Peng Zhong (PhD ’13, Microbiology)

What is your current profession/job? What did you study at Yale? When did you graduate?

My current job is Associate Director / Innovation program leader in Corporate Innovation at Bayer. I studied Microbiology at Yale. Graduated in 2013.

What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and/ or rewarding?

· It generates not only business impact in a short time, but also changes the way people are working. In my current role, I’m managing the intrapreneurship programs in the company, which aims to build “internal startups” by using the innovation methodology “lean startup”. Last year we invested 3 million EUR in the program, and already generated more than 10 million in return.

· Managing a large portfolio of projects and stakeholder alignment are challenging. Also, switching the mindset to a more “lean” and “agile” way has met some resistance at the beginning in the company, but gradually when the business units see the value of this new method that generates new business models to create value for the customers and energize the revenue streams, we obtained stronger and stronger business buy-in. This year we doubled the investment in the program given the success from last year, and all board members from all business divisions are active in selecting the new projects. I’m looking forward to generate even greater value this year and developing many more new business models with our team.

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory?

The graduate program at Yale offered me a fantastic platform to collaborate with world top tier scientists and research institutes. It still motivates me in setting the bar high and achieve great quality in work, like my Ph.D. advisor always expected from me. The reputation of Yale definitely helps me a lot in setting the foot in the door, and gain credibility in my professional connection, e.g. with senior scientists in my earlier R&D projects when I first joined the company’s business consulting unit.

What are the main skills that you acquired as a PhD student which help make you successful in your current career?

· Flexibility and be able to live with complexity and ambiguity. I experienced during PhD that progress is not linear – sometimes experiments for months don’t show signs of success, but in a short period of time every experiment works and the storyline becomes clearer and clearer. Similarly at work, I’m also more tolerant to ambiguity while keep the energy high. You just need to be patient, keeps trying and things will eventually work out

· Logics to structure a complicated issue. The helicopter view for any given area is important

· The fast learning quality helps a lot as we frequently need to know a new field, quickly grasp the most important messages to know how things have evolved and what are the future potentials.

· The simpler the better – communicating the messages to others in a clear, simple and concise way is the key quality for successful managers. I received lots of trainings in many seminar and conference presentations during my Ph.D. years

· Presentation skills trained during PhD years is still very helpful. At work, there are also many opportunities to give talks in conferences. I enjoy traveling around to different conferences, give talks, and meet with similar minded people, and exchange views and set up new collaboration.

· Hypothesis driven scientific experiments help me to understand and perform well in business experiments. In PhD time I need to convince others the impact of my research topic through varies of evidences gained from experiments. Now at work, I need to convince business sponsors to invest in certain projects given the evidence gained in various business experiments.

Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school (either through part-time work, volunteering, networking, or other forms of training)?

· I joined the Yale consulting club which was set up to prepare graduate students and post-docs for the consulting career. There one can exchange the experience and the latest recruiting information with others, and practice case which was the most essential part of application to any consulting firm.

· I also did an three-month internship during the graduate school, thanks to my advisor Prof Walther Mothes’ strong support, open mind and flexibility! The internship sets me the foot in the door of the company. He also likes to hear about my current progress, and we has been keeping close touch since I graduated. It was a great experience working in his lab and ever since.

What is the biggest challenge that you face in transitioning to different working places / cultures? What do you suggest current students do to prepare for those challenges?

· Culture wise – Germany is tough…English is not used everywhere like in Scandinavian countries. Most jobs requires some degree of German language skills, even in an international company. I was lucky enough to find the job which didn’t require speaking of German, partly because the department was very international. After you start work, things get very busy and you rarely find enough time to pick up a different language. So, if you want to relocate to a different country, will be great to prepare some basic language skills before applying. People are very reasonable, professional, diligent and efficient at work, and I really like the working styles. However, sometimes the feedbacks are very direct, you might not get used to hearing some rough feedback, but it also helps you to quickly get to the point and know what others exactly mean.

· In natural science, from my experience, we tend to focus on details and accumulate facts, and then come up with a story. In consulting or general management, the way of thinking is a bit reversed. It always goes like a pyramid, starting with the key message, and more details in each sublevel supported by evidences. I see many new joiners with a scientific background, often have some difficulties at the beginning to communicate in a more concise “upside-down” way. It gets better sooner or later, but if you can, preparing for this aspect during your study will definitely help in your future career.

· I’m happy to be reached out for further career suggestions and referrals. We constantly offer internship opportunities in business consulting and in Corp Innovation. Welcome to apply to these roles.