Jennifer Rea - Biotech and Getting a PhD

Contact:  LinkedIn

Contact: LinkedIn

Being College of Chemistry students at Berkeley, it’s hard to miss the biotech hubbub that’s infiltrated your classes, LinkedIn feeds, and even your Bay Area friend group chats. I’m sure that most of you have also heard about Genentech, what seems to be the dream employer for many of you biotech and pharma enthusiasts. This week’s alumnus, Jennifer Rea, was once like you and is now living that dream as a Genentech Senior Scientist.

Jennifer started her adventure with an internship at Genentech. Though, she didn’t end up taking it as a summer internship; she negotiated and turned the program into a co-op. The consequences of this was that she’d be one capstone class short of graduating by the end of her senior year. She petitioned to be exempt from this class, and the request was approved by the dean. Of course, the work experience was leagues more valuable than that one class would have been. In her internship, she was assigned to Purification Development, which is typical for her chemical engineering background. Though, there was indeed a massive biochemistry learning curve.

In 2003, Jennifer graduated from our undergraduate program and had to decide between a full-time position at Genentech and pursuing a Ph.D. at Northwestern University. Unfortunately, 2003 was a time of economic downturn, and Big Boss Job Insecurity was out and about spooking capitalist America. So, Jennifer decided to defer applying for Genentech for the six years of job security and research opportunities she would have in the PhD program. She does recommend, however, to generally only pursue a Ph.D. if you actually want to. And definitely don’t do it for the money. Yes, you will very likely be given a higher paid position with your advanced degree, but you don’t reap the monetary benefits until much later in life because of all of the money-earning time lost in graduate school.

Now comes that burning PhD-in-biotech question: do you really need that degree to excel in this industry? Whatever your definition of “excel” is, the answer in short is “no.” The degree does help to accelerate your advancement within the company, but at least at Genentech, “if you’re awesome, you’re awesome.” Your performance will supersede your degree. People with engineering degrees are also not as expected to pursue graduate degrees compared to other disciplines, so the industry tends to be more forgiving towards us in that regard. Now, whether or not you should go is entirely dependent on yourself. Consider the advice above and be judicious with your decision.

Jennifer finished her Ph.D. in 2009, and now with a “Dr.” in front of her name, she was intent on returning to Genentech. Unfortunately, 2009 slapped America with another economic downturn, so she again found herself facing our “friend” Big Boss Job Insecurity. Fortunately, she kicked him to the curb as she was offered a full-time position at Genentech soon after graduation. This time, she accepted a position in Protein Analytical Chemistry. Though, this meant that she had to brush up on her biochemistry and mass spectrometry.

She is now working on making drugs to cure blindness. On a mission to improve people’s quality of life in one of the most drastic ways, she does challenging yet meaningful work in a company that treats her well. Jennifer says that she’s busy, but she rarely feels burnt out. To sum it up: she loves her job, for the most part. This isn’t a Genentech advertisement, but it does seem that the joys of working at Genentech befit its “hype.” Of course, it is only with sincere and driven people like our alumnus Jennifer that a company, or an industry, can be so enriching.

If you have some specific questions for Jennifer or just want to have a chat, please contact her through LinkedIn.


Thanks for reading,

Jessica Wang