Karina Padilla recently landed her dream job. However, her path to success wasn't always clear.
Karina's struggle post-college was not a particularly unique one. The “job hunt,” as many refer to the process, is challenging for many a college senior. Yet, the methods that Karina used to eventually land a job are unique. After chatting with Karina, I began to think of the process somewhat differently.
For many students, it is not just a question of finding a job, but also figuring out what they want to be doing. “After college, I had no idea what I was going to do. Or what I wanted to do, really,” Karina tells us. “Honestly, I was just so overwhelmed by everything while I was at school, that I just needed a break.”
“Taking classes at Stanford were very challenging for me. It was very overwhelming being in an environment full of people that were very very smart and seemingly very sure of what they wanted to do and where they were going and why they were taking certain classes.” She did know that she wanted to pursue a scientific career that had a real impact on people. Although she considered pursuing a major in bioengineering, she didn't feel that the program at Stanford was well developed at the time. Luckily, there was a bioengineering track within the Materials Science program that caught Karina's eye.
Karina graduated from Stanford in the spring of 2012 after completing her B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering. That spring, she found a job at a cell phone store on campus. “Totally random! But I just needed a job and time to look for other jobs to start my career. But in this job, I got to meet a lot of different people.”
One of the people she ran into was a psychologist. While she was helping him with cell phones, “...he was also kind of shrinking me. I was very stressed out in general [at the time]. And he took the time to work me through some issues.” He gave her lots of advice, but the bit that stuck with her was that every time you have a new job, you not only gain a manager, but also a mentor. “I really took that with me, reaching out to people and forming these relationships.” He also recommended she read What Color is Your Parachute, to aid her in both her job search and in soul searching for what she wanted out of a job.
As Karina traveled along the pathway to her current job, she learned even more...
Using your alumni network (or not!)
“It might be more beneficial to make new connections that are different from the ones that you have. [It's important to] get out there and meet people that are different from you. Also, when you stay in your school bubble, you are competing with a pool of applicants exactly like you.”
Finding work through a temp agency
“I was able to get my foot in the door and meet a lot of people [at Genentech]. Just talk to them about their experiences. And that eventually lead to the permanent placement.”
Making a personal connection
While she was on the hunt for a full time position, two openings popped up. However, they were quite different from each other, prompting Karina to do some research. “I sat down with a lot of people and they spoke about their different experiences. [Through this] I was able to establish some mentoring relationships, which was actually very helpful during the interview process because they already knew a little bit about me and it made the interviews a little bit less intimidating!”
Today, Karina works in the Late Stage Pharmaceutical Development (LSPD) group as an Associate Engineer. After Genentech finds a target that seems promising , certain parameters need to be optimized in order to ensure proper function in the field— such as sitting on the shelf in a doctor's office for months at a time. “Before [a drug] enters phase 3 trials, we we need to determine an optimal formulation so that the stability of the protein lasts long enough for us to actually send it to patients around the world. We are scaling up the process and therefore working on a larger scale.”
Currently, Karina's work focuses on products that are already available in the marketplace. Her role is primarily in “tech transfers”, which occurs when manufacturing of a product is moved from one site to another. During this process, Karina collects product quality data on the drug produced at the new facility and submits this information to the FDA to prove that the material produced at the new site is comparable to the material produced at the original site. “We are essentially asking for permission to use a site as an official producer of this drug.”
The two current drugs she is working on are Cathflo Activase and Xolair. Since starting in LSPD, she has completed a tech transfer for Avastin, and recently, Karina and her group found out that the transfer of Avastin was approved and the first shipments were sent out to market. “It's really cool to see how the work I did actually went toward something very tangible and productive.”
Working at an innovative company
“Genentech does a really good job of conveying this mission to their employees.” The company often brings in patients who have used their medications to speak to their experiences with the products. “It is really eye opening and really gives us a sense of purpose about what we are working on now.”
“[While at Stanford] I wanted so badly to feel capable and competent, but not doing well in those classes made me believe I wouldn't do well in any science related job. I felt very incompetent at times. It took a lot for me to push myself to pursue those dreams I had for myself since middle school...even if I felt I was bad at it. And that's why I feel that landing that job a Genentech has been the biggest success in my career right now, because I finally feel like I CAN be successful in this field, and I actually am loving the work that I do.”
Top tips from Karina
- Branch out from alumni and friend networks. Don't be afraid to leave your safety bubble!
- Do some soul searching before you job search. And then look for a company that aligns with your needs and wants.
- Go to off-campus career fairs.
- Go to focused career fairs. Those are often more productive than broad spectrum fairs.
- Temp agencies are a great option for getting your foot in the door at top companies.
- If you already work at a company, it is helpful to meet with the hiring manager and deliver your resume in person.
- Look into professional development opportunities through your company — Karina is getting her Masters part-time in Pharmaceutical Chemistry!
- Live in the moment. Karina doesn't know what she'll be doing in 10 years, but right now she is trying learn as much as she can. “I'm a sponge!”
- Your manager is not your only mentor at work. There is so much you can learn from all the people around you.
- Figure out your definition of success.