46th St. Gallen Symposium – Highlights

A few months ago, I received an exclusive invitation to the 46th St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland as a Leader of Tomorrow. The St. Gallen Symposium is the world’s premier opportunity for healthy debates between generations. Each year since 1970, the global elite of leaders and decision makers from various backgrounds meet with the next generation to discuss relevant topics of management, politics and civil society. This year’s line-up included Peter Brabeck-Letmathe (Chairman of Board, Nestlé), Christoph Franz (Chairman, Roche), Tidjane Thiam (CEO, Credit Suisse), Clare Woodcraft-Scott (CEO, Emirates Foundation), Chan Chun Sing (Minister at PMO, Singapore) and many more luminaries, discussing the topic of “Growth – the good, the bad, and the ugly”.

The three-day symposium from 11-13 May 2016 has been one of the highlights of my professional career. A confluence of remarkable people and gorgeous scenery of the Swiss countryside set the stage for intimate and intense debates across a spectrum of topics. Each attendee had been carefully screened and personally invited. There are so many adjectives that I could use to describe the symposium – humbling, energizing, respectful, accessible, and controversial – and the amalgamation of these is what makes this event so unique.

No topic was taboo. We saw Stephen Sackur of BBC’s HARDtalk grilling Panama’s Vice-Minister of Finance, Eyda Varela de Chinchilla. In spite of her best defense efforts, Sackur tore her weak arguments up, accusing Panama of being “competitors in financial secrecy with Switzerland, Cayman Islands, and the Bermudas”. We saw Andrew Hill of The Financial Times take an all-male panel to task, demanding Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman at Nestlé to justify his stand on gender parity and explain why in 12 years, he had only grown his Board from not having any women on the Board, to just one member. The audience was visibly displeased, which provided strong indication that the emphasis on diversity and gender equality was felt very strongly amongst the Leaders of Tomorrow and of Today.

We also saw humbling and unpretentious moments. The most memorable of which was an open conversation with Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse. Thiam openly shared his stories of being on the receiving end of blatant racism, from being treated as a fast-food employee when he was a C-level executive at a Fortune500 company, to being held by airport security even on the day he was featured on the front page of Wall Street Journal. His achievements and humility in spite of his adversities faced, is truly inspiring.

For me, there were many take-home messages from the Symposium:

  1. Short-term thinking by current leaders has led to the mess of climate change, damage to the environment, and inequality.
  2. Long-term thinking has to embrace social change through education as a tool for social mobility.
  3. Developing countries should not use the same yardstick as developed economies – there are different solutions and different innovations.
  4. GDP has historically been used as a measure of a country’s growth. Although it’s inadequate, there has been no encompassing alternative yet.
  5. Regenerative and sustainable investment will take center stage – in health, energy, and with a focus on the protection of the ecosystem. Ethical investment will provide regenerative potential in world economies.
  6. The next generation of leaders truly care about the future – we have strong opinions about the environment, human rights, and equality.

When asked about the biggest influence on his life, Thiam quoted his mother, “Whatever you set out to do, finish what you started”. What change do you believe in? Let’s accomplish it together.

Why you should pitch your idea, even if it’s to that random stranger?

This article first appeared on Biotechin.Asia, and is republished with permission. This was part of a series of articles for scientists and life science professionals for starting their own company and setting up their business. This first article, in particular, is on pitching and why should one pitch your business, to anyone and everyone, reiterating the importance of an elevator pitch for your startup or even your idea.

What is a pitch?

We know that coming up with new ideas is tough work. But communicating and convincing others to act on them, often called pitching, is an even more daunting task.

The basic skill of pitching an idea is the same, regardless of whether a scientist is applying for grants, a jobseeker selling themselves to a potential employer, or a child hankering for a new toy. Pitching happens in everyday life – the essence of it involves communicating needs and wants, and how acting on the idea provides a beneficial outcome.

Who pitches?

As scientists, we come up with hypotheses to solve questions and gaps in the scientific literature. We then come up with possible experiments to probe and verify our hypotheses, and we apply for grants to support us in our efforts. The very process of applying for these grants is itself a form of pitching! We communicate to others the importance of solving these questions, and we pitch to get their support, and success translates to getting a grant award.

It is important to get others to buy-in into our ideas. This gives us validation that our ideas are worth spending time on – you don’t want to be spending time and effort (and money) on ideas that don’t make impact.

First-time entrepreneurs often worry about pitching. There are often concerns along the lines of “If I share my idea, others might scoop me”. Sounds familiar?

