20 Lessons from Amgen Scholar — Cambridge Symposium

Guido Putignano
7 min readSep 11, 2022

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After the end of my research at ETH in Zurich, I had the possibility of flying to Cambridge to be part of three days conferences at Cambridge University.

We had amazing speakers and professors who discussed their work and experience in their field. I learnt many personal lessons. Here I want to write a summary of the key takeaways I learned from them

1) When you look for a problem, statistics can help you

The conference was mostly focused on immunology and drug discovery. At the same time, there were many conversations on agriculture and insects. Statistically more people die from malnutrition than from cancer. That’s something to think about while developing research abilities

2) Don’t influence Results

As scientists, we tend to see what we want to see. For this reason, influencing results, eliminating outliers, and setting obvious experiments can be something wrongly attractive. it’s important to recognise that, not to fall into this problem.

3) Try to do something new

The majority of innovative solutions were made with innovative approaches. A saying goes. We cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s thinking

4) Collaborate with people you admire

Being good at doing experiments and analysing them computationally can be relatively hard. For this reason, it’s important to have a background in both of them, but specialising in one in particular. In this case, there is the possibility of collaborating with people that have complementary skills to foster new discoveries. In this case, it’s also important to trust anyone that works with you.

5) Keep your eyes open for new opportunities

I have always found it difficult. In general, my perspective on life is to create at least a 2 years plan and follow that. Many of the opportunities I had, weren’t decided in those plans. Scientifically speaking, if there are some breakthroughs like CRISPR or other amazing tools, it’s important to use them

6) Listen to Criticism

Science is all about sharing ideas and improving them. It’s never on having a scientist that is the best in one sector. Sharing ideas is important for that. Without the possibility of talking with others, there is a high risk of going in the wrong direction

7) Science is not designed to be fast, it’s designed to be precise

Companies that do have quarterly plans with the strong pressures of investors to accomplish results. Without acknowledging that, there is a high risk of falsifying results, committing plagiarism, and working unfairly. Before sharing information, there is the need of demonstrating that what you’re sharing is precise and accurate

8) What does a supervisor want from you?

This is a good question, after the conference, there were some points covered

  1. Motivation -> You need to be interested in what you’re doing.
  2. Take responsibility for your thesis
  3. Nobody else can do the work for you. Do the work for yourself
  4. Be curious, and think about what you want to do. Curiosity drives the medium
  5. Be Self-Critical of your work. If there are some potential mistakes, recognise them
  6. Help colleagues
  7. To keep up with the literature in your field (and generally). You have to be horizontal apart than vertical
  8. Write your paper. It’s the most important part. The writing part is important.

9) Reasons to do a PhD

Doing a PhD requires a lot of effort, there is the need of being independent, and you can cr your own path. For this reason, I was wondering conference why there is a need of doing a PhD. Many people do that to shy away from society because they don’t feel ready. One other version is that people can use university items to learn precisely and later use this knowledge for personal projects. So you can b your own startup while working in science

10) What to learn from Amgen?

Assertivity -> Gain confidence

Make new friends

Gain tech research skills -> Become independent research

Encouragement -> To apply for a PhD

No Failures = No success

11) What is the key way to succeed?

Every student that applies has a GPA of 4. The reason why some of them are great, and others are not, is because of something else. Building something high standard can be a good way to get ahead in life

12) Think about how to improve personally

Many times there may be the problem of looking at your resumé thinking we are what we write. The truth is, it’s never in this way. Especially where there is the mission of building something new, nobody is prepared for that. The majority of psychotic events happen between 18 and 24. That’s a moment where students are incredibly stressed and there is huge pressure. Reaching this point is never productive.

13) Industry and Academia are merged

During the past 10 years, many of the most advanced discoveries weren’t only performed in academia. The industry is becoming closer and closer to innovation leading to a new beacon of research

14) Biology is as Important as Maths

During my experience, I have always had a strong belief that mathematical formulas could describe anything. Even though that’s completely true, there is also the need of understanding what you want to talk about. Biology is incredibly broad. Defining a topic, and going deeper into that, can be incredibly useful

15) While you have data, it’s important to communicate them adequately

Especially in Biostatistics, there is a strong need of showing what’s insightful. For this, some organisations can evaluate your results (like FDA). It can be incredibly important to create a scientific standard.

16) Communication is as important as research

The reason why fake news is present, it’s because of contrasting opinions. Some people can talk about particular topics and others can’t. When researchers only think about research, there isn’t the possibility of sharing appropriate information with the whole public. At the same time, sharing your knowledge can be important to create the groundwork for what’s going to come next. Without people that can understand your research, there isn’t the possibility of collaborating with others that went into the subject thanks to that

17) Teaching is either present in industry or academia

I used to think classes were only present in academic environments. However, that’s not completely true. People in the industry participate in many conferences, seminars and learning activities that can make people inside the organisation learn and improve. Indeed, the three days symposium organised by Amgen is a clear example of that

18) You will never do the same job forever

During the last few days, I met people who created their future job. All their activities were suited based on their attitudes. That can only be possible when you can decide what to do to the best of your capabilities. Especially in industry, you can create your path, there isn’t the need of taking the place of someone else

19) Create your personal ethics

When doing research, there is a need of defining what’s really meaningful and what’s not. For example, some research work on particular mutations that cause acute pain to a few people, others work on malnutritions that mostly affect babies, even though those people could always die for other reasons, and others work on cancer therapies that mostly affect people over 60 when they are at the end of their life. In all of these cases, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. It’s all about finding what’s personally meaningful and what’s not

20) Don’t do only research

During one of the talks, I have been impressed by a researcher who did many social activities apart from research. I noticed that she was an amazing researcher and communicator. In this case, doing social activities could foster research as she became more enthusiastic, engaging and insightful to listen. Having some project you can work on, can always be useful.

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Guido Putignano

Synthetic Biology + Quantum Computing for drug discovery