Silvia de Alessandris

Strategy Consultant

Hi Silvia. Tell us a bit about your story before your PhD.

I grew up in a small village in Italy close to Rome. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Biotechnology in Rome. I had a great time there but did not receive much guidance on how to continue my studies abroad, something I always dreamed of. I felt the need to leave academia after my Master’s because I had a very bad experience with my Master’s supervisor towards the end of my studies. This experience caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety and turned me away from academia for a while. I spent a couple of months in San Diego in the US learning English and later returned to Italy where I worked as a congress hostess and waitress to support my life expenses in Rome. Simultaneously, I asked one of my former professors to let me do an unpaid internship in his lab, which he agreed to. My dad was a key element and big supporter of my decision to return to academia. He helped me regaining my self-confidence to pursue my dreams.

Then one day I received a call from an old school friend, who suggested for me to apply to the Leonardo Da Vinci programme, saying we could take the exam together. The programme would grant a studentship to about 60 Italian graduate students in a laboratory of choice abroad for a 6-month internship. I thought I would give it a go, and in a happy surprise found out few weeks later that I had gotten a place. And so, I set off to Cambridge to work at the Babraham Institute. I ended up spending eight months there, while frantically applying to PhD programmes all over Europe. Just when I was about to give up, I received an offer from Cambridge University to do a PhD at the Department of Respiratory Medicine sponsored by the pharmaceutical company MedImmune – I had made it!

What was your PhD about?

In my PhD I studied respiratory diseases, specifically the involvement of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, a white blood cells regulator, in neutrophil-mediated diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute lung injuries. I spent 70% of my time in the department and conducted the remaining 30% of my research at MedImmune.

And after you finished your PhD?

I matured an interest in business during my PhD, which was sponsored by MedImmune and thus closely linked to the pharmaceutical industry. When I compare academic and industrial research, I like the flexibility one has in academia, but ultimately prefer the more structured approach to work in industry. The commercial and strategic side of the pharmaceutical world attracted me, so after my PhD I joined IQVIA Consulting Services, a large data company focusing on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, as a strategy consultant.

I thought consulting would be a good transition from academia to industry, allowing me to keep the link to science, while developing business skills. Recently, I changed company and joined KPMG as a strategist.

Powerlifting is one of Silvia’s hobbies.

I like the dynamic character of my job with a high variability in projects, topics and therapy areas. I have the opportunity to move up quickly and receive more and more responsibilities, which makes it challenging and rewarding at the same time.

What drives and motivates you?

I have always been ambitious, setting a goal and achieving it is what motivates me. What I achieved to date helped me gain that confidence in myself that I was missing when I started. I found my balance now and my motivation.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Being happy and satisfied with both my professional and private life, I wouldn’t want one without the other. I strongly believe that success comes when you do what you like and what makes you happy.

What is your advice for young ambitious women?

To stay focus and not to give up. The final goal might seem distant and difficult to reach but setting small goals and believing in yourself is key. Never forget to be happy and dedicate enough time to your private life as a job isn’t everything.

Silvia was interviewed by Louise Funke.

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