My journey from academia to a technology-based career in industry – a career portrait
Welcome to the career portrait series where we look at the careers of DDA Alumni. Here Honggang Huang tells us what his position as a protein scientist at Arla Food Ingredients (AFI) entails and how he made the journey from academia to industry, enjoy:
I finished my PhD at University of Copenhagen (KU), and postdoctoral trainings at University of Southern Denmark (SDU).
When I finished my first three-year postdoc fellowship supported by DDA at SDU in July 2016, I tried to apply for external funding for my research work. Meanwhile, I also started to look for opportunities outside of academia.
Position: Protein scientist
2013-2017: Postdoc at University of
2017-now: Protein scientist at Arla Food Ingredients (AFI)
Quote: "Master specific know-hows and be a true specialist at a very advanced level in the area."
Luckily, I got a two years funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation in collaboration with my postdoc mentor Prof. Martin Larsen at SDU in December 2016. Then in April, 2017, I got a job offer from Arla Foods Ingredients (AFI) as a protein scientist. I considered it to be a good opportunity for me to explore something new (outside of academia) in industry and to use my expertise of protein chemistry and LCMS based analytical chemistry in the real world.
Also, this position was a permanent position, and it would be relatively stable for me and my family. Therefore, I decided to accept this industrial offer and since May 2017, I have been in my current position at AFI.
A position with variation
In this position, I am responsible for setup and maintenance of the core chromatography and LCMS facility, and I participate in and manage multiple internal and external projects.
My research work is focused on LC-MS based protein/peptide separation, purification and characterization, proteomics, protein post-translational modifications (PTMs) analytical method development, validation and the application in the biomedical and food science area.
Technically, I develop and validate diverse analytical methods to characterize bio-active functional peptides, proteins and other components in whey and milk ingredients both for R&D and new product development (NPD), such as innovative and functional products for infant formulation, medical nutrition (PKU patients, pre-diabetic people etc.) and sport food. I collaborate and interact with people from basic research to commercial business application.
A technology-based career path can be quite straightforward
My career path in general has been quite straightforward. My career is a technology-based career, and I have been very keen to improve myself in the area of protein chemistry and LCMS based analytical chemistry since my PhD and until now.
"I try my best to be a real specialist"
I try my best to be a real specialist in this area, and I believe that I have achieved to become that.
Of course, for different periods, the applications and the research interests and targets can be different. I have gone from doing basic research in my postdoc, where I used cells and clinical samples related to diabetes, to focus on business-oriented milk ingredients at AFI.
There are always different challenges related to specific tasks or targets. You need to update your knowledge in the fields and find solutions to these challenges. For a specialist, it is not bad; actually, it can enrich your experience.
"Your experience and knowledge in one area can be very helpful for tackling the challenges in other areas"
Your experience and knowledge in one area can be very helpful for tackling the challenges in other areas. For example, at AFI we have a project that explores the use of bioactive peptides and proteins from milk for stimulating insulin secretion and inhibition of DPP-4 activity. My previous knowledge during my postdoc work is very helpful for this work.
Another important lesson that I have learned is that the way of working and communicating in industry is very different from academia. You should spend quite some time to understand and adapt to it.
Useful skills from the PhD
The skills of protein chemistry and LCMS based analytical chemistry that I obtained during my Phd/postdoc are directly related and important in my current position.
But other soft skills like communication and networking skills are also very important skills that I improved a lot during my education.
My advice for PhDs who are interested in a similar position or career path
First, in my experience, to make yourself excel as a researcher in the competitive academia and industry market it is very important that you can master specific know-how and be a true specialist at a very advanced level in the area. This is especially the case for international researchers, who mostly do not have a strong social and professional network in Denmark.
Second, Denmark is a small country. The research community in Denmark is also quite small, and most probably people know each other. Therefore, I think it is very important to have a good scientific and professional reputation in the community.
To make yourself well recognized and accepted in the community you should work on the aspects of scientific quality, collaboration, communication and networking. This will be very helpful for long-term career development.