“Getting scooped”

The biggest reason why people are afraid to share ideas is fear of copycats and losing the competitive edge. Scientists are terrified of this – understandably so, because a “scoop” may mean that years of research may go to waste if a competitor publishes your hard work before you do! However, if we dive deeper into understanding this issue, we find that the *big* idea is what we should be sharing with others, and not *how* we approach the problem. This applies whether you’re a scientist, or an entrepreneur. Keep the details to your approaches and methods secret – reveal the non-confidential, public information. If you can convince others that the problem is worth investigating, then you know you’re on track. Just be careful when you speak with other competitors! Big ideas are big not because someone hasn’t thought of them before, but because no one has yet found a feasible way to act on them yet. The “How” is going to be your secret sauce.

On the other hand, if you choose not to pitch to others, you miss out on some terrific benefits of doing so – getting feedback on your ideas, drumming up interest in your endeavors, meeting new people and exciting others enough to get them to join your team, getting practice before pitching to investors etc. The benefits truly outweigh the potential costs.

The Elevator Pitch

There are a few types of pitches, but the one that every individual can benefit from is the elevator pitch. This is a concise and simple message that takes no more than the time it takes to go up or down an elevator, hence the moniker. It often lasts no more than a minute, and hence it’s critical to nail down a compelling elevator pitch to capture their attention right from the beginning. The key objective is to pique the interest of your audience, and not to overwhelm with information. Get them interested in the problem you’re trying to solve, and leave the discussion on how you are going to solve that problem for a later date.


How to select the right VC for your company

This article first appeared on Biotech Likemind’s blog, and is republished with permission.

The search for the right partner

During the fundraising process, the first thing on an entrepreneur’s mind is making sure that one gets the best deal possible, ideally obtaining a high valuation and sufficient capital for growth. However, is that all there is? The relationship with a VC should be a true partnership, one that spans 5 to 7 years. Hence, it is important that the VC provides much more than capital – there are many aspects that the entrepreneur can leverage on. On the flip side, the VC often sits on the board and closely monitors the company. The voting and veto rights that a VC will have means that the VC can make sudden corporate changes in the interest of its investment, a move which is not necessarily aligned in the interest of the entrepreneur. Because of the nature of this long partnership, it would be beneficial if the VC provides much more than money. Below are some traits that the entrepreneur should look out for, when selecting the right VC.

Ideal traits in a VC

  1. The Value-added VC

The term “Smart money” has been coined to refer to capital that provides value added features that the entrepreneur can leverage. These come in many forms, to aide all aspects of the company. The VC can mentor and provide strategic business advice and technical advice, and help with financial expertise for next round financing. They can also act as an additional pair of eyes and ears, to keep a lookout for external factors that impact the company’s wellbeing, including industry trends, opportunities, competition, and regulatory changes. The breadth and depth of a VC’s network can also be leveraged to obtain introductions to potential customers, partners, consultants, or even buyers for the company when an exit is planned.

  1. The Reputable VC

Reputation counts in this industry, because a VC who has treated an entrepreneur unfairly, would be effectively poisoning its own deal flow. Look for a VC which has a track record in successful exits, and plays an active role in helping companies grow and troubleshoot.

  1. The Deep-pocket VC

As a company grows, so does its requirements for capital. The entrepreneur should look for an investor who is able to continue committing to the company as it expands, and hence follow-on capabilities should be a priority. If a VC who has invested in a previous round does not invest in the next round, it sends a red flag to other investors that the company could have an undisclosed problem – even if the real reason is that the VC has reached the end of life for its fund! This could raise too many questions, and have a negative impact on future fundraising rounds. A well-syndicated VC could be a solution to this problem – the financing round will just require more investors to chip in smaller amounts.

  1. The Personal VC

The relationship between the company and the VC firm is ultimately defined by the personal interpersonal relationship between the entrepreneur and the VC. Given the close nature of the interactions with difficult challenges and decisions faced by the entrepreneur, the rapport and chemistry, as well as how much respect the individuals have for each other, can be a strong positive indication for a good match between company and VC.

How should the entrepreneur pick the best match?

Analogous to how the VC puts each deal through its due diligence process, the entrepreneur should also return the favor and perform a similarly detailed due diligence on the VC. Check up on the backgrounds of the individual partners in the VC firm, especially the one who is the deal champion, and verify their track records – many of these VCs are stellar networkers and have current LinkedIn accounts. Call up individuals who have personally worked with the VCs before, including service professionals such as attorneys and accountants. Obtain firsthand accounts from entrepreneurs who have pitched to the VCs, or are/were portfolio companies of the VC’s fund, including both successes and failures. A transparent VC should be able to produce references when requested – it will make them more assured that the entrepreneur is clear about what they want from the deal.

