Laura Rowley is the Director of Life Science Economic Development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. She partners closely with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, universities, the community college system, and the broader economic development community to support life science companies seeking to expand or relocate to NC. Laura earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Furman University in Greenville, SC, and completed her Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014.
1. Tell us a little more about the work you are currently engaged in. What are your main job responsibilities?
The majority of my time is focused on assessing and communicating resources and assets in North Carolina’s life science community – ranging from specialized training programs to peer companies to supply chain – to companies considering the opportunity to grow their business in the state. I have also led strategic efforts to bolster NC’s existing industry, including the development of the NC CRO Collaborative to provide a forum for clinical research focused companies and academic programs to connect, and NCBiotech’s 2020 Window on the Workplace study to assess the needs of NC’s biopharma manufacturers.
2. Please share a brief overview of your career trajectory. What steps did you take after graduating from UNC to end up where you are now?
I decided against accepting a traditional postdoc and spent the first year after completing my PhD seeking out opportunities to demonstrate my abilities. This included working at a non-profit research institution and Duke University, as well as internships with the Office of Science, Technology, & Innovation within the NC Department of Commerce and the Emerging Company Development group at NCBiotech. Together, these experiences positioned me to join the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy as their Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fellow. Ultimately, it was through connections made during these years that led me to my current position at NCBiotech.
3. What professional development resources and programs did you use or participate in while at UNC and how did these benefit you?
As a graduate student, I participated in many workshops and events hosted by TIBBS (Training Initiatives in Biomedical and Biological Sciences) and the Graduate School. Some of the workshops I attended provided insights into alternative careers in science, while others focused on more immediately pressing topics such as how to format your dissertation or CV. I relied heavily on TIBBS as a resource not only for coordinating events, but also for communicating opportunities across or off campus.
4. What steps did you take when you were still a graduate student to prepare yourself for the job market/your industry?
As a graduate student, the idea of a career in economic development had not yet crossed my mind. I was interested in science policy and the intersection of science and business and sought out as many opportunities as possible to gain exposure and skills beyond my lab work. I participated in BioMedical eTeams via Carolina Kickstart, I served as a graduate student advisor for University Career Services and as a Graduate Student Representative for Student Congress, I volunteered as the first student member of the Genetics and Molecular Biology Advisory Board, and I co-founded the Graduate Consulting Club.
5. What skills/competencies did you acquire in graduate school that you apply in your job today or that have helped you progress in your career?
While the technical skills I honed as a scientist are not essential for my current day to day, I still rely heavily on the foundational knowledge I built during my years as a graduate student. The Genetics and Molecular Biology Curriculum spanned to include research in model organisms through translational research with clinical samples; this exposure helped prepare me to assess and support companies working across the life sciences. As a graduate student, I also learned how to balance autonomy with asking for help. In any work environment, I make it a priority to understand what resources are available and how (and when) to access them.
6. What advice would you offer current graduate students about professional development in general or career advice for your industry/position specifically?
My advice for all current graduate students is that there is more to life- and your studies- than the requirements of your degree. Ample opportunities exist to participate in networking events, clubs, and workshops both on- and off-campus and making time to engage will make you better poised to secure a position after graduation.