Dr. Suzanne Young remembers her postdoc years—absorbed in her training, she hardly knew about the life sciences landscape outside the lab. A few friends who shared the same sentiment have crafted a group to help bridge the gap between academia and Indiana’s life sciences companies. Indy Science Connect aims to join science professionals at all career stages to build connections that result in collaboration and “a sense of place” within Indiana’s life sciences landscape.
“I was a postdoc myself and really had no networking skills outside my academic network—I didn’t know anyone doing anything but academic work,” says Young, now a consultant in global scientific communications at Eli Lilly and Company. “I knew I didn’t want to be an academic researcher in a lab; I wanted to do other things, but didn’t have any knowledge of what those other things were.”
Founded with three other professional colleagues about two years ago, Indy Science Connect is now about 250 members strong.
“We want post-grad students to be aware of opportunities outside of academia before they graduate—as they’re going through their post-doctoral fellowship,” says Brian Stemme, project director at Indiana’s life sciences initiative BioCrossroads and one of Indy Science Connect’s founding members. “We want them to know what’s here, and that there are a lot of interesting things they can do with their degrees.”
However, the group says it’s evolved from simply introducing postdocs to potential private sector careers; Indy Science Connect says it’s grown to also link professionals with other life sciences colleagues.
“We’re really focused on putting people together who are in the life sciences, because when you have conversation, you get collaboration, and that leads to innovation—and that’s what we want for the state,” says Young. “At our last event, there were two gentlemen who have labs in very close proximity to each other. They didn’t know each other prior to the event, and they left with a plan to collaborate. That sums up our goals.”
The group is free to join and connects virtually via LinkedIn, Twitter and its website, but also holds regular meetings and events where members can collaborate face-to-face. Indy Science Connect draws professionals mostly from central Indiana companies, including Lilly, Covance, Navigant Consulting, Inc., AIT Bioscience and Ice Miller. From academic institutions, Indiana University School of Medicine, Purdue University, IU and Purdue tech transfer professionals and Marian and Butler universities fill its roster.
The events provide updates on emerging life sciences projects in the Indianapolis area—such as 16 Tech and the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute—and helps build “a sense of place” among the region’s academic and private sector professionals.
“I want to keep Indianapolis and Indiana in mind for folks when they think about their career planning,” says Young. “I really want it to be a difficult choice to leave Indiana.”
The events draw more than 100 people and the group says it’s getting “overwhelmingly positive feedback.” Stemme is hopeful Indy Science Connect can grow to have about 500 members, “because that’s how the ecosystem continues to develop.”
“There are capable people here and a huge amount of science being done in this region—whether that’s at a big company like Lilly, or a startup, or people remaining in academia and continuing to do really interesting research,” says Stemme. “I’m excited for people to learn more about what’s going on outside their universe and the value of the other side of the equation.”
With a growing number of people joining a forum “that didn’t exist before,” Indy Science Connect expects the momentum to continue to build.
“Sometimes it’s little things like this that end up growing spontaneously,” says Stemme. “This is a small effort, but we think in a small way—and hopefully getting bigger—that we can make a difference in keeping and attracting talent to the area.”
Young says Indy Science Connect is receiving “overwhelmingly positive feedback.”
While Indy Science Connect often initiates job opportunities, Stemme says its mission goes beyond that.