Networking Fair Highlights Innovative PhD Research

Inside Northeastern’s Curry Student Center, doctoral candidate Burcu Ozek, ’23 PhD, explains she’s found a way to identify pain in babies who can’t otherwise express it.

Ozek was one of 45 PhD students presenting on November 17 at the Cutting-Edge Connections in PhD Research: Healthcare Innovation networking fair, sponsored by Northeastern’s PhD Network and Career Design Office.

“I’m looking to go into a healthcare company where I can apply machine learning algorithms,” says Ozek, who recently submitted to a scientific journal. Using neural networks, she’s been tracking changes in a patient’s physiology, from heart rate to brain signals, in hopes of one day taking the guesswork out of pain intensity.

Other student research swept the healthcare sector across sustainability, artificial intelligence (AI), equity, and technology, as excitement grew around the future of healthcare innovation. The PhDs presented to 14 companies, including Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Amgen, and Merck, spanning what’s now the largest biotech hub in the country—Greater Boston. Each came hoping to land a custom internship or a job after graduation, which is harder than many know.

After years in an academic setting, finding a job in the real-world can be shell-shocking and fiercely competitive, particularly for those vying for a shrinking number of academic positions. Today, a large number of students who enter PhD programs with a plan to teach are forced to rethink their careers paths. And for many, taking the leap into industry has been a welcomed surprise.

“As I transition to industry, I’m here to network with scientists from other biotech companies to see if there’s a way I can leverage my skills as a computational scientist,” says Natesan Mani, who’s studying chemical engineering. Mani was mentored then placed at Amgen through the PhD Network’s Leadership Education Advancing Discovery through Embedded Research (LEADERs) program, just one of its experiential learning initiatives.

Starting with a course and research project, LEADERs works one-on-one with PhD students to build their specific skills and a portfolio, expand their professional network, and explore career paths, ideally placing them in a custom internship with an industry partner. It’s among a small but growing number of niche PhD initiatives cropping up at colleges and universities to train doctoral students on how to transition into industry, while the government is answering to the tenure track shortage by ramping up training funds to prepare PhD students for options outside of academia.

The PhD Network was designed in the first place to build a community among students, providing each with support and resources to enhance their educational experience and prepare them for the future. And that includes an ongoing series of networking fairs to match students with employers, many of which carry a longstanding relationship with Northeastern.

“It’s always exciting to come here and see what students are working on and if there’s any overlap or potential for collaboration,” says Dan Bailey, associate scientific fellow of sustainability at Takeda. “A lot of the work today was focused on AI and machine learning and we’re thinking about how we can apply AI to some of the problems that we’re working on at Takeda. The student’s methodology being used was really interesting to see.”

To learn more about the PhD Network and its experiential programming and initiatives, including LEADERs, visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn. – Anna Fiorentino