The VC method for valuation of an early stage company

This article first appeared on Biotech Likemind’s blog, and is republished with permission.

Valuation of early stage companies

It can be very challenging to put a dollar value on early stage companies, because there are many qualitative factors that play a role in valuation. The earlier the stage, the more variability these factors can have. However, the entrepreneur must always know how to quantify this as best as possible.

What are the factors?

Many of these factors are qualitative, especially because the young company is often pre-revenue and cannot accurately project their earnings, which are at best an estimate. The obvious factors that affect valuation are directly related to the company’s development stage, track record, market presence, intellectual property, and whether there is an “A” team helming the company. The financials of the company play a significant role here too, especially when looking into extrapolated growth potential, and the pricing of the product. Other less obvious factors will include how well the entrepreneur negotiates, whether there is more than one capital source (e.g., another competing VC, or grants), how much available VC funding there is in the market at the time the entrepreneur is fund-raising, and so on. Although there will always be uncertainty, a thorough assessment of these factors will often bring up a ballpark figure. However, there are some methods by which one could get to a number quantitatively. The most commonly used simple calculation is the “VC Method”.

To illustrate, we use an example where a VC wants to get a 20x return on his money, and wants to invest $5M. A recent competitor was recently acquired for $300M.

The simplified VC method for valuation – using multiples

  1. The value of the company at exit is defined as the terminal valuation. Frequently, comparable exits are used – in this case, $300M.
  2. Decide what multiple is expected of the initial investment – 20x multiple.
  3. Post-money = terminal valuation / multiple = $300M/20 = $15M.
  4. Pre-money valuation = post-money valuation – investment amount = $15M – 5M = $10M pre-money

This is a highly simplified way of quantifying the valuation of a pre-revenue company, and many complicating factors to account for dilution and further financing rounds have not been included. A slightly more nuanced method would be to use the internal rate of return (IRR) or discount rate instead of using multiples, which further accounts for the duration of the investment, but this is beyond the scope of this short article.

It is important to note that the multiple used to calculate varies based on the round – early rounds always have a higher multiple, and seed rounds are the highest (>30-40x). This is not based on greed, but rather, on risk. The risk is compounded with the earliest rounds, where most companies that obtain investment at that stage are expected to be written off. Given that the investor seeks to achieve virtually all of their return on investment from one or two winners, it is necessary and fair to ask for a high number.

It is important to know your number

As an entrepreneur, it is important not only to understand how VCs calculate the valuation for their books, but you must also be ready to give a number when pressed for it during the fundraising process. This is one topic that you cannot feign ignorance about; perhaps you might even be able to use the knowledge to negotiate with your VC!

Basics of Venture Capital

This article first appeared on Biotech Likemind’s blog, and is republished with permission.

What is venture capital?

Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of fledgling companies. But when the company needs to scale, and scale quickly, significant financing can be required, often beyond what any one individual would be willing to risk. Growth capital at the very early stages of high risk, high growth-potential companies, is frequently provided by venture capital (VC), a type of private financial capital. At this stage of the company, startups are unable to acquire loans from banks because of a lack of cashflow and/or product. Venture capital fills the funding void between early stage seed funding, and product reaching the market place.

What do they do?

Venture capitalists (also commonly bearing the acronym VCs) invest money into companies that they selectively handpick through an arduous process (often seemingly more arduous to the entrepreneur) as “due diligence”. The reality is that a typical VC receives more than 500 business plans each year (often each Partner in a VC individually triages that number of business plans), and then through a quick screen, followed by a second filter, narrows it down to 20 or so that undergoes further diligence. This funneling process can seem brutal, but often not without reason – VCs typically have a mandate for their fund, and the portfolio of companies may have to fit well in their investment strategy, which may be stage dependent (e.g., Series A and earlier only), or type of life science company (e.g., only medtech). Each investment has to be approved by the VC’s internal Investment Committee.

The pool of investible money comes from their Limited Partners, who often contribute 99% of the value of the fund. That means that VCs themselves have to go through a fundraising cycle, much like entrepreneurs do, to raise the fund, before they have the capital to invest in their portfolio companies. The financing is largely from large funds such as insurance funds, endowments, foundations, public pensions, and large family offices as well.

