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2021 Ph.D. Connections Conference

Ph.D. Connections is a career conference designed to support doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in their exploration of career paths beyond academe. Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows will learn about career opportunities beyond the professoriate through engaging sessions with Ph.D.s working in diverse fields.

Learning Goals

Participants will have the opportunity to learn from the keynote presenter, Melanie Sinche, author of Next Gen PhD: A Guide to Career Paths in Science, Interim Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, Director of the Career Development Center, and Executive Director of the Women’s Leadership Center at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) in West Hartford, Connecticut who will kick-off a week of career related events. Co-sponsored by the University Career Center, Rackham Graduate School, and the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Effectively Explore Careers Beyond the Professoriate

The goals of Ph.D. Connections are to enable students and postdoctoral fellows to:

  1. Develop strategies and build networks to effectively explore careers beyond the professoriate
  2. Gain increased awareness of careers available to Ph.D.s in a variety of sectors
  3. Learn about skills and key competencies that are important in different industries

Register for the Conference

Join us for the 2021 Ph.D. Connections Conference, Monday, April 5, to Thursday, April 8. Virtual sessions will be held throughout the week.

Register Today


We have assembled a collection of three videos to help you navigate the virtual conference and make the most out of your experience!

Resource Overview

In this video, Rackham’s embedded career counselor, Kirsten Elling, Ph.D., provides an overview of graduate student career development and the tailored resources available to you for all stages of your graduate school experience. Attending a conference like Ph.D. Connections is a great way to enhance your career exploration efforts.

Networking Tips

Rita Chin, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Social Sciences, Shoba Subramanian, Ph.D., Director of Curriculum and Educational Initiatives, Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and Joelle Fundaro Randall, Assistant Director, University Career Center share tips designed to help you make the most of the networking opportunities afforded by the Ph.D. Connections conference. We encourage you to view this video prior to the conference.

Career Resources

This video provides a brief overview of two key resources, Versatile Ph.D. and Rackham Connect/UCAN, to assist in your career exploration efforts. The video walks you through key functions of both Versatile Ph.D. and Rackham Connect.

Schedule and Speakers

Monday, April 5

12:00 to 1:30 p.m.
Keynote Speaker, Melanie Sinche

Melanie Sinche smiles for the camera, she's wearing a black blazer with coordinating blouse, she has shoulder-length brown hair, blue eyes, and wears glasses

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, the Director of the Career Development Center, and the Executive Director of the Women’s Leadership Center at the University of Saint Joseph

Melanie Sinche currently serves as the interim assistant dean for academic affairs, the director of the Career Development Center, and the executive director of the Women’s Leadership Center at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she works with university undergraduate and graduate students to help them achieve their career goals. Prior to joining USJ, she served as Director of Education at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, CT, developing programs for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows and assisting all trainees with career transitions. Melanie is the author of Next Gen Ph.D.: A Guide to Career Paths in Science, published by Harvard University Press in August 2016. While working on Next Gen Ph.D., she served as a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard Law School, where she conducted survey research on careers for Ph.D.s in science. She also served as the founding director of the FAS Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Harvard University, held the same position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health in building the first NIH Career Center for over 9,000 intramural trainees.

Melanie began her career as a graduate student peer advisor in the University of Michigan’s Career Center and is thrilled to be reconnecting with U-M. Melanie received her bachelor’s degree from Colgate University, and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University. She is a National Certified Counselor with a career development focus on Ph.D.s.

Tuesday, April 6

12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
Career Panel: Healthcare, Biotech, and Pharma

The combined impact of the biotech, pharma, and healthcare industries on the future of human health outcomes is huge. Ph.D. degree holders have several career options in these industries in areas that are related, but not limited to, scientific research. Panelists will discuss lessons from their career trajectories, describe their daily professional lives, and provide tips and tools to best prepare for launching new careers in these industries.

Marta Gonzalez-Hernandez

Marta Gonzalez-Hernandez, Group Leader (Principal Scientist), Celsee, Inc.

Marta Gonzalez-Hernandez got her undergrad degree in chemistry and biology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, where she is from originally. She proceeded to get a graduate degree in immunology from the University of Michigan in 2012, and after a one-year postdoc transitioned to a role in biotech. She joined Rubicon Genomics (in Ann Arbor) in 2013 and worked through their acquisition by Takara Bio, USA (Clontech) in 2016. Afterward, she became part of the Takara Bio, USA family as a group leader until transitioning to Celsee, Inc. (another small biotech in Ann Arbor) in 2019. Recently, Celsee was acquired by Bio-Rad, of which she is now a part of as a group leader working with single cell technologies.

Sibu Kuruvilla

Senior Manager, Portfolio Strategy and Planning, Genentech

Sibu Kuruvilla did his Ph.D. in the materials science and engineering department with his research lab being in biomedical engineering. He went on to do a postdoc at Stanford in oncology before transitioning to the business side of drug development at Genentech. He is currently a senior manager on the gRED Portfolio Strategy and Planning team, conducting portfolio and industry analyses to help shape Genentech’s R&D pipeline.

