In graduate school and my postdoctoral fellowship, which together spanned more than a decade, I never seriously considered leaving academia. I’d get frustrated when a paper got rejected or a project wasn’t moving forward as I had hoped, but I always imagined that if I were lucky enough to get an academic appointment doing research, I’d be there for the duration of my career.
At the end of my postdoc at the University of California, Los Angeles, I accepted in 2010 a tenure-track position at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Research in the lab focused on a portion of chromosome 15 implicated in schizophrenia, epilepsy and autism. We studied how gene dosage influences schizophrenia risk, and the relationship between genetic variation and behavior.
Students, postdocs and colleagues at Einstein were all terrific, and research in the lab was moving along nicely. But in 2013, I began to explore possibilities outside of academia. Multiple factors contributed to this decision, but the most important one was a desire to be more closely involved in translating research insights into help for individuals and families in the near term.
Having never worked outside of an academic lab, I spent a lot of time investigating possibilities. Online research was valuable, but far more productive was talking to people with various professional backgrounds and experiences. I spoke with hundreds of people over a two- to three-year period.
In March 2016, I joined Ovid Therapeutics as director and head of preclinical biology. Ovid is a pharmaceutical company focused on developing medicines for rare neurological disorders. Much of the work I’m doing now — to develop treatment strategies for rare genetically defined forms of autism and epilepsy — is a natural extension of what I did previously. I continue to talk to many of the same people about lots of the same questions. But my interactions with colleagues who focus on intellectual property, design and execution of clinical trials, and interactions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put me in a better position to shepherd ideas from the lab to the clinic.
My take-home message is that there are a lot of interesting and rewarding roles outside of academia for scientists. Given that many talented scientists with Olympic-level dedication may struggle to secure an academic position due to competition, scarce resources and other variables, this is very good news.