Once they invest in the companies, they often take control of the company by owning a significant chunk of equity, and sit on boards to steer the company’s growth and direction. At the earliest stage of the company, a hands-on VC may even be an interim CEO.

Because VCs are accountable for someone else’s money, they have to eventually return the capital to their Limited Partners, often within a fixed period, known as the fund cycle (around 10 years, often longer if biotech-focused). Although an “exit” at the peak of valuation would ideally align interest of the entrepreneurs and the VC, the compounding factors of fund-cycle timing could lead to the VCs making the decision to look for a liquidity event before valuation peaks. Such liquidity events can come in many forms. A larger company (either big pharma, or a larger competitor) acquires the company, or the company goes public and issues an Initial Public Offering. Once the money comes back to the VC, they first return the initial investment to their Limited Partners. Thereafter, they usually take 20% of the profits (following the 2&20 rule of private equity, where frequently 2% of the initial investment goes towards management fees and 20% of the carried interest, profit which is known as “carry”, goes to the VC firm).

Should you consider VC?

Good VCs are usually value-added and bring more than just capital. They bring with them a wealth of experience and contacts, both of which can be instrumental in helping a fledgling company succeed. Some corporate VCs have product development, or sales and distribution channels that the company could leverage. Hence, the term “smart money” has been coined to reflect the advantages of accepting capital from these investors.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all. VC funding is not for every company. VCs like to invest in home runs and large ideas that promise immense returns. A company that has a business model that focuses on organic growth through reinvesting of profits, and does not require the scale that VC funds may provide, may not necessarily require VC investments. Remember that VCs will often take away control of your company, in return for the expertise and contacts they can provide, as well as the appetite for risk – the question to ask is always, “is this worth it”?

Singapore as an entrepreneurial hub

A few days ago, Scott Anthony, Managing Partner of Innosight, wrote an article on the Harvard Business Review about Singapore as a entrepreneurial hub. While he brings out many excellent points, especially the fact that there’s probably too much seed capital in Singapore, there are many issues that I would like to discuss further.

Seed funding is probably the government’s response to ensure that no idea that has the potential to be the next Genentech or Xiaomi gets left behind. Other than the schemes that he mentioned, it’s also important to highlight the $1B Technology Innovation Fund (TIF) a decade ago.

However, there are a couple of points that need to be clarified. Firstly, military in Singapore cannot be compared to that with Israel. As someone who has been through the Singapore conscription experience, I don’t believe that it is a factor that breeds innovation compared to Israel. Sure, there’s DSTA, but full-time national servicemen aren’t incentivized to be entrepreneurial (the reverse is probably true). One needs to go through the 2.5 years (now 2 years) to understand this fully.

Secondly, the generation that saw Singapore to independence in 1965 is arguably very different from today’s generation. There were mom-and-pop shops all around. There were few opportunities, so the people of the land had to create opportunities for themselves, and forced them to be entrepreneurial. After all, they were the same people who (or whose parents) immigrated from China and India in search of opportunities. But in the 1970s, the workforce called for a different need – specific skilled labor was required to transform Singapore into a growing country with no resources into a first world financial and trading hub. Needs shifted – and the emphasis on entrepreneurship waned.

Third, Scott writes, “Singapore’s phenomenal development over the past 50 years means many of its citizens are sufficiently well off to take the entrepreneurial plunge without truly risking everything” – I disagree. The income gap is increasing phenomenally. As costs of living in Singapore skyrocket to be the more expensive in the world, wages don’t scale correspondingly (e.g. no minimum wage). I would use the term “residents” instead of “citizens” because there are so many non-citizens in Singapore (only a bit more than 3M are citizens), and although 17% of resident households having more than US$1M in disposable private wealth, I really do wonder how many citizens are actually in this “high net-worth” category. Perhaps it may reach the point where citizens are forced to be entrepreneurial, like the founding generation.

The author highlighted a lot of interest in the ICT/TMT space, which is definitely a sector which is enjoying rapid growth. Technology and life sciences have been emphasized by Singapore, illustrated by A*STAR and the billions of dollars being put into R&D. However, life sciences is still taking a back seat as investors shy away from a sector that they are unfamiliar with. There are ways to get around this – I discuss this further in my article about life science venture capital in Singapore here.

It would be interesting to see if the popular reality TV show “Shark Tank” would be popular in Singapore.

5 Lessons from music on the success mindset

Kelvin piano hands 2 B&W

One of the earliest memories I have in life, is that of me first learning how to play the piano at around age 3 or 4. Music has accompanied me my entire life, and even today, I still apply the lessons learned in music, to my career development. Here are 5 lessons from music on the success mindset, that I continue to apply.

