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SAPA Successfully Held 2024 Career Development Workshop and Career Fair

Updated: Mar 16

The 2024 SAPA Career Development Workshop and Career Fair was held on March 2nd at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. The workshop invited 13 speakers from the biopharma industry and hosted over 200 attendees. The speakers shared their insights and tips for improving soft skills in the workplace. Four parallel panel discussions provided the audience with a variety of learning opportunities and practical skills. In addition, several sponsors also participated in the on-site career fair.


The workshop was hosted by Dr. Yongle Pang, Principal Scientist in Preclinical Science Discovery DMPK at GSK. In opening remarks, Dr. Pang warmly greeted the speakers and participants. He presented the agenda and the theme of this year’s workshop: ‘Soft Skills Mastery in Turbulent Times -- Building a Foundation for Sustainable Career Success'.


Thereafter, Dr. Jack Wu, President of SAPA, provided an overview of SAPA's mission and organization, reflecting on past activities and inviting the audience to participate in the upcoming SAPA events. Lastly, Dr. Jack Wu expressed gratitude to SAPA's volunteers and sponsors, looking forward to continued collaboration.

Morning Session

Ulrich Otte, CFO of Novo Nordisk North America, kicked off the morning session with a talk on "Making a Difference with Passion, Skills and Curiosity". He underscored the non-linear nature of career paths and the need for continuous improvement of professional skills. Ulrich Otte also discussed the importance of workplace culture and encouraged embracing and understanding different cultures. His speech was both inspiring and informative, offering valuable guidance on career development.

In the second session, Dr. Nisha Zaidi, Vice President, Global Alliances - Strategy & Business Development at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), delivered a speech titled "Navigating Your Career Path - Lessons in Leadership". She outlined essential skills for career growth and leadership development, including open-mindedness, communication, organization, long-term thinking, and adaptability. Dr. Nisha Zaidi also shared important turning points in her career from academia to industry. She emphasized the impact of finding the right mentor and the courage to seize opportunities on career growth.

In the subsequent morning session, moderator Dr. Yong Guo introduced us to Professor Benjamin Freer, the cofounder of the Empathy Research and Training Center at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He delivered a speech titled "Empathy Training: A Path to Understand Others and Ourselves". Professor Freer highlighted the pivotal role of empathy in career progression and leadership. He emphasized that empathy is more of a process than a destination, advising the audience to grasp the true essence of empathy and set reasonable expectations and boundaries in the workplace.

Panel Session

During the panel discussion led by Dr. Sara Gao, the Program Director at the Wharton School, three speakers from the morning session—Ulrich Otte (MS), Dr. Nisha Zaidi, and Professor Benjamin Freer—engaged in an in-depth conversation, covering topics including curiosity, work/life balance, empathy, leadership, and stress management. The speakers shared invaluable insights into professional development and life strategies. The session was well summarized by Dr. David Cragin, President-Elect of SAPA. He underscored the significance of SAPA events and encouraged active participation among healthcare professionals.

Afternoon Parallel Sessions

Session A1 and A2

The parallel session A1 was hosted by Dr. David Cragin from Teva Pharmaceuticals and Dr. Jamie Huang from Princeton Leadership Academy. The session centered on the topic “Leadership Success Stories Along the Career Journey.” Dr. Cragin elaborated on the art of "managing up", the essence of which is to enable the success of one’s superior. Thereafter, Dr. Huang engaged the audience with an interactive Kahoot quiz on Managing Up. Attendees then shared their personal experiences with managing up and self-advocacy.

Afterward, Dr. Sara Gao from Wharton Executive Education led the parallel session A2 titled "Will Curiosity Kill the Cat or Skill the Cat? How To Activate Curiosity As Your Leadership Superpower." Through a workplace curiosity assessment, participants evaluated their curiosity levels across various dimensions, including joyous exploration, deprivation sensitivity, stress tolerance, and openness to people’s ideas. The session evoked lively participation and intriguing discussion. Besides, Dr. Gao provided practical strategies for activating curiosity, empowering attendees to leverage curiosity as a leadership asset. The whole session offered valuable insights and actionable takeaways for improving leadership.

Session B1 and B2

In parallel session B1, Dr. Junchi Lu, Senior Manager at BMS, started the session with opening remarks on successful interview strategies. Dr. Lu provided an overview of the interview process, highlighted the four key question types, and introduced the STAR method for developing structured answers. Following this, panelists Fiona Cui, Co-founder of Globetrek Talent, and Dr. Jiaying Liu, Senior Scientist at Merck, engaged in mock interviews with three participants through interactive conversations. Subsequently, they offered constructive feedback based on the participants' responses.

The parallel session B2 featured a panel discussion titled "Career Quest: Embark on a Journey of Exploration and Growth." Panelists Dr. Jessica Cao, Manager at BMS, Dr. Zhiying Li, Director at GemPharmatech, Dr. Rachel Hao, Associate Principal Scientist at Merck, Fiona Cui, Co-founder of Globetrek Talent, and Dr. Jiaying Liu, Senior Scientist at Merck, shared their insights on career growth and transition experiences, focusing on three essential aspects: passion, skills, and interpersonal relationships. Attendees actively engaged by posing questions about their own career trajectories, and the panelists provided valuable advice and tips on how to embrace new opportunities for both professional and personal development.

Professional Photo Booth

Dr. Dexi Yang, Director at QuantX Biosciences as well as an experienced SAPA photographer, provided a professional photo booth, offering expert photography services and guidance. 

Career Fair

At the career fair, five biopharma companies (BMS, Merck, Regeneron, Aucta Pharmaceutics, Protheragen) showcased a range of job openings that spanned from R&D to Business Development. It was a valuable opportunity for job seekers to have one-on-one interactions with company representatives, obtaining a deeper understanding of different job opportunities and company culture.

1:1 Meetings

The Career Development Workshop and Career Fair also offered personalized networking sessions, where attendees could arrange 1:1 meetings with industry experts. These meetings provided the audience with the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations, forging valuable professional relationships.

The 2024 SAPA Career Development Workshop and Career Fair provided the attendees with an opportunity to engage in in-depth discussions with established professionals with diverse experience in the biopharma industry and to explore the value of soft skills and opportunities for career advancement. The attendees not only developed their workplace soft skills but also built connections with potential employers and partners. SAPA will continue to bring forth high-quality conferences and support for the education and development of the biopharma community. We look forward to the exciting upcoming SAPA events in 2024.

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