Crafting a Custom Career
By Doug Hardy
Dr. Jennifer DiPietro M’11 really liked goats.
As a veterinarian working in a biotech firm, DiPietro researched ways that female goats could become living bio-factories, delivering life-saving drugs through their milk. She cared for her charges with the devotion of a lifelong animal lover. If a nanny’s lungs sounded bad, DiPietro would lie awake at night pondering treatments. To her, goats were heroines of medicine.
After five years, DiPietro noticed her late-night ponderings changing to business questions. She would ask, “What’s the ultimate potential of this technology?” “Are we approaching investors with the right pitch?” “Is this drug going to capture enough market share?”
What happens when a veterinarian discovers she’s a budding businesswoman? Jennifer’s husband supplied the steady answer: “With an ambition this unorthodox, go to my alma mater, Babson.”
“I didn’t want to start my own business,” Jennifer recalls, “but the attributes of entrepreneurship suit my field. In biotech, you have to be nimble. You have to approach problems from multiple perspectives and get way outside your comfort zone.”
Jennifer thrived as a student. Her first year flew by ... but at the back of her mind lurked the conundrum of changing careers. How do you move from goats to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles)? She sought the council of Cathy Butler, a career adviser at Babson’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business. Butler specializes in advising graduates in health care and biotech careers.
We met in her office as DiPietro prepared to start her new job, and they reviewed her work with the Graduate Center for Career Development (CCD).
Cathy Butler and Dr. Jennifer DiPietro M’11
DiPietro: I wasn’t super clear about what I wanted, and then after my first year, I held a summer internship at a medical devices division of Johnson & Johnson. It was the best thing ever! I came back in the fall saying, “I want to give this medical device thing a go.”
Butler: Summer internships are typically feeders for full-time positions after graduation. Jennifer’s job looked like a lock, and then ...
DiPietro: ... everything fell apart in September. The company just didn’t have a position available. It was very hard to get over my disappointment.
Butler: That fall, you hardly had time to think about a job. You were up to your ears in classes, your leadership in the Life Sciences and Healthcare Club, and cocurricular work. So we started with job-search fundamentals: How do you find other opportunities, and how do you make yourself visible to the people hiring for those positions?
DiPietro: I’m not a self-promoter, but I had to move through that and take the attitude that they needed to know what I could do for them.
Butler: I found myself stirring up lots of ideas. I’d say, “So what do you think about this business? Do you know anyone there? Try this approach. Call that person. Here’s another name to call.” I always knew it was a matter of time. Don’t forget, timing is everything in a job search; you have to put yourself in the right place at the right time. That’s where the forum helped.
DiPietro: I had invited industry leaders to the Babson Life Sciences and Healthcare Forum in February, so I was already building a network by inviting people to come speak at the event.
Butler: And then the surprise.
DiPietro: A hiring manager who had seen my work the previous summer had an opening. As soon as I applied for the position, he said he was interested ...
Butler: ... because he knew her work from the internship. Also, a Babson alumnus at the company became an advocate for Jennifer because she had met him while working there.
DiPietro: I had put myself in front of everyone that summer.
Butler: She could have sat in her cube and done the work her manager wanted her to do. But, Jennifer made it her business to build relationships way outside of her group.
DiPietro: I’m very naturally shy, so I’m a total candidate for sitting in my cube all summer. But, my first three weeks at Babson I had some really great mentoring from all the faculty who said, “You need to push yourself, you need to talk.” Babson teaches you to ask people you don’t know for favors, or offering to help them because you just all need to work together. Babson’s teaching method demands that you risk being wrong, to get over your fears. So by the time I had my internship, I could approach strangers and say, “I’m here. I’m eager to learn. I want to contribute. Is there anything I can do to help you out?”
Now, I’m starting at Depuy, where we’re working on ways to repair spinal injuries with minimally invasive surgery. It’s going to be a huge business in the next few years, and it’s going to help a lot of people. Even though I’m a veterinarian, I’m really driven by that sort of satisfaction of helping patients. ... I mean people patients. It’s just tremendously gratifying.
Butler: To broaden what Jennifer said a moment ago: Babson’s entrepreneurial orientation suits careers in the 21st century. Everything changes so fast.
DiPietro: Look at health care reform: Health care and biotech companies are moving forward in uncertainty. They’re saying, “Oh my God, we don’t know what the world is going to be like next year. Profit margins might have to shrink so we can grow.”
Butler: In all her interviews, Jennifer was asked, “Can you handle ambiguity?”
DiPietro: And, I said, “I spent five years with patients—my goats—who couldn’t tell me what felt wrong. How’s that for ambiguity?” Not only that, but at Babson I had professors who said, “I am purposely giving you vague instructions. Go!”
How’s that for handling ambiguity?