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Xiong Zhang, Ph.D.

Associate (Management Consultant) | McKinsey & Company

Interviews and Editing by: Alexandra Bortnick

Interview: April 2017
Transition: October 2015

1. Please list your previous department at UC San Diego and provide a brief description of the research you conducted?

I was a postdoc in the Department of Ophthalmology. I worked on stem cell therapies for neurodegenerative diseases in the eye. 

2. Please describe your current job profile?

As an Associate (Management Consultant), I provide strategy consulting for pharmaceutical and medical products. My daily work involves analyzing, interpreting and evaluating data and developing product strategies.

3. What made you decide to transition into your current position?

I am very interested at working at the intersection of science and business, facilitating the transition of scientific discoveries to life-improving therapeutics. Management consulting is helping me build the essential skill-sets in business while providing me the opportunity to work with top talents and use my scientific expertise from my Ph.D. and postdoc training. 

4. Apart from the research you conducted, do you feel like anything in particular has helped you acquire your current position?

I actively participated in the UC San Diego Postdoctoral Association (PDA) and Exposure to Industry Program. These activities helped me build “soft-skills” like communications skills, leadership and strong teamwork skills that was very important for obtaining my current position.

5. Please list some of the most striking similarities and differences between your postdoc and current position?

Similarities: I read scientific papers, form hypotheses, analyze data and make decisions based on facts, which is similar to scientific research. Differences: We are very fast-paced, and progress is time-measured in minutes, not hours.

6. Is there any specific challenge (during the entire process of transitioning) that you would like to highlight and, if so, how did you overcome it?

Rejection, when applying for consulting companies / biotech positions. I faced many “rejections," (ie., my resume did not pass the screening process, etc). I had two approaches: 1) Improve my resume by tailoring it to the specific position, and 2) Informational interviews and networking to find contacts inside the companies who could provide internal referrals.

7. Please describe your goals and ambitions for the next 5 years?

I would like to build a strong management consulting skill-set and leverage my scientific background to take on more responsibilities. I want to improve people’s health by moving great discoveries to life-improving therapeutics (in healthcare investment, large pharmaceutical and medical products companies, or working for a start up).

8. What do you feel you could have done more, as a postdoc, to help prepare you for or acquire your current position?

Find a balance between scientific research and career exploration; take some online courses at Coursera.

9. What do you feel is the most important advice you can give to a current UCSD postdoc in order for them to obtain a position such as yours?

Be proactive thinking about and planning for your career, build a support network, and establish goals and work hard to reach them.