Marc Sze

Associate Principal Scientist, Merck

Marc Sze completed his postdoctoral studies at the University of Michigan under the guidance of Professor Patrick Schloss. He is currently an Associate Principal Scientist at Merck Research Labs where he is a computational biologist in early discovery oncology. His current work involves the support of targets moving to phase 1 clinical trial, target discovery, and helping to oversee the integration of single-cell RNA sequencing modalities into the Merck discovery pipeline.

4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Career Panel: Finance

Panelists will describe “a day-in-the-life” in their roles and provide examples of their work that taps the transferable skills gained through their doctoral programs. You will gain insights into how to apply a Ph.D. from a variety of disciplines to the fast-paced industry of finance.

Sean Law

Senior Applied Research Scientist and Lead Data Scientist, Charles Schwab

Sean Law is a senior applied research scientist and lead data scientist currently working with a multi-talented R&D team at Charles Schwab, a Fortune 500 finance firm. He has experience producing cutting edge methodologies, developing rapid prototypes, and has patented several finance-related inventions. Law holds an Honors B.Sc. degree from York University in applied mathematics and biology, received his doctorate from Michigan State University, and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan. As a scientist, Law’s work focused on protein-protein interactions, protein-nucleic acid interactions, and developing state-of-the-art computational tools for understanding complex biological systems.

Paritosh Singh

Head of Business Development, U.S., Millennium

Kristin Ko

Biotech Equity Research Analyst, Piper Sandler

Kristin Ko is an assistant vice president and research analyst at Piper Sandler covering Biotechnology. Prior to joining Piper, she worked as a science advisor for A2A Pharmaceuticals and at the Ruth Group, helping emerging biotech companies raise financing. Kristin has a Ph.D. in chemistry from University of Michigan.

Wednesday, April 7

12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
Career Panel: Government/Federal Agencies

Panelists from the Government Accountability Office (the audit function supporting Congress); the State Department (responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy and international relations); and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will discuss their agencies, opportunities and challenges they face, and insights into launching a governmental career.

Alicia Puente Cackley

Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Alicia Puente Cackley is a director in the financial markets and community investment team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. She oversees policy research and program evaluation on a broad range of consumer protection, insurance, housing, and finance issues. Cackley received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan, and has been with GAO since 1990.

Lou Fintor

Diplomat in Residence, North Central Region, U.S. Department of State

Lou Fintor is a career foreign service officer representing the U.S. Department of State as diplomat-in residence for Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. His assignments have included Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, Kosovo, and NATO. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and graduate degrees from the American University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Layne Scherer

Study Director, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

Layne Scherer (she/hers) is a study director and senior program officer at the National Academies of Sciences with the Board on Higher Education and Workforce. Her policy portfolio includes undergraduate and graduate education; mental health and wellness in higher education; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Her previous work experiences also include federal service, grants management, and the non-profit sector. She earned her B.A. in English and history of art and her master of public policy from the University of Michigan.

4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Career Panel: Technology

Panelists from Google, Microsoft Research, and Facebook will share lessons learned from their own career paths and provide insights into applying your Ph.D. in the technology industry.

Elnaz Ansari

Research Scientist, Facebook

Elnaz Ansari has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and is currently a research scientist in Facebook Reality Labs, working on new hardware architectures for AR/VR applications. Prior to Facebook, and right after graduate school, Ansari joined Microsoft Research to work on quantum controllers and cryogenic logics.

Alexandra Olteanu

Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

Alexandra Olteanu is a social computing and responsible AI researcher. Currently, she is a principal researcher in the Fairness, Accountability, Transparency, and Ethics (FATE) Group. She is interested in how data biases and methodological limitations delimit what we can learn from online social traces, and how we can make the systems that leverage such data safer, fairer, and generally less biased. The problems she tackles are often motivated by existing societal challenges such as hate speech, racial discrimination, climate change, and disaster relief. Olteanu holds a Ph.D. (2016) from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.

Umang Varma

Software Engineer, Google

Umang Varma completed his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 2019, working under Professor Anna Gilbert. As his dissertation neared completion, Varma grew interested in incorporating his long-time hobby, coding, into his everyday work and started thinking seriously about working in the software industry. After graduating, he joined Google, working on efficient network allocations and recently moved to a team within Google developing network security products.

Thursday, April 8

12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
Career Panel: Nonprofit

Panelists working on issues such as youth development, lung cancer research, and public humanities will share their own career stories and provide insights on careers in the non-profit field.

Jill Daigneault

Program Manager, International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer

Jill Daigneault received her bachelor’s from Rutgers University in genetics and completed her Ph.D. in cancer biology. She did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the RNA Biosciences Institute. She currently works as a program manager for the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer where she manages multiple scientific committees and designs programming for their international meetings.

