If you had told me four years ago that I would be working in consulting, I would have responded with a basic question: “What’s consulting? And, why am I doing it?”
As recently as a year ago, I was positive that I would be pursuing a PhD in Systems Biology (or something similar such as Computational Biology or Mathematical Biology). The field was deeply 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 having been exposed to the joys of doing collaborative scientific work, 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 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 happened? 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, many of whom were early professionals looking into business jobs like consulting and finance.
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 faculty. But at the same time, towards the end of the summer, with several experiments facing setbacks and the doubts in my mind over my ability to be a good researcher, 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 the public interest. Even the reason that I chose to specialize in Systems Biology stemmed from a belief that traditional molecular and cellular techniques will face sharply diminishing returns with regards to finding the causes and cures for diseases. Having lived almost all of my pre-college life in the Silicon Valley, I was geared to seeing fruiftul science as science that moved from “bench to bedside” and my highest aim was to transition brilliant ideas to profitable ones.
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 could feel like a fun competition. Although I did not expect to receive a job offer from any firm, I did better than I expected in the interview process and received an offer which I simply found too interesting to turn down.
All roads, at least for me, led to consulting.