Demonstrate your potential

I learned a lot while investing little time, which is key to consider when having full-time PhD projects running at the same time.

Thomas Clairfeuille, PhD graduate

Recent UQ Alumni, Dr Thomas Clairfeuille (IMB) completed his PhD in 2015 and now lives in San Francisco, working for his dream employer, leading Science firm Genentech. During his PhD candidature, Thomas undertook an industry experience placement with Sanofi.

Thomas speaks about his current professional work environment and lifestyle in San Francisco

I've always wanted to work for Genentech for many reasons (very human and progressive corporate culture, innovative protein therapeutics etc), so I am extremely happy to be here in SF. The Science that goes on here exactly lines-up with my interests, and I am given near-complete freedom to pursue any lead I see fit, which is pretty much all a scientist could ask for. One has to be careful when working in the USA, as the corporate lifestyle of some companies can be hard and merciless. I would say Genentech has a fairly laid back work hard play hard culture, overall pretty similar to Australia. I've definitely got plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful California outdoors on my time off, and I consider my working lifestyle very balanced. 

How did your placement with Sanofi come about?

A couple of managers from Sanofi (the most diversified healthcare company in Australia and NZ) delivered a talk at the IMB early career researcher seminar. They gave everyone an idea of their activities at Sanofi consumer healthcare, and simply announced at the end of the talk that they needed someone to help them out on a couple of research projects. I've always had a particular interest in working in the pharma industry, and I know the Sanofi group pretty well so I applied and was offered a one day a week 4-month assignment.

Was the placement a good experience for you?

Overall the placement was definitely a good experience. I learned a lot while investing little time, which is key to consider when having full-time PhD projects running at the same time. Needless to say, your principal supervisor needs to be open-minded enough to let you do it, and I think as a budding scientists all PhD students should try to step out of the academic circle as often as possible. Not doing an industry placement is like closing the door to a potential fascinating new world.

How did a placement experience add value for you as a research professional?

This type of placement experience is perfect to get an idea of what it is to work in the industry. I found it beneficial to understand the pharma world from a consumer/marketing point of view, but realized this aspect of Science was not particularly what I wanted to spend a lot of time developing later on (which in itself is a good thing to know early on).

While an HDR candidate, were you involved in any other activities which helped position you as a valuable researcher?

I've always been interested in biotech (AusBiotech events and conferences, networking, science com) and in learning other things by stepping a little out of the PhD classical path (Uniquest, Sanofi). I can only encourage students to always be on the look-out for external opportunities to learn new things and meet new people. In the end, the more you know, the more you refine your interests as a scientist, and knowing exactly what to look for and what you want is the first, very important step to getting a good job. My previous experiences in the biotech world definitely helped me to get this job with Genentech, but I'd say it also goes hand in hand with showing your motivation and determination by being proactive.