Interview with Bonnie Kuehl of Scientific Insights Consulting Group Inc.
JYI: Could you tell me about your educational background and how you got into your field?
Bonnie: My career started with doing an honors undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, double majoring in biochemistry and biomedical sciences. During my third and fourth year summers I worked as a high school biology tutor/teacher at Atomic Energy Chalk River Laboratories (AECL). It was an enjoyable experience and it gave me work experience during my undergraduate years, which was important for making future connections. After completing my B.Sc., I proceeded to a combined MSc/Ph.D degree at University of Toronto, specializing in medical bio physics. After that I did two postdoctoral fellowships: one was in Dundee, Scotland where I worked in the lab of Professor David Lane where I worked on the p53 tumour suppressor pathway. My second postdoc was at McMaster University.
JYI: Was working in Europe any different than working in Canada?
Bonnie: Well, actually it was! I found that I was more independent working in Canada, even though it was more competitive. I found that in Scotland my supervisors guided and supported me along my scientific path. I enjoyed both experiences, however.
JYI: How did your science career progress after your postdocs?
Bonnie: I actually met someone from Scotland who was starting a biotech company! He offered me a scientist job at the company. I was working with the intellectual property and the business analysts after a few years.
JYI: Could you describe that experience? What happened after you left the company?
Bonnie: It was a very valuable experience and I gained some transferable skills. I learned how important it was to be willing to learn and never say “no.” If your employer asks you, “Do you know how to do this?” your answer should always be “I am willing to learn.” That was one of the most significant things I’ve taken away from this experience.
Shortly after I left the biotech company, I took an entrepreneurial business course, which lasted for about 4 weeks. Actually, that was the only business course I took! Shortly after completing the course, I got hired as a pharmaceutical company medical consultant, where I worked as their medical officer part-time, collecting and organizing scientific data. This job lasted for one year, and then I started to grow my own consulting firm Scientific Insights. That happened about eight years ago. Soon after, a couple other scientists joined, and now we have three full-time scientists and one half-time administrator. I found that women were more interested in consulting, and I’ve worked with many women.
JYI: I like how your career progressed from a scientist to an independent consultant, and that you didn’t take the traditional academia route. Could you tell me a little more about how you got started with Scientific Insights?
Bonnie: Thank you. Like I said, I never took any official business course. I was just a hard and focused worker, willing to learn. I educated myself by going to seminars, talking to clients, and people in the field. I was strong enough to admit I didn’t understand certain technical concepts and I asked questions. Simplification and breakdown of complex information was key. I would say the ability to ask questions is a sure way to success. In my experience, I discovered that many people are willing to answer. They may not answer you right away, but they are willing to make the time. I was strong enough to seek answers to my questions and I believe this is what made me successful.
JYI: Could you tell me about Scientific Insights and your typical day?
Bonnie: Scientific Insights basically engages with medical and scientific analysis and communication. We do everything from analyzing clinical data to developing a communication strategy, ranging from helping companies develop programs to writing clinical papers and providing education for doctors.
My work day is anything but typical. Some days my schedule is very flexible and other days it feels like when it rains, it pours. My typical duties include balancing books, video-conferencing clients, writing papers, going to conferences and various meetings. There is a lot of travel involved. Every day is essentially different. Some days I only work 4-5 hours and other days I work from 6am to 11pm. I try to structure my days to fit writing in the morning and go to meetings in the afternoon, but that doesn’t always work. I also have to work weekends sometimes.
JYI: What would you say are the challenges of the job?
Bonnie: The fact that when it rains, it pours. Deadlines pressing, things happening simultaneously. I have to be able to deliver my best work, no matter what kind of day I’m having. Potentially what I write can affect how certain companies market the drug and they could lose millions! There’s a lot of pressure.
JYI: What is your advice for young people interested in science and foregoing the academia.
Bonnie: I would recommend understanding qualifications first hand. Some companies are not interested in hiring anyone with a doctorate, and in many cases, you just need to obtain your B.Sc or M.Sc. It is important to know what a particular company seeks. I would also recommend attending entrepreneurial symposiums and finding out what pharma companies are doing. Lastly, I would advise getting some practical experience. It is a good idea to complete your B.Sc. and then go to college for a specialist diploma/degree in say nursing or forensic science. Some universities also offer specialized degrees, like an MBA in biotech.