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Meet Carolina Amador of Biotech Connection Los Angeles (BCLA)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carolina Amador.

Carolina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I moved to the US in 2014 to pursue my Ph.D. in Chemistry at USC, with the goal to study the synthesis of biomolecules in drug development. I am original from Portugal and a year before moving here, I spent some time in Switzerland doing an internship at the pharmaceutical company Roche.

In the early studies of my Ph.D. degree here in Los Angeles, I felt a disconnect between academia and industry in the life science field. I looked for answers in order to understand more about the biotech industry in the area and learn what other career paths Ph.D. graduates can follow that are not necessarily academic research. I did not find such guidance on campus at the time, and so I started looking around for a group of people that felt the same disconnect that I did. Fortunately, I found BCLA and I immediately joined the team!

Biotech Connection Los Angeles (BCLA) was founded in 2014 by two UCLA postdoctoral fellows, Stefanie Volland and Katrina Choe. They felt the same disconnect and they decided to do something about it! They had the vision to start BCLA with the aim to retain local talent and strengthen the synergy between academia and industry in the biotech field. I joined BCLA as an Event Associate in 2015, moved up to Vice-President and since September 2017 I have been the President of the organization.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Since its inception, BCLA has been an amazing ride! With ups and downs of course, but mainly an empowering journey and with great friendships along the way. We are a team of 16 volunteers, we are all graduate students, post-docs and early-stage professionals coming from all over LA: UCLA, USC, LABioMed, City of Hope, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. All our team members have full-time positions, so coordinating that with my own full-time Ph.D. program, oversee all BCLA’s activities, lead a team of 16 members and still have a healthy work-life balance is quite the challenge.

As for when BCLA was just a couple of weeks old, Stefanie and Katrina do share with us that one of the biggest challenges they faced was the fact that they did not have professional experience other than academic research, but they needed to convince people that they could carry out their proposed BCLA activities and obtain the necessary funding! I must say that they did it extremely well because since the very beginning BCLA’s events have been of high-quality.

Biotech Connection Los Angeles (BCLA) – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Biotech Connection Los Angeles (BCLA) is a project of the 501(c)(3) non-profit Community Partners. We are an organization run by academics and biotech professionals from all over Los Angeles. Our mission is to inspire, educate and connect emerging scientists and entrepreneurs to grow and diversify biotech in LA.

But why do we do it? Because Los Angeles is home to hundreds of graduate students in the life sciences. However, it’s not a permanent home for most students. A vast majority of graduates are forced to leave the area for job opportunities in big biotech hubs like the Bay Area, San Diego, or Boston. BCLA believes that a city like LA, which is producing top talent and exciting innovations, should become the next big biotech hub!

In order to bring academia and the biotech industry together to drive innovation forward, we organize a series of events (symposia, panels, summits, career development events, networking mixers, etc.) that are strategically designed for our target audience: academic researchers; industry and medical professionals; K-12 students interested in STEM; patients and patient advocates; and anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset.

We felt very proud when one of many BCLA’s supporters told us that BCLA is like the central nervous system of the biotech movement in LA. There are a lot of important stakeholders in town contributing to this movement, but we are the ones supporting and representing the LA talent.

Our multinational team features people from India, China, Portugal, Austria, Spain, Russia, Italy, the US, and Canada. We all bring different skills to the table but there are a couple unique skills that unify us: we are passionate, hard-working and we want to build a vibrant LA biotech community together!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
To be honest, I think my proudest moment will be when I finish my Ph.D. degree later this year; but reflecting back on these past 4 years since I moved to the US, I can say that what I am most grateful for is to have found BCLA such early on in my Ph.D. path. I am very passionate about innovation and students career development and BCLA gave me the opportunity to grow my skills and explore other career paths that academic research wouldn’t have allowed me to develop.

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Image Credit:

Evgeny Bondarenko

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