Career Growth in Turbulent Times – Use Empathy and Leadership to Guide Your Career Development



On March 25, 2023, the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (SAPA) 2023 Career Development Workshop (CDW) was held at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, New Jersey. Workshop hosts Dr. David Cragin and Dr. Yong Guo welcomed attendees by introducing the theme: “Career Growth in Turbulent Times – Use Empathy and Leadership to Guide Your Career Development.” 16 speakers with various levels of experience shared their career advice and journeys.  Attendees could also talk with eight sponsoring companies, who conducted on-site recruitment, and participate in a resume/LinkedIn profile workshop.  In total, nearly 200 attendees attended the one-day event.

Dr. David Cragin and Dr. Yong Guo giving the opening remarks of the Career Development Workshop

SAPA President Dr. Yongmei Li then provided an overview of the SAPA organization and its missions. Yongmei invited folks to join the upcoming 2023 SAPA events and expressed gratitude toward SAPA leaders, volunteers, sponsors, and excitement for future collaborations.

SAPA President Dr. Yongmei Li introduced SAPA’s core missions and SAPA flagship events in 2023.

Keynote speeches

In the opening speech, “Leading with Purpose, Empathy & Vision,” Eric Hughes, MD, PhD, EVP Global R&D and Chief Medical Officer from Teva Pharmaceuticals, gave a very inspirational talk on the new challenges and opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry during the post-pandemic era. Throughout his talk, he reiterated his passion for finding new medicines to help patients.  He also discussed how the pharmaceutical industry is shifting towards a new era of leadership that values empathy, vision, and an inclusive culture. As pharmaceutical companies increasingly recognize the importance of these traits in driving innovation and growth, he noted that they are investing in leaders who can create a more supportive and empathetic workplace culture, which unlocks the full potential and talent of their workforce and fosters an environment marked by innovation and creativity.

Dr. Eric Hughes, Executive VP Global R&D and Chief Medical Officer at Teva Pharmaceuticals, presented the first talk entitled “Leading with Purpose, Empathy & Vision”

Next, Dr. Steven Dranoff, Co-Founder of the Center for Empathy Research and Training at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Dr. Ben Freer, Associate Professor of Psychology at the same institution, offered an engaging discussion on the significance of empathy in both the workplace and everyday life. They used three real-life cases to illustrate for the audience common reasons why people might lack or misunderstand empathy. The speakers encouraged attendees to view empathy as a practicable skill that they can improve to enhance community relationships and well-being.

Dr.Ben Freer, Associate Professor of Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Dr. Steven Dranoff, Co-Founder, Center for Empathy Research and Training, Fairleigh Dickinson University revealing: “Empathy in the Workplace: Opportunities, Challenges, and Successes”

In the following session, Litao Zhang Ph.D., Global Head of Discovery Technologies and Molecular Pharmacology at Janssen, with much humor and energy, gave a presentation on her career entitled, “Follow Your Heart and Never Forget Why You Started.”  Litao emphasized that change is a redirection. She shared her story about navigating an unexpected issue during her first job interview – and securing the job – by using change as a chance to come back stronger. Litao also advised that taking risks and seizing opportunities early on in one’s career can lead to significant growth and development, instead of waiting perpetually to feel fully confident. She also discussed the importance of learning about diverse cultures, readiness to execute deliverables on time, and maintaining strong relationships with bosses and colleagues. Litao explained that all of these qualities will help attendees present themselves as a full package with a well-rounded set of skills and experiences to succeed in the workforce.

Dr. Litao Zhang, Global Head of Discovery Technologies and Molecular Pharmacology at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, discussing: “Follow your heart and never forget why you started!”

Panel Discussion

Following the keynote speeches, Sara Gao (Program Director, Wharton Executive Education)hosted the panel discussion with the four keynote speakers. They continued to share their life-long learnings and career advice in the Pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Eric Hughes emphasized the importance of finding your driving interests to achieve greater satisfaction and success in a long-term career trajectory. Dr. Steven Dranoff spoke about the power of staying mindful in the present, to stay focused on goals despite challenging situations, and Dr. Ben Freer discussed the importance of giving back, uplifting others, and saying “Yes” to new experiences. In addition, Dr. Litao Zhang also addressed the value of welcoming feedback as a growth opportunity. The panel discussion ended with all speakers reaffirming the importance of staying proactive, adaptable, and resilient in the face of change.

Panel discussion on empathy and leadership in career development. From left to right: Dr. Ben Freer, Dr. Steven Dranoff, Dr. Eric Hughes, and Dr. Litao Zhang.

Lunch and Learn: Sponsor Presentation & Resume/LinkedIn Profile Workshop

 During lunchtime, we hosted sponsor presentations from three companies, Anheart Therapeutics, Accurant Biotech, and Merck & Co. Inc, to showcase their company history, innovation and exciting open job positions – including postdoctoral programs and intern/co-op programs – to event attendees.

Anheart Therapeutics, Accurant Biotech, and Merck & Co. Inc, presenting their company introduction and open job positions.

The lunch break also featured a workshop on LinkedIn profiles and resumes, which highlighted three main pieces of advice. Firstly, focus on quantifiable outcomes instead of listing simple job duties. Secondly, double-check the overall readability of materials. Thirdly, use “magic words” – keywords and phrases relevant to their industry and desired job position, which can increase the chances of being selected by applicant tracking systems. This LinkedIn profiles and resumes workshop succeeded in providing attendees with practical and applicable recommendations.

