Blog | October 22, 2020

What Would You Do?

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

Dominic Carroll, teenage biopharma aspirant
Dominic Carroll, teenage biopharma aspirant

Not long ago I received the following email.

Subject: Teenage pharma aspirant seeking advice

Hi Mr. Wright,

You don't know me, but the reason that I am reaching out to you is that I am a 17-year old high-school student from Ohio and am in search for a small bit of advice. I've reached out to a few pharma execs and they have actually given me a few bits of wisdom here and there. But after reading some of the Life Science Leader magazine, I decided to reach out to you.

I began reading about investments and capital markets a few years back, which inspired my decision that I plan to attend business school with a concentration in finance. Although, my intention after college is to enter the pharma/biotech industry doing some sort of work related to financial management. Biopharma is my secondary interest, and I think it is an industry that has the potential for a lot of value generation.

This niche is somewhat intimidating as most finance undergrads typically spend their career at financial intermediaries and similar companies. Therefore, this is definitely not a well-worn path and has the propensity for many barriers to entry.

I was wondering if you had any advice for a young life science business aspirant - specifically on how I can begin specializing and networking within the life sciences industry early on?

Thank you in advance! Additionally, I wanted to say that I am grateful for & enjoy your publication!

My question is, what would you do if you received such an email, and it didn’t end up in your junk folder?

Now before you answer, keep in mind, this person is neither the friend of a friend, nor the child of a friend. In other words, this is a total cold-call email, and my first thought was, could this be some sort of scam?

Why Send An Email, When You Can Have A Phone Call?

As the chief editor of a leading life science industry publication, I am fortunate to receive lots of email pitches for story ideas. It would be great to be able to respond to all with a personal note as to whether or not I am interested and why. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t practical. Besides, oftentimes when reading the email, I can easily discern that not a whole lot of effort was expended on determining if our audience was a fit. So, why expend a whole lot of energy on my end explaining why? But in the case above, it seems clear that not only is this person well spoken, but they seem to have a solid understanding of our audience. The only problem is, they aren’t a fit, as we write about biopharmaceutical executives, and this they are not — at least not yet.

What to do? This was the brief internal debate that I had. I could ignore it, and maybe no harm would be done. Or I could spend 20-30 minutes (perhaps more) typing up an email with some advice. An email reply was the approach taken by one biopharmaceutical executive who received a similar email from the same person (which I applaud). But in my experience, emails (and text messages) aren’t able to convey as clearly, or as quicky, what could be communicated via a phone call. So, I fired back an email asking them to shoot me some dates and times that worked for them, and they promptly replied. Maybe I’d spend just a few minutes on the phone, perhaps more, depending how the conversation went. In truth, I ended up spending nearly my entire 60-minute lunch hour speaking with this young person, and it was perhaps the best use of my time that entire day. I’m hoping they found it just as valuable.

Is There An Opportunity For Biopharma To Mentor People Beyond Scientists?

Unlike most phone calls that I agree to jump on, I did not do a whole lot of research prior. Correction. I did not do any research. My thinking was, how much info am I really going to be able to find on this person, and if they turn out to be a scammer, I’d quickly be able to discern that and take the necessary appropriate steps (i.e., hang up and block). However, after the conversation, I did do some digging, and soon learned some stuff that wasn’t uncovered during the phone conversation. For example, I learned that Dominic Carroll, author of the above email, was the subject of an article published in Sept. 2018 in Columbus CEO. I found he already had a Twitter profile (joined in 2015), and a LinkedIn profile, both appearing very professional. But it was what I learned during the conversation that really mattered. For example, he told me he was reading Science Lessons: What the Business of Biotech Taught Me About Management, by Gordon Binder (former CEO of Amgen) and Philip Bashe (which has now been added to my reading list). Perhaps that’s why I quickly forgot I was speaking with a 17-year old high-school student, as he seemed fluent in biopharma business and science lingo.

I also learned he's an avid reader and fan of Life Science Leader. In fact, Carroll commented that it was after reading the various articles written about George Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., CSO and cofounder of Regeneron, that he decided to email me, as Yancopoulos is one of his “heroes.” Given Yancopoulos’s fondness for having a positive influence on young scientists (i.e., the company sponsors the Regeneron Science Talent Search [STS]), I believe he’d be humbled and appreciate knowing his reach goes beyond science. After all, Carroll is a young person with aspiration to enter the biopharmaceutical industry as a finance/businessperson. And it made me think, “There’s an opportunity here.” Because while there are a number of programs similar to Regeneron’s that support and encourage young scientists (e.g., International BioGENEius Challenge and the Biodesign Challenge), where are the programs to support and encourage young people with biopharma business aspirations? When you consider that half of the Top 10 Big Pharmas are run by people with business backgrounds, doesn’t it seem like an opportunity to mentor young biopharma businesspeople such that we get fewer “bad actors” in the future? Think you know someone who might be interested in helping to spearhead such an initiative? If so, then have them get in touch with me, as I’d be happy to broker an intro to an earnest pupil eager to help get them started.

Editor’s Note: Here are the links to the three articles involving Yancopoulos.