by Courtney Anthony-Bricker, graduate student
Anuraag Sarangi is the quintessential alumni success story. After Dr. Sarangi earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Vanderbilt University in 2009, he completed a brief stint as a postdoc at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From there, he transitioned into his current role of strategic consultant for ETHOS Health Communications. Dr. Sarangi recently returned to Vanderbilt as an invited speaker for the 2015 BRET career symposium. Prior to the symposium, Dr. Sarangi sat down with me to discuss his journey from academia to industry, his work at ETHOS, and advice on how to flourish in your post-graduate career.
Before Dr. Sarangi joined the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Vanderbilt, he acquired two degrees in computer science. During that time, he enjoyed building and creating tools for scientists and researchers, but found something lacking. “I noticed that I was getting a superficial understanding of the science involved because I was really concentrating more on the tools,” he said. “I really wanted to get a deeper understanding of the science. So, that prompted me to look at opportunities after my bachelor’s and master’s.”
Dr. Sarangi spoke with professors at Indiana University and took several courses in neuroscience, including cognitive neuroscience. “I really developed a fascination with neuroscience. I started looking at neuroscience programs. Vanderbilt has an awesome Neuroscience Graduate Program. I joined the lab of Michael Cooper, M.D., in the Department of Neurology. I was bridging translational science and preclinical science and it was really exciting work. I got hooked on it and pursued my Ph.D. in neuroscience. Now, I feel like I have a greater understanding of the science and I also appreciate how the tools I was developing in computer science were helping scientists do their research.”
During his time in graduate school, Dr. Sarangi co-founded and served as co-director of the academic chapter of the Tennessee Biotechnology Association (now Life Science Tennessee). His involvement with the Tennessee Biotechnology Association and other professional organizations during his training fostered the development of his networking and leadership skills. His interactions with these organizations also eventually informed his transition from academia to industry. “Developing relationships through the networking opportunities provided by these professional organizations was invaluable. I learned a lot from the industry contacts. I had an early inclination to move toward industry. This really allowed me to explore those opportunities. In the Tennessee Biotechnology Association, we created opportunities for networking events and participated in the annual meeting for the Tennessee Biotechnology Association. It really opened up a lot of opportunities to meet with folks who were working on the industry side and talk about career transitions, collaborations with academia, or just partnerships in general.
“One of the things that is also really valuable is to take up a leadership opportunity within one of these organizations. If you have the chance to participate as a member of an organization or academic chapter leading an activity or an event, that’s really going to help you build a list of contacts. It’s also going to demonstrate leadership ability, teamwork, project management, and time management: all things that are very valuable on the industry side. I highly recommend it. Don’t be passive. Contribute and participate in any leadership opportunities.”
"If you have the chance to participate as a member of an organization or academic chapter leading an activity or an event, that’s really going to help you build a list of contacts."
When Dr. Sarangi decided to direct his career path toward industry, industry was, and still is, considered an alternative career in most graduate programs. Some individuals in academia even refer to industry as “the dark side” and treat forays into industry as defections from the traditional academic career path. Fortunately, Dr. Sarangi did not encounter such negative attitudes. “I did not feel any pressure to stick with a traditional career path. I was encouraged; there was definitely a supportive environment for me in grad school and during my postdoc. However, there weren’t as many opportunities as readily available as there are now. For example, the BRET office does a lot of work to provide career options and education to students and postdocs. They did it back in those days, but it was still in the nascent stages.”
Even though he had a supportive environment, Dr. Sarangi also mentioned a caveat: “One of the things to keep in mind is that you may have to create your own opportunities. An example of that is co-founding the academic chapter for the Tennessee Biotechnology Association. We created this opportunity for students and postdocs to interact and collaborate with industry. If you have an inclination toward exploring other career options, you should definitely do it. You should find people that you can talk to, gain more information, gain access to industry or other avenues of career paths, and make sure that you don’t lose sight of it as you continue through graduate school. It’s just a matter of seeking out the opportunities that you want for your career and for yourself.”
Throughout our chat, Dr. Sarangi frequently stressed the importance of networking. “Networking is essential. It’s an important skill that one needs to continue to develop, even after you’ve chosen a particular career path. In my case, networking was essential in opening up not just industry contacts, but also the job opportunities I eventually secured. My current position was actually acquired through networking at a career symposium at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. My current manager was giving a talk at the career symposium. I approached her after the talk because I was very interested in what she was doing. She liked my resume, so she forwarded it to HR and I got a call for an interview. Several rounds later, I got the job. Not only that, the other two job offers I secured around the same time were through networking with alumni from Vanderbilt and University of North Carolina.
“Networking is essential. It’s an important skill that one needs to continue to develop, even after you’ve chosen a particular career path."
As a strategic consultant for ETHOS, Dr. Sarangi’s job consists of two primary roles: strategic advisor to pharmaceutical clients and team-lead within ETHOS. His dual role within the company provides him with numerous responsibilities and requires constant communication with clients and members of his team. “The bulk of my work in ETHOS stems from interfacing with pharmaceutical marketing clients. I continue to explore and talk to them about strategies that are relevant to their product or brand within the market place and how to expand and grow that particular product or brand. I explore different ways of communicating the medical science behind the product to the different stakeholders involved. The other role that I have is to lead my internal team at ETHOS. We have different teams at ETHOS that focus on one or a few specific clients. My team is a relatively large cross-functional team consisting of about 15 people. Together, we deliver on important client projects, whether they’re strategic projects to gain insights from the marketplace or education and communication projects to compliantly provide information to the medical community about a product. As the team-leader, I am providing oversight across different groups within my team. I’m also involved in managing resources within the company and securing new business opportunities for ETHOS.”
