects where the outcome would actually affect consumers on a day-to-day basis. This was incredibly exciting, but I wanted a position where I could combine my love for biology with this type of impactful work. After doing some research on my own, I learned about the Life Sciences Specialist position at L.E.K. Here was somewhere that literally fit all the criteria I was looking for in a position post-graduate school – somewhere I could work on projects that get science out to the general public, whether it be through drugs that are helping the sick, or with research tools that are helping scientists create those drugs. 

As I got closer to graduating, I also started preparing my application to L.E.K. I’m going to be honest; the process of applying was a scary one.  Up until then all my experience came from the lab, and I was entering a field that I knew little to nothing about. I started taking business classes at Caltech, reading books and blogs about consulting, and talking to as many people as possible about consulting and L.E.K.  Learning how to do cases was another challenge in itself, but as I practiced more and more, casework went from something I dreaded to something that was actually pretty fun. It was really exciting use all the critical thinking I had developed reading research papers and designing experiments to solve problems a business might face.

A turning point came for me at the L.E.K. info session at UCLA.  I got a chance to speak to other LSSs about life at L.E.K. In terms of management consulting, it sounded like an amazing place to be, getting to work on exciting projects…and being able to sleep in your own bed sounded pretty great.  The interview process was also surprisingly pleasant, doing cases with my interviewers felt more like I was working together with them on a problem than me putting on a show for them. It really felt like I was getting a glimpse of what working at L.E.K. would be like. And, getting the call from Managing Director Nurry Hong about the offer was absolutely the best—I don’t think I’ll ever forget October 24, 2014. It’s the day my life basically changed. I finally achieved what I had been dreaming about for the last three years.

I graduated from Caltech this past May and just started in the Los Angeles office. I’ve had a great first two weeks. Every day as I drive to work, I pass a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf where I first practiced cases and it really feels like I’ve made it full circle now. I really am where I’m supposed to be.

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