Wah Yan, Associate Director, Rare Disease Forecasting at Insmed, offering advice on LinkedIn profiles and resumes

Afternoon Parallel Sessions:

 Session A: Advance your career by focusing on leadership

The afternoon session started with panel discussion Session A on “Use Your Powers of Influence,” featuring four accomplished professionals: Suraj Adiecha, Linda Caramichael, Dr. Huabin Sun, and Dr. Zhong Yun. Moderated by Dr. David Cragin, and Dr. Chenchao Gao, the panelists shared their insights on managing versus leading, navigating difficult bosses, and impressing managers. They also discussed the importance of networking and relationship-building in achieving success.

Parallel Session A: Advance your career by focusing on leadership. From left to right: Suraj Adiecha (MBA, Director of WW Cell Therapy Strategy, Breyanzi, BMS, Rutgers), Linda Caramichael (MS, Head of Environment and Sustainability, Teva Pharmaceuticals), Dr.Huabin Sun (MD, Senior Medical Director, Janssen Pharmaceuticals), and Dr.Zhong Yun (PhD, Director in the Department of Early Drug Development, Legend Biotech USA Inc.).

Session B: Empathy Workshop with Professor Freer and Dr. Dranoff

After delivering an insightful talk in the morning, in Session B, Dr. Steven Dranoff and Dr. Ben Freer led an interactive workshop on empathy. They discussed five essential skills for empathy and six common roadblocks and answered audience questions such as: “How do you respond to someone who lacks empathy or is less reactive?”, “How do you define the boundaries of empathy?”, and “How do you balance your own feelings with those of others and avoid giving too much empathy?”

Dr. Steven Dranoff and Dr. Ben Freer then performed an entertaining sketch to demonstrate the difference between bad empathy and good empathy in the workplace. Attendees learned how to be more patient and attentive listeners – not only in the workplace, but also in their daily lives.

Parallel Session B: Empathy Workshop with Professor Freer and Dr. Dranoff

Session C: Explore different career paths

 Parallel Session C, titled “Explore Different Career Paths,” was moderated by Professor Guo Yong from Fairleigh Dickinson University and Dr. Xiaowei Sun from Bristol Myers Squibb. The four panelists, Dr. Yang Qiu, Dr. Aaron Feng Li , Dr. Hao Shen, and Dr. John Sun, started the discussion by introducing their career paths, which all began with bench scientist positions. A common and recurring theme from their career paths was the idea of “change” – which required them to be proactive in exploring new opportunities, finding real passions, and dealing with external uncertainties. The main takeaway from their discussion is resounding, which is life is short and precious; what matters most is how individuals experience and enrich the journey along the way!

Parallel Session C: Explore different career paths. From left to right: Dr. Aaron Chen (Chief Business Officer, Accutar BioTech), Dr. Yang Qiu (CSO, Duality Biologics), Dr. John Sun (Global Program Lead,  Novartis)  and Dr. Hao Shen (MBA, Biotech Equity Analyst, Bank of America)

Session D: Ace the transition to industry through self-awareness and networking

 In the last session, Sara Gao, M.Sc. led the discussion with four panelists, including Dr. Audrey Qing Chang, Dr. Yongle Pang, Cathy Tang, and Fiona Cui. They represented varying levels of experience and provided perspectives from research and development, consulting and talent acquisition. The four panelists discussed the job search process, networking strategies, decision-making and self-awareness, and ways of working with talent acquisition professionals. During this session, there was also a fun exercise where attendees practiced introducing themselves creatively with future tense and phrases like: “I’m passionate about… I see myself being… In the future…”. This helped participants learn how to leave a stronger impression on other people with self-introductions. After the session, many participants established connections with each other and stayed longer to get more 1-on-1 advice from the panelists.

Parallel Session D: Ace the transition to industry through self-awareness and networking. From left to right: Dr. Audrey Qing Chang (Research Scientist, Creative Biolabs),  Cathy Tang (MS, PhD candidate at Princeton University, Incoming Associate at McKinsey & Company), Dr. Yongle Pang (Discovery DMPK Bioanalyst, GSK), and Fiona Cui (MS, Talent Acquisition Partner, Cellarity at Flagship Pioneering).

Job Fair

To support our student and young professional community in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, this year SAPA CDW also hosted a job fair in the afternoon, with a total of 8 companies in attendance. The job fair offered a variety of career opportunities across different fields, including full-time and postdoc positions focusing on research and development.

Job seekers had the chance to connect with recruiters and representatives from each company to learn more about their available positions, qualification requirements, and application processes. The job fair was a great success, with many job seekers expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to meet with employers face-to-face and the hope of receiving job interviews and offers in the near future.


Attendees are connecting with recruiters and representatives from each company.

The 2023 SAPA Career Development Workshop ended with enthusiastic discussions and overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants on WeChat, LinkedIn and many other social platforms. The participants not only took away suggestions for career development, but also gained rich network resources and the motivation and strength to overcome obstacles in the workplace with empathy and leadership. SAPA will continue to contribute high-quality conferences and support to the education and development of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. Looking forward to seeing you all in the other exciting activities this year!

Group photo of speakers and organizing committee members