A typical week for Dr. Sarangi involves juggling his various responsibilities. He spends roughly 40% of his time communicating with clients and his internal team. Dr. Sarangi is also responsible for content review (ETHOS develops both marketing and scientific content for their clients), which consumes 20% of his time. “I’m responsible for reviewing that content, making sure that it’s on point strategically and that it achieves the objectives we have set out for the client. A lot of my time can also be involved in project management-related issues or financial management-related issues, so I spend about 20% of my time doing that. About 20% of my time is spent traveling. Once a week, I’m usually at a client site. Once a month, I could be at either an offsite client meeting or a project-related meeting.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, Dr. Sarangi offered some valuable insights on the challenges involved in establishing work-life balance in industry. Work-life balance is a constant struggle, both in industry and in bench science. Sometimes you have to come into the lab at odd hours to care for mice or feed your cells. As Dr. Sarangi explained, a job in industry comes with a different set of challenges. “Personally, I feel that whether it’s in industry or in academia, you’re constantly working toward achieving work-life balance and there are several factors that impact it. Work-life balance, when I was in grad school or when I was a postdoc, was different than the work-life balance I have now. At a basic level, my weekdays tend to be worse now, but my weekends tend to be better. During my weekdays, I am constantly in communication-mode with clients and my team, and there are instances where things can be somewhat unpredictable. However, most weekends tend to be free, where you really disconnect and recharge yourself. The caveat is that things are unpredictable during the weekdays and it’s hard to achieve control. That wasn’t necessarily the case when I was doing bench science, as I did have some measure of control over my schedule. In some ways my work-life balance is better now, but in some ways it’s not. The key is flexibility and a supportive professional and personal environment. As I mentioned, it’s important to take time to disconnect and recharge. With the work that I do, especially in industry, there is a norm to be constantly in touch with your work and your colleagues. Make sure that you’re spending enough time doing things that you value, like spending time with your family or doing activities. I think it’s a continuum in terms of trying to achieve that balance, but I like it. As long as you can adapt quickly to your environment and you’re able to have some measure of control over it and draw boundaries, you will be able to achieve a good work-life balance.”
A Day in the Life of a Strategic Consultant
Q. What time did you wake up in the morning? Did you immediately get ready for work or go to the gym, surf the web, etc.?
I generally wake up about 6:30-7am. Check emails over the phone for anything urgent from client or team. Wake kids up and family starts getting ready for work and school. Drop off kids at bus-stop/school and be at office by 9am. Occasionally, jump on an early morning client call (8 or 8:30am) prior to heading to office.
Q. What did you wear to work? A suit and tie or something more business casual?
Business casual on most days. Business casual for meetings with longstanding clients who are informal. Suit and tie for new client meetings, project/program meetings, or new business pitch.
Q. Did you commute to work? If so, did you take a car, bike or public transit? What did you do during your commute? Listen to music, audiobooks or meditate?
Luckily, I have a short-drive to the office (less than 5 minutes). I catch up quickly on NPR news on the radio. Travel to client meetings are much longer – if I am driving, I listen to NPR, music, or a health topic podcast (preferably something related to the drug or therapeutic area I am working on currently); if I am on a flight, I usually prepare for the client meeting, catch up on project tasks for my internal team, read or listen to music occasionally.
Q. What time did you arrive at the office? When you arrived at work, did you immediately jump into tasks? Did you make coffee or chat with coworkers around the water cooler?
In the office by 9am, immediately jump into tasks by email, phone or a live meeting with the internal team. I try to look at my calendar and plan ahead for what the day looks like prior to starting my work at the office. My day can change rapidly based on client or team needs, hence preparation is essential. Also, coffee helps tremendously.
Q. How many emails did you receive? How many emails did you send? Did you review emails throughout the day or did you devote specific blocks of time?
Received: generally around 75-125 emails on a typical day, sometimes several more. Sent: 25-50 emails on a typical day. This doesn’t include the dozens of instant messages (within the office network), and phone calls with team members and clients in between emails and meetings.
Q. How much time did you spend in front of a computer?
Most of my work when not in meetings is spent in front of a computer; generally 2-4 hours.
Q. How much time did you spend in meetings ? Were these in-person meetings, teleconferences or a mixture of both?
Depends on the day, types of projects, and stage the projects are in, but roughly 50-75% of the time in meetings (4 – 6.5 hours). It is a mixture of in-person, teleconferences, and webconference meetings.
Q. When and what did you eat lunch? Did you eat a homemade meal at the office or eat out a restaurant? Did you eat lunch with coworkers or clients?
Grab lunch sometime between 12-1pm on most days. I usually bring lunch from home and eat in my office. Part of my client interactions are over lunch or dinner at great restaurants! We usually have a monthly happy hour or lunch with my team or coworkers which gives me the opportunity to unwind and relax a bit at work.
Q. Approximately how many pages of work documents did you review?
Anywhere between 5-10 documents of varying lengths in a day. Some of the content is not in documents; for example, it could in the form of a video or an iPad application.
Q. At the end of the workday, are you the first or last person out of the office, or somewhere in between?
On most days, one of the last few ones out of the office. Some months are heavier workload, or more travel, compared to others. For example, for my current projects and clients, first half of the year and the last quarter of the year are extremely busy.
Q. What time did your workday end?
Between 6-7pm on most days; if I have some more things to work on that day, I take a break to go home and spend time with family before jumping into the work after the kids go to bed, or I wake up early the next day to finish up.
Q. After work, did you go home and spend time with family, friends or pets? Did you remain plugged into work?
Spend time with family for sure. Take kids to activities or play with them; spend time chatting with my wife about her day; help with any chores. I have my work phone nearby most of the time for anything urgent, but try not to plug in again until after kids are asleep and only for items that need immediate attention.