1. Find mentors whom you greatly respect and admire

Noriko Ogawa is the world’s leading interpreter of Claude Debussy, having performed and recorded every single piece ever written by the famed French composer. When I was in Cambridge, I attended one of her recitals (where she performed Debussy’s 12 Etudes and Liszt’s Sonata) and was floored by her scrupulous attention to musical detail and lyrical phrasing. After the recital, I went up to her, and asked her point-blank if she was accepting new students. She was taken aback at first, but immediately realized that I was genuinely keen on learning from her. I spent the next 2 years regularly commuting to London to learn Debussy and Ravel from her. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to study with her had I not made the ask. Today, I do the same in my professional career when I meet someone I truly respect – learn only from the best.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Finding a mentor isn’t enough. Malcolm Gladwell alludes to the 10,000 hours needed to achieve mastery, but it’s not just the number of hours put in, it’s the quality of those hours that matters as well. Getting the appropriate guidance and persistent practice allows one to achieve success in a much shorter time. I have probably practiced 30-50 hours for every hour of lesson that I’ve ever taken.

3. Surround yourself with awesome peers

Here in San Diego, I have been fortunate to call Brendan Nguyen, a very close friend of mine. Oberlin-trained Brendan is one of the most talented pianists I know, who is able to play anything from Beethoven to Boulez. Having peers like Brendan means I can share musical ideas with him, learn intricate techniques that I’ve never been exposed to, and get critical feedback. Through our years of friendship, my music has also grown in mastery and maturity.

4. Seek external validation

I make it a point to benchmark myself by seeking external validation. I have taken part in competitions, masterclasses, and music programs, primarily to gauge where my strengths and weaknesses are. Sometimes a rejection can be tough – although I’ve never been a finalist in a music competition, it provides perspective as to how I can improve. You can’t improve yourself if you don’t know what needs to be improved. However, success doesn’t have to be defined only by the number of awards – for me, getting an invitation to perform or premiere a work, counts too.

5. Challenge yourself

Finally, music has given me numerous opportunities to challenge myself. My mentors have always been instrumental in encouraging me to accept new challenges, and have supported me along the way. One of the craziest recitals I’ve ever given, is to perform all 4 Chopin Ballades sequentially. Each Ballade is equivalent to a mini-opera, each a complete and standalone work. Yet I persevered to first learn one, then two and three, and then 10 years after learning the first, I completed all four. Yet I know that as I celebrate a personal milestone with each successful performance, there will always be new challenges awaiting. Next up for me: I’m committing to complete Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. What’s your challenge?

In summary, music has taught me that mentorship combined with tenacious practice will put you on the track for success. Seek validation for the results that you generate and then continue to challenge yourself by setting achievable goals. I attribute a lot of my success mindset to the decades of training I had (and still do) in music.

How to ace the elevator pitch

Four aces
In 2014, I had the opportunity to observe dozens of intake and discussion panels for Springboard, CONNECT’s flagship program, which is a free accelerator program for San Diego companies. One of the main focuses of Springboard is to hone the elevator pitch. Here are 3 easy and implementable ways to ace yours.

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a concise, easy-to-understand message that takes no more than the time it takes to go up or down an elevator (30 to 60 seconds). Audiences are easily distracted and generally have short attention spans. They could be fiddling with their smart phones and replying to emails. A compelling elevator pitch is critical to capture their attention right from the start. Here are some ways to ace it.

1. Be concise

For investor presentations, the elevator pitch should convey the message about who you are, what business you are in, the opportunity and the market, and why this is a great time to invest. That’s a lot of material, so you have to be concise. For example, Company X has technology that improves existing technology by a factor of two, and obtained results in half the time. That catches my attention right away. Unfortunately, I have seen presenters who somehow choose to only mention this right at the end of the presentation. What a pity – this would have been great to include from the beginning! I have also encountered the use of personal stories – they can be very engaging, but keep it short and impactful.

2. Know your audience

Knowing who are in your audience is critical in nailing your pitch. If you know that your audience are in the same business space as you, it may be possible to jump right into the technology. I’ve sat in panels where heavy jargon was used and it was clear that the presenters assumed that the audience knew the “obvious”, although the furrowed brows and blank stares in the room showed that it was not the case. That’s a sure way for your audience to lose interest. However, if you are presenting to people you know nothing about, keep it simple – the jargon can be kept for later discussions.

