Introduction: Alexander An
By Alexander An on September 8th, 2023
Hello! My name is Alex, and I am a 3rd-year pharmacy student at UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. I want to start a blog series where I will write about interesting innovations in biotech and share stories about myself. To kick things off, I'd like to share a bit about the beginning of my journey to where I am now.
My first experience in a research lab during high school
Growing up I remember having to move a lot as a kid going to school in the U.S., Thailand, and Korea. With the constant moving, my mom made sure to keep me busy with extra lessons in math, art, science, and music. Out of all the noises, music was one thing that made me feel comfortable.
Learning to play the clarinet didn't come naturally to me. Basic major scales and how to play the clarinet were difficult for me. In my first year of high school, I was humbled when I placed 40 out of 41 clarinetists in the symphony orchestra audition. This setback became my turning point, prompting me to seek the guidance of a mentor. Together, we identified the gaps in my musical foundation, with tempo standing out as a critical deficiency. I plunged myself into learning the fundamentals, such as beats and timing, with the aid of a metronome and YouTube videos. I succeeded by working nonstop and listening to the metronome's ticking sounds, eventually earning the first chair.
Outside of music, I had an interest in science during high school because out of all the subjects I saw it as the one having the biggest impact on society. My interest was verified when I won 1st place at the school and regional science fairs by doing an experiment on the effect of x-ray interval radiation on yeast growth. Besides my great experience at those events, my unorthodox biology teacher made learning more exciting by sharing tales about things like amoebas that attack brain tissue. This inspired me to study biology in college.
At the University of Virginia, I was able to work in a research lab focused on the genetics of atherosclerosis. Doing poster presentations and taking several interesting classes, my time at UVa solidified my determination to make a meaningful impact on people through science.
In a last-minute decision, I decided to go to pharmacy school at UNC Chapel Hill because I thought it would open up more doors. Yet, during my time there, my path remained uncertain. After attending various speaker events and engaging in conversations with my peers, the prospect of entering big pharma and biotech began to captivate my interest. This newfound interest prompted me to cast a wide net, applying to numerous internships.
Despite encountering 20 rejections from various companies, I persevered and eventually secured a clinical development internship at SpringWorks Therapeutics. Here, I had the opportunity to learn about rare oncology diseases such as desmoid tumors and gain insights into various areas of the industry. Unfortunately, a small part of my internship overlapped with me in Asheville where I had to do my immersion for school at a retail pharmacy.
I had a lot of free time during my immersion in Asheville (when it didn't conflict with my internship) to consider what I truly wanted to accomplish with my life and after pharmacy school. I started looking at people’s profile on LinkedIn to see what they did after pharmacy school or graduate school to determine what opportunities there are in the industry.
I had coffee chats with people on LinkedIn and learned about life science/management consulting, big pharma, and biotech. However, one area that interested me the most was venture capital. I saw it as an avenue to leverage my clinical background bring innovation within the biotech sector to patients.
I quickly realized that breaking into the world of venture capital was not going to be easy, especially for a pharmacy student with no experience in consulting, startup, or anything related to business. Nevertheless, I still decided to apply for a VC fellowship in biotech and healthcare towards the end of my first summer in pharmacy school. As months went by, I was faced with countless rejections and mostly no response from the fellowship I applied at all. As a result, I decided to build myself up during school by working in a biotech startup as a business development consultant, doing pro bono consulting work for startups, and doing a medical affairs internship at Merck.
After a year of on and off applying to VC fellowships, I am thrilled to announce that I will be joining the Carolina Angel Network (CAN) as a venture fellow, where I'll be assisting the investment team in due diligence, screening, and sourcing starting this September. I hope to share a bit about my journey in CAN as I take my first step and post more about exciting innovations in biotech in this series of blogs.
Check out my personal blog page as well here: https://medium.com/@alexanderan