Shanthi Ganeshan, PhD
Graduation Year: 1997
Current Position: Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs, Glaxo Smith Kline
Shanthi Ganeshan graduated with her PhD in cellular and molecular biology from the Integrated Graduate Program (now the Driskill Graduate Program) at Northwestern University in 1997. On August 30, 2018, she returned to campus to deliver the keynote address for the Northwestern University Postdoctoral Forum/ BioProfessionals annual Current Research and Future Careers Symposium. She gave a wide ranging address, covering her own personal background and career path, insights into successful leadership, and advice for those just embarking on their own careers.
Shanthi was born and raised in India and attended the Kodaikanal International Boarding School, which she credits for giving her a sense of independence. She attended the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, as an undergraduate. As part of her biology major, she worked for a time doing research at the Cancer Institute in Chennai. She knew then that she wanted to pursue research and that, in order to do so, she would need get a PhD. She applied to U.S. programs and ultimately came to Northwestern and worked with Dr. Steven Wolinsky in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, on the genetic evolution of HIV. The PhD program also encouraged her independence while sharpening her critical thinking and troubleshooting skills.
Shanthi was immediately drawn to working in industry after finishing her PhD, but she did not think she would be able to secure a research job without a postdoc. She reached out to a Wolinsky lab colleague who was working at Abbott Labs, who connected her with a contractor looking for someone to train people to enter clinical data into a database from medical case reports. Looking back, that job may seem like a poor fit for her ultimate career, but the important part was to get a foot in the door at the right company and displaying her potential once she got there. When she saw an interesting job posted in the area of regulatory affairs, she reached out to the hiring manager for an informational interview. In some ways, she was underqualified for the position, as most people who enter into regulatory affairs have more experience in industry going in. But this was a position in HIV diagnostics, a perfect fit with her research background, and the hiring manager decide to take a risk and hire her. Shanthi says, to both hiring managers and current trainees, “If you believe in somebody, give them a chance. That first job is the hardest [to get].”
After several years at Abbott, Shanthi relocated to New Jersey with her family. She held positions at both Berlex and Genta in regulatory affairs before starting with Novartis in 2004. She started in regulatory affairs at Novartis and worked briefly Grants & Education and Medical Information to try out some other functions within the company. These jobs involved supporting continuing medical education for physicians. Shanthi ultimately moved back to her first love, regulatory affairs, and advanced to the Vice President and US Head of Regulatory Affairs for Novartis Oncology. At the symposium, she announced that she has just accepted a position as the Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs for Oncology at Glaxo Smith Kline.
Shanthi is a strong believer in leading by example, saying that she wouldn’t ask someone to do something that she wouldn’t do herself. She is also an advocate of clear communication by leaders. A good leader will clearly communicate their goals for a particular project or person, and will also provide appropriate recognition for a job well done. She feels it is very important to invest in your team. Get to know your team members as people, not only employees, and build a relationship of trust. For example, this could be achieved by taking team members out to lunch individually, listening to their stories and learning about their aspirations. This demonstrates that you care about their lives, not just the work they do for you, building a stronger team. Learning to delegate responsibility can be hard, so trust in your team is crucial. Give people the chance to impress you.
Advice for current trainees
At an early stage of your career, Shanthi says it is important to keep an open mind, constantly learn, and challenge yourself. She encourages trainees to make choices that expand your possibilities, not limit them, and to learn from the journey, even if it is not always a straight path. Success can mean many things, but ultimately, she says, it is about moving forward and never giving up.
Getting the first job is the hardest, so how can you improve your chances of landing that industry job? Take advantages of the opportunities available to you at Northwestern and beyond. Find out if there is a clinical trial you can do some work for. Take some applied courses with practical industry applications, things like biostatistics, epidemiology, etc. Consider some mini workshops or courses in things related to the area you are interested in, like regulatory affairs or clinical trial design. Look for internships. She cautions that she will usually hire someone with experience over someone without it, but these types of experiences will give you an edge over similar candidates. They will not make you an expert, but will make you more informed and show a hiring manager that you have initiative and are committed to this career path.
Finally, Shanthi says to never underestimate the power of networking. The more people you can get to know who work in industry, the better off you will be. She talks of creating your own personal Board of Directors—people who can advise you and advocate for you in your career. She stresses that you don’t want to start networking only when you need something from others, like a job. This type of Board should be built gradually with people you admire, and it will become invaluable to you throughout your career to help with your development. Your development doesn’t stop with the first job—keep learning and keep moving forward!