Career Advice From a Tech Expert: Interview with Forough Ghahramani

What career advice can you give to engineers that hope to reach management levels in managing their careers?

Top ten tips include:

1. Obtain management and project management skills both through education as well as professional experience – technical skills coupled with business/management skills are critical to success in management.

2. Understand how to gather, analyze, and manage data – data analytics is a very important skill for all professionals, especially for managers. Information is power and therefore, understanding the significance of data and having the expertise in data analysis to convert data into information to make knowledgeable decisions is the key to successful management.

3. Develop strong verbal and written communication skills.

o To be effective communicators, engineers, scientists, and researchers must learn what it takes to translate – the language of technologist/engineer/scientist into concepts and analogies that can be easily understood.

4. Work collaboratively with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders.


5. Employ a novel and adaptive thinking approach to your role, and continually create new solutions and ideas beyond that which is rote- or rule based.


6. Become skilled in cognitive load management. Become adept at sifting through large amounts of information to eliminate “noise” and focus on what is most pertinent.


7. Recognize the importance of an organization’s ability to be nimble and therefore, continually try to get the team out of doing things the same way just because that is how it has always been done to “how can we do this better and more efficiently.”


8. Capitalize on the strengths of each team member and try to mix up the different groupings of team members. This helps make the team more dynamic as well as promotes individual development.

9. Develop the ability to see the organization in relation to the wider environment and stand outside the organizational culture to come to conclusions and actions that keep the organization responsive and healthy.

10. If you believe in the work that you are doing, you will be motivated to work hard to accomplish the goals.


Should students starting out in school or their careers focus on a specific technology or take a broader approach to the industry?

It is important to pursue an academic field that will make one marketable to get a job. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, students who pursue “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and math) related disciplines are in high demand right now.

It is important to note, however, that while having the technical skills required for the job is an important factor in getting the first interview and ultimately the first job, the following attributes and skills are significant factors in reaching career success:

* Novel and adaptive thinking

* Analytical skills

* Computational thinking – ability to translate large amounts of data into abstract concepts

* Understanding and communicating across multiple disciplines (known as transdisciplinary)

* Virtual collaboration

* New media literacy – visual, audio and virtual media are surpassing traditional text-based media

* Demand for blend of project management and technical skills

* Cross-cultural competency – be able to operate effectively in different cultural settings

* Communication skills (oral and written) – employers recruit those who are articulate, concise and have strong written skills. Verbal skills are important, while the new generation does most of their communicating without talking, “talking” has not gone away in business

* Leadership and team skills

* Time management

* Conflict management and resolution

* Facilitating and managing change

* Social intelligence and empathy – connecting to others in a deep and direct way


Therefore, it is important to develop the broad base of skills to complement the specific skills for the student’s’ discipline. Soft skill traits can be just as crucial as the technical skills.


What opportunities are you seeing most unfilled in the industry, and any insight into why?


The opportunity for a better collaboration between industry and academia to enhance student’s and educators’ learning/teaching experience.

* Mentoring opportunities from industry to educational institutions – involving both students and teachers.

o For example, in healthcare and biotechnology, early partnerships with local pharmaceutical, medical, healthcare, and biotechnology institutions is key to developing the necessary workforce and successfully placing students.

* Promote summer education workshops for teachers and guidance counselors in the industry with the ultimate goal of raising awareness in major influencers of future generation of scientists and engineers.

* Given the gap between public understanding and public perception of biotechnology, genetic engineering or gene mapping, researchers should take an active role in helping to educate and inform the public.

o Not all scientists are in the teaching profession, but all scientists can teach by sharing their knowledge and expertise with others. Whether it’s giving a presentation to students in on ‘career day,’ serving as a mentor for an aspiring biologist or talking to a local civic organization – being able to communicate effectively about your research and your scientific discipline is essential.


What type of work should students look to perform as part of internships?

I believe any type of exposure to a professional setting will provide valuable experience for the student. It is important that the organization has made a commitment to dedicate resources to spend time with the student, provide meaningful work to the student, and therefore, there is a specific outcome expected of the experience so that the student has something to show for their time.


Keep the following in mind:

* Goals are defined

* Work experience is varied

* Experiential learning is accompanied by discussion with professionals

* Access to mentors is available


It is when learning is infused with examples from the biotechnology/engineering/scientific/business setting, and students are able to practice hands-on technical/management skills on a regular basis that a program has the greatest impact on a student pursuing a job in their field of interest.


Biotechnology has been one of most popular fields when discussing job growth and opportunity. In your role as an educator, have you seen a large number of career changers entering the field? Are they finding opportunities after school as readily as traditional students?

We have several health sciences programs at DeVry University, including health information technology (HIT) and neurodiagnostic technology (NDT), and those areas seem to attract career changers.

Other popular fields generally include healthcare as well as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology and the types of jobs these offer range from a medical writer to a product/process developer to a bioinformatist.

Career changers oftentimes tend to be more mature, have more confidence as well as experience, while not in their current field of study necessarily. However employers are gravitating towards these types of students due to those characteristics described earlier that differentiates them from their less experienced academic peers.

Therefore, many times the career changers have a competitive advantage. In addition, the HIT and NDT programs engage students in practical settings and not only enable participants to develop high levels of competency in basic industry skills, they also provide participants with the opportunity to understand different aspects of the field.

How important are advance degrees in the biotech field?

Interdisciplinary skills including biology, information technology, mathematics, and analytics are all extremely important for success in the biotechnology field. There are few degree areas that offer all or a subset of these in one undergraduate degree, such as bioinformatics. Therefore, advanced degrees are necessary to acquire a combination of these necessary skills.

For those who aspire towards management, advanced degrees in management and business administration are also necessary for complementing the science/technology expertise with management skills.

How competitive is biotech for the mature career changer? If any, what challenges does an older group face?

As I mentioned, in response to a previous question, a mature career changer in many instances has a competitive advantage over traditional students in biotech and healthcare, based on maturity, confidence, communication and leadership skills.


The challenges include:

* Proficiency in use of technology

* If they have not used their math and analytical skills for a long period of time, this serves as a challenge for them

* Requirement for interdisciplinary skills


 What are the top 3 things a 2013 graduate in this field should be doing now to prepare for his or her job search in this field?

* Develop a network of contacts (professors, friends, parents of friends, friends of parents, family, and neighbors, etc.)

o Inform people know that you are about to graduate and are looking for a job before you actually graduate

o Create a professional social media profile (i.e. LinkedIn)

o Look into professional organization memberships

o Good networking is about building solid, trusted relationships that are long-term, not short-term

* Develop and market your brand: what are your key differentiators, how do you want people to perceive you

* Think ahead – create a 3-5-year plan

For more information on careers of the future and ways to advance in your job search, visit


Author: Forough Ghahramani



Forough Ghahramani A transformational business leader, engineer, and entrepreneur, Forough Ghahramani is an associate dean of the College of Business and Management and the Keller Graduate School of Management at DeVry University and is the founding director of the New Jersey Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.

Prior to her current role, Forough was a senior systems architect at Hewlett-Packard. Forough’s diversified career experience includes higher education management, strategic planning, management consulting, business analysis and organization-wide information technology planning.

Forough has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in biology from Pennsylvania State University. She also holds a master’s in business administration from DePaul University as well as a master’s degree in computer science from Villanova University.

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