MBA at GGS fills a knowledge gap for scientist

Interview with David del Àlamo, Ph.D. in Molecular Biology

Why did you choose to do a part-time MBA?

As a former scientist, I felt I had a very specific set of skills that I was only slowly expanding once I joined the editorial staff at EMBO. That was one of the reasons I decided to enroll in an MBA program and force myself into what was a completely new world for me. A part-time schedule meets my needs perfectly as it is compatible with a full-time job, particularly considering the flexibility offered by GGS.

You are currently a Scientific Editor for the EMBO Journal, after completing your Ph.D. in biology. Normally, natural science graduates do a Ph.D. to advance their academic careers. Why did you decide to do an MBA? Is it necessary for your everyday work, and was it suggested to you by your employer?

Actually, while working for the EMBO Journal, I have also been Manager of the EMBO Fellowship Program for a little over a month now. I am sure that part of the decision to promote me to this new position was due to my taking part of the MBA program at GGS.

As explained before, the MBA is opening my mind to the business and management world and providing me with a completely new set of skills. This is important for me—not only from a personal development perspective, but also because it does significantly increase my value in the job market. As you correctly mentioned, natural scientists usually push their academic careers (although that has also been changing in the last 10 to 20 years) and job opportunities outside this path are not obvious. More to the point, making the move from an academic to an industry, business-oriented point of view requires training and knowledge that a scientist usually lacks. The MBA at GGS is certainly helping me fill that gap, which is even more important for me now that I have a management position.

When I started the program as a Scientific Editor, I did not need an MBA for my day-to-day tasks, although I have to say that my perspective on the way we organize teams, set up processes, and deal with conflict has changed considerably as I have learned more about these topics. My employer did not suggest that I do an MBA, but they are definitely supporting me in this venture and I am already benefiting from the program in my new role as Manager.

How did you find out about the MBA at GGS? And why did you opt for this program over others?

One of my co-workers at The EMBO Journal took the same MBA program at GGS before me and his opinion was very positive. By the way, he is now very successful in a managerial position at another company.

On top of that, I had a few requirements of my own, mainly related to the program’s compatibility with my job and its international focus. To me it was crucial that the MBA was held entirely in English and had international recognition and validity. Something else I valued was the smaller number of students per class, which really promotes a highly interactive experience.

What are your career plans after you graduate from GGS? What are your hopes for the future?

My short/medium-term plan is to continue as Manager of the Fellowship Program at EMBO. Due to the specific nature of EMBO as an international non-profit organization, contracts are generally limited to nine years, which means I will have to find another position relatively soon. I would like to take advantage of both my education at GGS and my professional experience at EMBO to continue my career in a managerial position, probably in something related to science administration or policy. But it is still too soon to tell...

Why is it worth doing an MBA?

Awareness, I would say. There are no silver bullets, no tricks, no magical or general solutions to problems within the work environment. But there is awareness and anticipation. You may not know how to approach every potential issue in advance, but an MBA gives you the kind of perspective and overall knowledge to foresee where issues might arise and how to prevent them to a certain extent. This also leads to the second important thing you learn in an MBA: strategic thinking and leadership. Overall knowledge and awareness involve thinking about the future—about the vision and mission of your company, to use more technical terms, but also at a more modest level within your own department, your own position, or even your own life. In other words, defining where you want to go and how to get there. Everybody, no matter what their position, can benefit from this kind of thinking.

You began studying at GGS last year. What have been your experiences so far? Have you gained any new knowledge or awareness, either in terms of your work or for you personally?

It is a slow process. Organizations can be analyzed from many different perspectives: from the more human and softer side, dealing with feelings and personal dynamics, to the more tangible nature of numbers and finances. Integrating all this information is hard at first, but little by little, you start to think in a different way about how things are dealt with in your own organization. This is especially important at the human level. I guess I try to get under the surface when it comes to analyzing decisions or dealing with conflict. At the end of the day, any organization is a human organization and dealing with issues is dealing with human issues. If I have learnt one thing, it is that it does not matter how good your idea is if you cannot motivate and lead other people to help you achieve it. The rest is organization, processes, and management. These are also important and make up a big part of your education as an MBA student—but to me they are secondary to the individual who has to put it all into practice.