David Merkowitz

Assistant Director, Ohio Humanities

David Merkowitz is the assistant director of Ohio Humanities, the state-based partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has a Ph.D. in urban and religious history from the University of Cincinnati. Before joining Ohio Humanities, Merkowitz taught at a variety of colleges and universities in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia. He is currently at work completing an M.A. in public policy and administration at the John Glenn College of Ohio State University.

Malcolm Tariq

Programs and Communications Manager, Cave Canem

Malcolm Tariq is a poet, playwright, and nonprofit arts administrator from Savannah, Georgia who writes about intersections of Blackness, queerness, and the American South. He is the author of Heed the Hollow (Graywolf, 2019), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Georgia Author of the Year Award, and Extended Play (Gertrude Press, 2017). A former apprentice at Horizon Theatre Company and a 2020-2021 resident playwright with Liberation Theatre Company, Malcolm has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Watering Hole, the Social Science Research Council, and Imagining America. He is a graduate of Emory University and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan. Malcolm lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the programs and communications manager at Cave Canem, a home for Black poetry.

4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Career Panel: Consulting

Panelists will share insights about the business challenges they take on in their consulting roles. The session will speak to what is required to uncover solutions for clients, the skills drawn upon to address issues, and the approaches used to solve complex problems. You will gain a better sense of how advanced degrees from a myriad of fields may translate to the consulting arena.

Jennifer Miller-Gonzalez

Senior Consultant, Deloitte Consulting

Jennifer Miller-Gonzalez is a senior consultant in Deloitte’s human capital practice and is a manager at the Survey Research Center. At Deloitte, her work focuses on improving customer and workforce experience in the federal sphere. Prior to joining Deloitte, she managed survey research projects for clients in the technology, financial services, and defense industries. Jennifer received her Ph.D. in political science in 2013.

McKinsey Representative

McKinsey & Company

Vahid Rashidi

Project Leader, Boston Consulting Group

Vahid Rashidi received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and a master’s in electrical and computer Engineering, and a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. His research at U-M was focused on machine learning and molecular simulations. Rashidi joined Boston Consulting Group in 2018.


The University Career Center, Rackham Graduate School, and the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the Medical School would like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of the conference planning committee members. Names of our committee members are listed below. Finally, the Ph.D. Connections planning committee would like to acknowledge several staff members from the University Career Center and Rackham Graduate School who each made significant contributions to the logistics and communications for this event; their names are also included below.

Ph.D. Connections Committee Chairs

Kirsten Elling, Ph.D.

Coordinator for Graduate Student Career Advancement, University Career Center

Gina Shereda, Ph.D.

Program Manager, Rackham Professional and Academic Development, Rackham Graduate School

Ph.D. Connections Committee Members      

Beth Bodiya

Postdoc Coordinator, Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, University of Michigan Medical School

Kerin Borland

Director, University Career Center

Maggie Gardner, Ph.D.

Coordinator, Career and Professional Development, Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, University of Michigan Medical School

Laura Schram, Ph.D.

Director, Professional and Academic Development, Rackham Graduate School

Shoba Subramanian, Ph.D.

Director, Curriculum and Educational Initiatives, Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, University of Michigan Medical School, and Adjunct Faculty, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

Additional Contributors

Rita Chin, Ph.D.

Associate Dean for Social Sciences, Rackham Graduate School

Nate Hill

Social Media and Community Engagement Strategist, University Career Center

Kristen Jensen

Events Coordinator, Rackham Graduate School

Andree Joyaux

Recruitment Coordinator, University Career Center

Angelicia Morton

Information Services Manager, University Career Center

Matt Nelson

Communications Director, Rackham Graduate School

Elyse Rubin

Senior Editor, Rackham Graduate School

Sally Schueneman

Career Events Manager, University Career Center

Michael Solomon, Ph.D.

Dean, Rackham Graduate School

Joelle Fundaro Randall

Assistant Director, University Career Center

Jameson Staneluis

Multimedia Designer, Rackham Graduate School

Marc Williams

Web Designer, Rackham Graduate School

Rackham Graduate School

Rackham Graduate School offers opportunities, funding, and resources that prepare students to access the wide range of career opportunities available to them. We want to help you:

  • Identify and expand your transferable skills
  • Discover the many career options available to you

The University Career Center

The University Career Center (a unit of Student Life) serves Ph.D. students in a variety of ways and offers expertise on how to conduct non-academic job searches. Ph.D. students are encouraged to access individual appointments, programs, and web resources designed to address their career needs.

The Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (OGPS)

The Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (OGPS) team uses a rigorous and tailored approach in their programs to meet the needs of their graduate, postdoctoral, and postbaccalaureate communities. OGPS programs are intended to empower learners in eight competency areas using a hands-on approach. The eight OGPS competencies include career awareness, skills assessment, knowledge and skill building, communication, learning by engagement, portfolio building, experiential discovery, and job search.