Lunch with Grad Alumna, Jennifer Johnston

On July 16, 2014 by Grad Forum
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Dr. Jennifer Johnston with her PhD adviser, Professor Roger Sloboda.

On Tuesday, June 17, a group of graduate students from various departments joined a Dartmouth graduate alumna, Dr. Jennifer Johnston, for lunch to learn more about her career path following graduate school.

Johnston received her PhD in biology working with Professor Roger Sloboda at Dartmouth. After earning her PhD, Johnston worked as a postdoctoral fellow in two different laboratories at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Her work resulted in the discovery of the formation of “aggresomes,” a cellular process that protects cells by removing proteins that are misshaped. After her experience in academic laboratories, Johnston then worked in the pharmaceutical industry at Élan Pharmaceuticals in San Francisco, California. Building on this experience, she subsequently started two biotechnology companies. Her latest company, An2H Discovery, focuses on the modulation of protein degradation.

Johnston led a discussion with the graduate students that first focused on the students’ research projects. Each project was discussed, and Johnston gave individual advice to the students. She then talked about her career path. When asked for advice on choosing postdoctoral fellowships, Johnston advised the graduate students to go to the most intellectually challenging environment they could find. Johnston also encouraged the graduate students to do their postdoctoral work in an academic setting regardless of whether they intend to pursue a career in academia or industry. Johnston felt that academic postdoctoral positions allow for more flexibility in terms of what one does afterwards, than industry postdoctoral positions. She explained that she had initially considered pursuing an academic position and completed two academic postdocs, but then realized that she would be happier in an industry research setting.

Johnston also described the process that she followed to start her company, An2H Discovery. She initially spent a year finding funding for the company. With current research funding limited at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading research funding agency, Johnston sought funding through foundations that fund research in life sciences. Ultimately, she obtained funding through the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Johnston has also developed relationships with business partners, who provide funding as well. When asked about where her group currently conducts experiments, Johnston explained that most of her research is done by groups in other companies. Johnston advised that when one is starting a company, the most important aspect is to find the right team of people to work with. Once you have the team and the idea, then protecting intellectual property and having good legal advice is essential. Johnston also stressed the importance of collaboration. The various members of her company have different areas of expertise in science and business, which helps the company succeed.

The session was very interesting and presented a great opportunity for Dartmouth graduate students to learn from a successful Dartmouth graduate alumna. The Graduate Forum congratulates Johnston on her success and thanks her for meeting with graduate students.

by Gilbert Rahme

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