Career Pathways—Explore the Possibilities, Research Scientist in Industry

Interview with Sandra Bonne-Année, Research Scientist, Gilead Sciences Inc.

Sandra Bonne-Année, Ph.D., Research Scientist

Sandra Bonne-Année, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Gilead Sciences Inc.

Credit
NIAID

Sandra Bonne-Année, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Gilead Sciences Inc.

Credit: NIAID

What are you going to do after your postdoc or Ph.D. research at NIH?

The “Career PathwaysExplore the Possibilities” series highlights different professions pursued by scientists like you. This interview focuses on a research scientist working in industry. Dr. Bonne-Année was a postdoc in the Helminth Immunology Section of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases under the supervision of Thomas Nutman, M.D. Read this interview with Dr. Bonne-Année to learn more about her journey to industry.

Introduce your research while at NIAID.

My postdoctoral training in the Helminth Immunology Section of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases was an opportunity for me to expand my previous immunology and parasitology training in murine models with leaders and pioneers in the field. The research that I conducted in the laboratory of Thomas Nutman, M.D. provided me with the opportunity to examine a breadth of human immune cells including the then newly characterized innate lymphoid cells (ILCs). The discovery of ILCs in murine parasite models led the laboratory to examine the role of these cells in filarial infections. To further this new area of inquiry we critically analyzed the potential of human ILCs in filarial infections in a 2018 review (Bonne-Annee et al. Parasite Immunol 2017). These initial queries led to a deeper interrogation of the phenotype, activation, and regulation of human ILC subsets, particularly those found in peripheral blood at homeostasis. Our ex vivo analysis of these cells resulted in an expansive description of the frequency and cytokine profile of ILC subsets in circulation. It also resulted in the novel description of the differential regulation of ILCs by immunomodulatory cytokines IL-10 and TGF-B (Bonne-Année et al. Sci Rep 2019). Throughout my training I was able to extend my expertise to a number of collaborations with NIAID scientists resulting in publications that examined ILCs and other immune cells in the context of protozoan infections (Tosh KW et al, J Immunol 2016), inherited disorders (S. Prakash Babu et al. Allergy 2017) and coinfections (Pedro H Gazzinelli-Guimarães et al, J Immunol, 2016), (Pedro H Gazzinelli-Guimaraes, J Clin Invest 2019).

What is your role at Gilead?

As a research scientist in immunology and inflammation, my role is to support the team’s efforts to discover and develop new therapeutic programs for inflammatory diseases. In this capacity, I contribute to the team by developing and supporting pre-clinical and clinical studies that examine biological mechanism.

What is your favorite aspect of this role?

My favorite aspect of this role is the ability to work on and influence a number of projects in various therapeutic areas. This position allows me to utilize my existing expertise while also learning more about new diseases and the modalities associated with them. The degree of diversity and depth keeps me engaged and constantly growing which is of great value to me personally and professionally.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in industry?

The decision to pursue a career in industry was a challenging one for me because over the course of my postdoctoral training my careers goals and interest had shifted drastically. And for me, I struggled with the realization that the career plan I formulated in grad school no longer aligned with my passions, personal goals, or interest. As a result, I stepped away from the bench to explore other career paths during my detail experience at the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). It was during that time that I immersed myself in cultivating a mindfulness practice, career counseling, countless informational interviews, journaling, and discussions with my mentors and advisors. I did what was necessary for me to rediscover why I loved science and what career path would best suit me. I was also fortunate to find quite a bit of compassion from my mentors and advisors during that time and in turn I learned to direct compassion inward. Ultimately, I found that pursuing a career in industry would marry my passion for immunology and translational medicine with my desire to work in a fast-paced work environment. I also knew that my success in industry and job satisfaction required that I find a company whose core values aligned with my own.

Describe the transition from your postdoc at the NIH to industry.

I must admit my transition from postdoc to industry began with my detail experience where I was able to sharpen my translatable skills and develop a few new ones. Once hired, I had to quickly acclimate to a new therapeutic area, project, corporate structure, and nomenclature—on the opposite side of the country. In those early months, self-compassion, flexibility, and learning quickly were critical to my smooth transition and adjustment to working in industry. Frankly, I still leave room for some self-compassion as my roles and responsibilities continue to change and grow.

How did your postdoc experience prepare you for your current role? 

My experience at LPD provided me not only with years of rigorous scientific training and critical thinking, but it also provided me with the opportunity to work with and learn from phenomenal immunologists and clinicians. The collaborations that I initiated and managed have proven to be beneficial in the collaborations that our company routinely engages in now. The diverse nature of our lab also prepared me to work on a cross disciplinary team.  Moreover, the expertise in human immunology that I acquired during my postdoc has prepared me to direct and execute preclinical and clinical studies that are central to my current role. Lastly, my detail experience afforded me the opportunity to learn and implement my skills in a setting outside of benchwork, which is also a large part of my role as a research scientist. My postdoctoral training made me a better scientist capable of succeeding anywhere, including industry.

What was most unique about working at NIH?

The most unique aspect of working at the NIH, particularly on the main campus, was being part of such a large scientific community. For many of us, although we will continue to work with scientists, we may never work in such a large organization again. I truly saw the experience as something to be savored and taken advantage of. The countless seminars, symposia, and workshops, as well as the vast array of intramural and extramural scientists that I had the privilege of interacting or working with, contributed to the rich and unique experience that NIH provided me.

Do you have any advice for current postdocs?

Take the time to reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. This kind of reflection is rarely easy and may seem trivial in the midst of experiments, presentations, and writing. That is why my advice is to make time for those personal assessments; informational interviews; and long and candid discussions with a career counselor, mentor(s), and/or advisor(s). Your time at NIAID should bring about more than just presentations and publications; make room for personal growth as well.

Is it okay if current NIAID fellows contact you with questions?

NIAID fellows can contact me at Sandra.bonneannee@gmail.com

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