PhD Alumni Profiles - biotech/pharma/healthcare

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William Kung, PhD

Director of Operations, Northwestern University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts

Program at Penn: Physics
Graduation Year: 2004

Describe your current position and firm/organization and the career path you took to get there.
I work at the Northwestern University Materials Research Center (MRC), which is an institution dating back to 1960 at its inception. Currently, MRC is administering two large center grants, the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and a few other smaller team-science grants. I work directly under the directors of these two externally funded Centers and am involved in overseeing their operations and budgets. I serve as the liaison between external funding agencies (federal government, private foundation), university central administration, and center-affiliated faculty/students/postdocs. Prior to my current position, I worked in research as a postdoc/research associate at Syracuse and Northwestern.
What skills, strengths, or knowledge did your graduate training provide you that helped you on your career path?
There is no question that my graduate training at Penn prepared me well for the scientific aspects of my current position. I am able to understand broadly the big-picture scope of the various research projects undertaken by the center, or I would have the know-how to pick things up rather quickly. My familiarity with the culture and environment of a first-rate research institution is also invaluable in my daily interactions with center stakeholders and my involvement with the strategic and logistical planning for the centers.
If other graduate students and postdocs wanted to get a position similar to yours, what 3 specific pieces of advice would you offer them that they can be doing now while still at Penn?
First and foremost, be good at your research. A good (science) background is a must. Beyond hard skills, networking with the many great individuals naturally available at a place like Penn helps tremendously both in terms of establishing professional connections and honing your people skills. For my type of positions, learning as much as you can about the business/administration end of research would give you a head start now of deciding whether this is a field for you. And as I have since discovered, business and management concepts are broadly transferable to a variety of career fields (even if you decide to stay in academia).
How can graduate students/postdocs at Penn find out more about your career field?
Talking to folks working in this field would definitely help. It may also be worthwhile to check out a number of professional organizations in research business and administration, such as the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP) and the Association of Biomolecular Resources Facilities (ABRF).
What do you most enjoy about your current position, and what are you looking forward to doing at work over the next week or two?
In my current position, I have the privilege to learn about the latest cutting-edge research in materials every day and interact with some of the smartest people in the world. I am also excited about being involved with processes in different stages of the research pipeline, from sponsoring agencies to research in labs and final outcome dissemination. Through center outreach, I get the opportunity to participate in events ranging from after-school science clubs to designing a museum exhibit on materials. With NU-ACCESS, I get to meet a completely different circle of people and sit in events and seminars on art-related research, which is most unexpected and completely enjoyable given my past background and training. In fact, I am very much looking forward to attending the NU-ACCESS annual seminar at the Art Institute of Chicago next week!