Interview: Annie Rathore on taking the consulting road after Ph.D
Q) Can you introduce yourself to the readers please?
I’m a recent alum of the Biological Sciences Ph.D. program at UC San Diego and Salk Institute. I completed Ph.D. from Saghatelian Lab focused on the discovery of a new class of proteins, called the microproteins, and understanding their role in human diseases. I graduated from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee with Bachelors in Biotechnology. I’m currently working with Deloitte Management Consulting as a Life Sciences Specialist Consultant.
Q) What post-Ph.D. career options are available and how did you decide on consulting?
In this day and age, in addition to an academic career, Ph.Ds. have a wide array of impactful career options that were not open to Ph.Ds. a decade ago. When I started exploring career options in my second year of graduate school, I came across Ph.Ds. who had successfully transitioned to Investment Banking, Consulting (Management and Boutique), Venture Capital, Equity Research, IP & Law, Medical Writing, etc.
In the long term, my goal is to lead a top pharmaceutical company, which requires strong research/technical knowledge along with business/management expertise. Management Consulting provides a unique platform to apply technical knowledge gained during Ph.D. on challenging business problems. It is an opportunity to work with C suite executives of top pharma companies, shape the industry and develop your management expertise.
Q) What capabilities/ skill set you developed as Ph.D. are applicable to consulting?
One of the most important skill sets we develop as a Ph.D. is our ability to solve complex and challenging problems on a daily basis. It’s highly valuable in consulting as you answer client’s and industry’s most challenging problems. Apart from that, your technical expertise and industry understanding at a core level also helps in delivering unique customized solutions to the clients.
Q) What is your field of expertise and how is that applicable to consulting?
I have over 8 years of experience in the life sciences research spanning across- computational biology, developmental biology, cancer biology, genomics and proteomics. In the past, I have worked on developing targeted drug therapies for skin cancer and my doctoral research was focused on discovering disease- associated novel microproteins. Recent technological advances in genomics and proteomics has opened a new field of microprotein research, which will revolutionize therapeutics development in the pharmaceutical industry. Just as DNA, RNA and proteins have been used in the past decades, disease- associated microproteins will enable new small molecule drug development. Fortunately, having developed expertise in the cutting-edge research on microproteins, I’m also positioned well to advice on the future trends in the industry and how the top companies can prepare for it.
Q) How did you start to prepare for the transition?
Being actively involved with the on-campus Consulting Club helped a lot in the process. I attended company events, participated in case competition, practiced case studies with peers and alumni who transitioned from academia into consulting. In addition, I led a pro-bono consulting project for a New York based health startup to develop strategies for product selection, global expansion, marketing and more.
Q) What habits that you believe helped you becoming a consultant?
Following news and updates from life science industry was extremely helpful. It helped in connecting what I practiced in case studies to real world scenarios. For example, there was a news about a new CEO is coming in as the firm faced declining revenues; how does the firm plan to overcome this challenge?
Q) What were the resources from Consulting Club that helped you?
The Consulting Club is instrumental in connecting students who have interest in consulting and build a strong community. I along with other club members, practiced cases together, participated in consulting case competitions and also, worked on a pro bono consulting project.
Q) Can you talk about your experience with club’s pro bono project?
I led a pro bono consulting project team for an early stage New York based health startup. We aided them in addressing key questions such as: which global markets to target, product pricing, marketing strategies and more. This project was very useful in sharing real world consulting experience during the interviews. For example, one of the common interview question is to talk about a time when you took a decision in an ambiguous situation. There were multiple situations like these during our project and I could talk about what was the ambiguity or missing information, what limited information was used to make a decision, what decision was taken, did it prove to be right in the long-run and what we learnt from the experience.
Q) What skills are important to transition into Consulting?
Most consulting firms are looking for skills such as: leadership, teamwork, willingness to take risk, and ability to work in ambiguous situations. Strong communication skills are also extremely important not only to get through consulting interviews, but for long-term success as well. It is helpful if you find places/ avenues to develop and practice these skill sets. For instance, as the President of Toastmasters Club UCSD, I not only improved my communication skills but also managed a team of 7 club officers and a group of 25+ members on a weekly basis.
Q) As an international student, what other challenges did you encounter?
A company’s hiring possible may be different for international students, but most top firms provide equal hiring opportunities and are merit-based. However, after I received 2 job offers, I did choose Deloitte as they have a more supportive policy to sponsor work visa.
Q) How to stand out from other candidates with advanced degrees?
At the top consulting firms, you will be competing with people from top colleges and with various background, such as MDs, JDs and MBAs. However, Ph.Ds. are highly valuable given the strong research experience and an in-depth industry expertise that they bring in, which can differentiate Ph.Ds. from the other advanced degree candidates. In addition, Ph.Ds. can take up more responsibilities outside research to develop and showcase an all-rounded skill set. However, due to a limited circle of Ph.Ds. in consulting, they might be required to put in more effort to network.
Q) If you wouldn’t mind sharing what connect programs did you attend and what offers you got?
For connect programs: I attended Bridge to BCG and Bain Advance Into Consulting. For full-time positions, I interviewed with BCG, Deloitte and LEK. I received offers from Deloitte and LEK.
Q) Can you talk about the connect programs in more detail?
Connect programs are great as they provide an opportunity to experience the real consulting world for a couple of days. As for the application process, it starts by April. For Bridge to BCG, I had to write an essay on a challenging situation you faced and how did you overcome it. It was followed by a 15-20 minutes phone interview based on the essay. At this point, I believe they’re looking for well-rounded personalities and are not focused on your ability to solve case studies. The Bridge to BCG program was a 3-day program in Chicago office which included talks from partners, a 3- day long case study in small groups and several social events.
Similarly, for Bain, I submitted essays on 4-5 questions, e.g. talk about a time you faced a challenge, how did you address it, etc. They didn’t have any interview before I was invited to attend the event in SF office. I was a one-day event similar to BCG, as described above.
Q) Can you talk about the interview process for Deloitte and LEK?
Deloitte has 2 interview rounds for advanced degree hiring in the life sciences vertical. First round is over the phone or Skype interview that includes fit/ experience part with a case study. The second round happened in Chicago office, with 45 minutes of fit interview and 45 minutes of case interview. For the second-round case interview, it was life science related case.
LEK also conducted two rounds of interview. First one included 2 back to back phone interviews. The interviews included 10-15 mins fit part followed by 20-25 mins for a case study, and finally 5 mins towards the end for any question you might have for the interviewer. Then based on your final choice of office, you will have a second round in office interview. It included 3 back to back interviews. Two of these interviews were similar to round 1 interviews in format and the third one was a written case style- interview. I had about an hour to review the written material for the case (30-40 slides) and had to develop a deck for the client’s questions, which was then discussed with the interviewer. All LEK case interviews were life science focused primarily in market sizing and drug pricing area.
Q) What is the best way if any club member has more questions and would like to reach out to you?
I’m happy to answer more questions. Feel free to share my email for further correspondence.
Thank you Annie, for taking time to answer all our questions and for your support for the club.