In a new series, members of the SCI Mid-Career group offer advice on career management, and how to overcome career challenges.
In this interview, we hear from Yulia Gerhardt, who is the Business Development Manager for Europe and ROW at Specs Compound Handling B.V., Zoetermeer, The Netherlands.
Please tell us about yourself and your career journey.
I am Russian by birth and studied Animal Sciences and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia. After graduation I moved to the Netherlands for a project and have remained in this country since then.
After a year in Oil and Gas Engineering (mainly due to my Russian/English translation skills and some process knowledge), I started my life sciences career in the Quality Assurance (QA) field, beginning in the drinking water sector.
From there, I moved to a pharmaceutical consultancy firm, working on QA management projects for customers, including interim roles, and partly for internal QA system. However, being there, I missed the international aspect and applied for a position at the Dutch Governmental Innovation Agency. During my time there I was advising Life Science SMEs about setting up international R&D projects with overseas partners and led a pan-European red biotech network of agencies to support joint R&D projects and high-tech SMEs.
My current employer, Specs, was one of the SMEs in my portfolio and they were looking for somebody to fill an international commercial role. Specs is active in chemistry solutions for drug discovery and I'm more a biologist by training. However the role was also about personality and bringing the solutions to the customer, so I took on this challenge and joined the company almost 9 years ago.
What are the key things you do to manage this mid-career stage?
The mid-career stage is definitely different from early career development. This stage is about getting more technical knowledge, networking and getting to know people. To me, early career development is more a searching process, trying different roles and even different branches, looking for the right match and moving forward.
In addition, mid-career is often a different life stage. If I look back, I changed a job just before or after having a child; I now have three. Also, you know yourself and understand your own ambitions better, especially if you have already tried different types of organisations and positions within them.
I think that to keep developing yourself personally and professionally is very important. I love learning languages and speak six fluently. I use English, Dutch and German daily, and speak French and Spanish less frequently in the business. So, in order not to lose the language skills, I have a bi-weekly conversation course in French and weekly in Spanish, next to reading books in the original language, when time allows.
Networking is another key thing, not only for the company, but for yourself as a professional. It offers the opportunity to learn about the new developments within the life sciences field through conferences and events.
What are your challenges around mid-career support?
My biggest challenge is to understand whether I should change anything about my current career path. I'm very pleased with my current position in a small company. I am able to influence a lot of things and see the results of your work immediately, contributing to the company’s success. I also enjoy working internationally with colleagues and customers abroad. The downside of working in a small company are the limited opportunities in leadership development and career growth. Should I consider a career change, I would look for either a QA or commercial role in a mid-size Life Science company, working on exciting and innovative products for the benefit of patients.
What has been useful or what could be of interest at the mid-career stage that SCI might be able to offer?
SCI's mid-career leadership event, in October 2019, was the first one related to career development I had attended in a long time. I liked this set-up very much. It was really a pity that I could not attend the event in February 2020. With regards to wishes, I'd be happy to participate in another similar event, as well as getting in contact with a kind of 'coach,' maybe a mutual coaching session' during such an event, to exchange ideas, doubts, opportunities and limitations. I have been contemplating the idea of joining a mentoring program to see if it would be helpful.
As mentioned, the mid-career event in October 2019 was really useful for me, a kind of eye-opener into what is possible outside of The Netherlands, a country I live and work in. It was also good to meet people from different fields within chemistry and pharmacy. I look forward to the next opportunity to attend another event.