Glenn D. Hoke Jr., PhD’86 (BIOC), who was honored with the medical school’s Outstanding Basic Health Sciences Alumnus Award in 2000, returned to campus in February to speak with students about his career in industry. “Remember, you are trained to solve problems.”
When Glenn D. Hoke Jr., PhD’86 (BIOC), headed into a post-doctoral position with Smith Kline & French in 1986, it was an unusual choice.
“In fact, it was frowned upon at the time,” he says. “The university track was the norm. That’s changed tremendously, but there’s still a bias against it.”
Hoke’s perspective is accurate. According to a 2016 report by Next Gen PhD, 81 percent of current postdocs named “university faculty” as their long-term career goal, while just 14 percent end up in tenure-track faculty roles.
There are more Ph.D.s in biomedical sciences than there are academic positions. However, Hoke says, the skill sets that these scientists develop are useful in a wide variety of sectors, including biotechnology and pharmaceutical as well as medical devices and diagnostic companies.
To expand students’ horizons, VCU coordinates a career and professional development program that offers students opportunities like Ram Road Trips to learn about potential employers along with training in business etiquette. The program also asks alumni like Hoke to share lessons from their careers.
In February, Hoke returned to the MCV Campus to speak with biomedical doctoral and postdoctoral scientists about his path that led him from bench research, into roles as a director, a VP, a CSO and a CEO.
While he learned critical thinking and data interpretation during his Ph.D. training, Hoke says, it was his time at Smith Kline that introduced him to the field of drug discovery. After a three-year post-doc, he decided to stay in industry, taking a position as the first senior scientist at Ionis, a company that develops antisense therapy to treat genetic disorders.
In entry-levels positions, “you wear a lot of hats,” says Hoke, whose construction background unexpectedly came into play. “I built the company’s tissue culture rooms – literally, out of 2x4s. I also learned about the showmanship involved in selling a concept and securing funding for a project.”
His front row seat on the biotech revolution produced career moves that, today, have him consulting with companies and health care organizations including the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond to improve treatment with a molecular diagnostics approach to diabetic ulcers.
“Our alumni are a priceless resource for our school and for our students,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Dr. Hoke’s choice to pursue a position in industry is an example to today’s students, and we’re grateful to him for sharing some of the knowledge he’s gained over the course of his career.”
Hoke has learned that no two diseases are the same on the molecular level, and often multiple therapeutic strategies are needed as the underlying molecular architecture of diseases can change in response to each intervention. One size doesn’t fit all in treating disease, he cautioned his audience, and you shouldn’t be too narrowly focused in your career, either.
“I studied mitochondrial proteins during my Ph.D., but that’s not what I did in my career. Don’t be self-limiting. Remember, you are trained to solve problems. So collaborate, make contacts, get your hands in other projects.”
Applying that approach has opened a series of doors for Hoke. Early in his career, he got hired after a single interview – it’s been his one and only. After that, his projects and connections moved him to each new position.
He recognizes that’s probably not going to be the case for most in today’s hyper-competitive job market.
“You need to stand out and be entrepreneurial in spirit,” he encouraged his audience. And be willing to take the occasional risk. He recalls one job change that required a step down and a pay cut – it was worth it for the chance to learn about mRNA expression.
“I am impressed by the training and scientific knowledge of today’s graduate students and postdoctoral scientists,” Hoke says. “From the questions I was asked by those in the audience, it is evident they have the necessary tools. Their journey forward will change over time, but with their training and problem-solving skills honed at VCU, they are prepared to succeed in any endeavor they pursue. Their future is up to them.”
By Erin Lucero