3. Don’t overload with information

Have you ever wanted to squeeze multiple important points into a powerpoint slide, so much so that you have had to use ultra-small font? Don’t do it. I’ve seen one presenter say, “I had to squeeze in all the information, so that’s why the font is small”. Wrong answer. The point of a pitch is to present the key points of your business, and the need to distill these into a short snippet catches a lot of people off-guard. The best way is to shave off the microscopic details. Present general concepts, and save the nuanced details for follow on discussions. Too much information confuses. It’s counterintuitive; think about Ted talks – 20 minute talks, but there’s only one message. Your elevator pitch is the same – just one message.


The elevator pitch is critical to capture the attention of your audience. Folks who go through the popular TV series Shark Tank do it really well. Guy Kawasaki gives 10 tips on how to craft a good one. I would highly recommend that if you are the entrepreneur, put in the time and effort to work on this – you never know who you might bump into, in the next elevator ride.

The secret to a successful graduate career: Be Proactive

Let’s face it – Graduate school (and I would include post-doctoral stints here too) is an intense educational phase when expectations are heaped on the students to do cutting-edge research, to publish, to have a social life, to gain professional development, to find a job… the list goes on. (Jorge Cham sums it up expertly and humorously in PhD Comics, which I’m a huge fan of.) Despite the immense expectations, I think it’s certainly possible that one can find balance and still make the most out of graduate school and/or the postdoc experience. Here’s the biggest secret to a successful graduate career: Be Proactive.

Be Proactive

Being proactive means much more than taking initiative; it means anticipating what you might need in the future, and acting on it before you think you might ever need it. What does this actually entail? Here’s what being proactive means to me.

1) Build relationships consistently

Networking is the first step in forming new relationships. In my previous articles, I discussed the Whys and How-Tos of networking. Building relationships is essentially the “follow-up” phase of networking. It takes significant time, energy, and patience to build relationships with peers and leaders in and outside your community, especially when the “rewards” of these relationships aren’t tangible or apparent right away. My Rolodex is one now of my strongest resources, and being proactive with building relationships enables me to leverage on this resource whenever I need it (more often than you think!). Social media is also a great way to build these relationships.

2) Volunteer

I am a huge proponent of volunteering for a professional cause as much as you possibly can. Whether it is a student-run organization or a non-profit, volunteering gives you a different perspective outside the bench, and being part of a larger cause gets you teamwork experience, which is very different than four-scientists-collaborating-on-a-publication. The varying dynamics of working with people from diverse backgrounds will hone your skills in communication and collaboration. It’s also a great way to learn new technical skills. I recently learnt how to file for trademarks – you don’t learn these kind of things at graduate school. Did I mention yet that volunteering is a great way to build relationships? If you’re in San Diego, check out the list of some local associations on the SDBN website. I would recommend finding an association that you have an interest in, and speaking to the leadership team and expressing interest to volunteer. 9 times out of 10, they would be thrilled to have you! You might also want to consider internships at non-profits and start-ups too.

3) Find leadership opportunities

Graduate school and postdoc stints offer many opportunities for leadership and professional development. Sometimes these opportunities are hidden; you may have to look for them, or create them yourself. Being proactive to seek them out, and committing to the endeavor for an extended period of time, has the potential to yield enormous rewards. I had the wonderful opportunity to form, run and lead the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable and the Scripps Consulting Club in their nascent days. I learned how to build a team, mentor team members, and how to hustle. It was fun, served a worthy cause, and I benefited a great deal.

4) Get mentored

Be proactive to look for mentors – they surround you in your daily lives. Your advisor isn’t and shouldn’t be your only mentor; peers can be great mentors too. Look for people at different stages of their career, whether they are 2, 5 or 20 years ahead of your career. Speak with them regularly to find out what you can do better today compared to what you did yesterday. No matter how busy I am, I carve out time every week to seek advice from mentors in my network (see point number one about building relationships). Mentors need to be earned. In addition, advice isn’t one-way – I believe in Learn-Do-Teach, and make it a point to mentor others too. It is a great way to sharpen your skill sets by teaching and mentoring others. In my recent interview with Steve Scott of Leadership Point Radio (LPR), we covered the topic of mentorship – read the excerpts here.


There’s really no secret to a successful graduate or postdoctoral career. It’s obvious – just do it (yes, clichéd) and be proactive. Go put yourself out there, and start building relationships, volunteer your time, look for leadership opportunities, get mentored and mentor others. The rewards to being proactive in spending your time and effort are immense, but just remember not to expect yielding them immediately!