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Kelsey Duggan, PhD, MBA

Kelsey Duggan, PhD, MBA

Director of Client Services, InVivoLink, LLC

Kelsey Duggan, PhD, MBA, is director of client services at  InVivoLink , LLC. Kelsey discusses with ARVO how she made the transition from working in the lab to managing clients of a startup healthcare technology company.

When and where did you get your PhD? What did you study?

I earned my PhD in Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University in 2010 studying how substrate-selective inhibitors interact with the cyclooxygenase system.

After you finished your PhD, what did you do next?

I stayed on in my graduate lab for a few months after I defended, finishing up some work there. I guess you could call that a short-term postdoc. Primarily, though, I was exploring job opportunities with pharmaceutical, consulting and biotech companies.

While I was trying to make this transition, I found that I didn't have a lot of the business acumen and knowledge that the consulting jobs were looking for [in candidates]. This lack of relevant experience came across very clearly in those job interviews.

I received a lot of great training as a graduate student, but you don't get the skills necessary to go into the business world when you're in the lab. To fix that, I applied to Vanderbilt's MBA program, and I was accepted.

What convinced you to pursue business as a career instead of the more traditional academic or industry route?

As an undergrad, I dual majored in chemistry and economics. So, I've always been interested in both. Plus, I would get frustrated in grad school because I thought people lost touch with "can this project help people and be successful?"

I also sensed my leaning toward business in applying for jobs. When I was thinking about applying for postdocs, I wasn't excited at all. But, when I was talking about consulting or other things outside of the lab, I got really excited.

What sealed the decision for me was the Vanderbilt Tech Venture Challenge. It combined grad students and postdocs with students from the school of business and the school of engineering. Each team worked with a professor - who has a patented technology - to develop a business plan commercializing that technology. So, you have to think about things like the cost of development, how you're going to market it, finances, etc., and then present that plan to a panel of local business owners and entrepreneurs. It was the first year Vanderbilt offered the program, and I was on a team that won.

It was definitely the first time I had ever written a business plan, and I really enjoyed it.

So, you made the decision to pursue a business career and went to business school. How else did you prepare yourself and your resume for the consulting jobs you were interested in?

While pursuing my MBA, I did internships and project work. I worked with HCA, the huge for-profit hospital chain, Zimmer, a medical device company, and several other organizations. Outside the classroom, I tried to get involved with as many clubs and other organizations as I could.

Which communication tools (e.g., networking, cold calls) did you use to find your current position?

I found this job during a healthcare conference put on by the Vanderbilt Business School. The conference has a Career Fair that is very popular with companies and students. I submitted my resume to the resume bank organized by the conference, and my current boss saw my resume and called me. I stood out because of my PhD, which suggested I would be effective at writing, data analysis and doing research.  Also, a lot of the internships I did were with several of his company's clients. It all came together.

Now you're at InVivoLink as a director of client services. What are your responsibilities and goals?

I work for a startup, so my responsibilities are everything! I manage all our business on the east coast, which includes 14 hospitals in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia. Basically, when a hospital purchases our technology, I go on site and do orientation and training for everyone using it. That includes their IT people, surgeons, nurses and executives. Then, once everything is up and running, I make sure they're using the technology and data they're collecting in a way that they can get some value from it. I've been on the job for about a year and a half now.

What do you do on a typical day?

Well, tomorrow I have a meeting with the executives of a hospital to go over all the data they've been collecting over the past six months. Then I'll go over and meet with the CEO of an orthopedic practice and go over his data. Yesterday, I was training people in an IT department to make sure all the hardware was in place.

If I have a day when I'm not with clients, it's a lot of data analysis, preparing presentations and identifying trends.  And I'm planning a video shoot with surgeons so they can talk to their patients via an online portal. Whatever people need me to do, I do.

It sounds like you have to talk to an incredible range of people. Executives, IT, nurses, doctors …

That's definitely the biggest part of my job. You have to make sure you're liked and respected by everyone. Part of it is personality, but having the PhD gives me a lot of credibility with surgeons.

Did you have to spend a lot of time thinking about how you're going to communicate with these groups? IT folks, nurses and executives must all have different terminology and priorities.

Yes, it took a lot of time. Most of that time was spent going through trial and error! When you find something that resonates with people, you have to remember that.

At first, my CEO would come to some of my meetings, and I would just listen to how he talked to all these different groups of people. I've also learned to come armed with doughnuts and bagels! But yes, the really exciting part of my job is getting to talk to all kinds of people.

Would you be able to do your job without a PhD? Would you be as effective/successful without it?

There are other people in my position who don't have a PhD that are able to do the job.

That said, in my graduate school lab, students made their own schedule and had to be very independent and self-motivated to be successful. That training has proven very important in working for a startup as I can go a month without talking to my boss. I was very used to doing that from my graduate school experience. So,that independence and self-motivation to get things done on your own has proven critical to being successful at my job. I learned how to do all of that during my PhD.

What advice would you give to students who are looking to get into a position similar to your own?

Do as many different things as you can. Some people go in and say "this is exactly what I'm going to do," and they don't explore all the different options out there. For example, I never thought I'd work for an IT company. It was just the fact that I did all these projects, tried the Tech Venture Challenge in grad school,and did a lot of things outside the lab that got me where I am today. So, don't limit yourself. You might find something you like that you never thought you would.

Also, talk to a lot of people. My PhD mentor, knowing that I didn't want to go the traditional route, introduced me to a lot of people who were working outside of the lab. So, have a lot of coffee dates with a lot of people, and try to learn from them.

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