Fiona McDonnell received her B.S. in Pharmacology from University College Dublin in 2017 after which she worked for two years as a Process Scientist at Pfizer in Dublin. Most recently, she completed the 1-year ESTEEM Graduate Program at the University of Notre Dame, graduating in May 2020. I recently sat down to talk with her about her student internship at the IDEA Center.
What was your specific role as an intern at the IDEA Center?
I worked as a Technical Market Analyst on the 2-Stroke team. This is essentially the first stage in the commercialization engine where we analyze the technology and try to size the market.
My job required me to first take an in-depth view of the technology. I would meet the professor and their team for a kick off meeting to ensure that I understood what their technology was and what problem they were trying to solve. As I had a biology/ biotech background, many of my projects were related to new therapeutics being developed at Notre Dame. After the initial meeting I would meet with Kunci each week to develop a slide deck for presentation to the IDEA Center and Research Group.
In this deck I would communicate what the technology is and what disease it would be used in. Then I would carry out a thorough market sizing and competitive landscape assessment to determine if there would be a demand in the market for the product. Sometimes I would look at adjacent markets/ therapeutic areas to determine if it could be applied to other disease states and illnesses. After 12 weeks I would present the deck to stakeholders at the IDEA center to decide whether to bring the disclosure into Problem Validation or Business Development. Finally, the work is presented to the Research Group to let them know next steps.
How often did you work during the academic year?
I worked on average 12 hours each week during the year. At times, things could get a little hectic with trying to make deadlines for classes and delivering on tasks for my internship, but I found that most of what I was doing as an intern, augmented my in-class learnings. The two went hand in hand!
What was your main takeaway from your time working with the IDEA Center?
The most valuable skill I learned at the IDEA Center was the ability to communicate highly technical problems to people that may not be familiar with the technology, or even the industry.
What influence did your IDEA Center work have on your full-time career discernment?
This internship gave me the confidence to look for roles outside of my comfort zone. For my undergrad I studied Pharmacology and then worked in the biotechnology industry in Ireland for a couple of years after graduation. Even when I first came to Notre Dame I had a narrow thought for what roles I could apply for throughout the year. However, after a few months as a Technical Market Analyst, (and being tasked with a few projects outside of my comfort zone), I realized that I could apply the skills I had learned in college and at work to so many other things outside of the pharmaceutical industry. I’m currently working as a Product Marketing Manager at a Telecommunications company, Telnyx, which is very different from what I envisioned, even a year ago, but I am loving it.
Do you use any of the skills you leveraged in your IDEA Center work in your full-time job? If yes, to what extent?
A lot of the skills I use on an everyday basis were honed during my internship. As a Product Marketing Manager, my role is essentially to communicate our company and our products to potential customers, current customers and sometimes people who are completely unaware of who we are. This means I first need to understand how our products work and how they can be useful to our potential customers. Essentially I have to understand the technology, see where it can be applied in the market, and then communicate that to potential customers. Pretty much verbatim for what I was doing at the IDEA Center.
What advice would you give students at ND looking to get involved with the IDEA Center?
Do it! This was the advice I got from a former ESTEEMer before I started at Notre Dame, and I am so happy I followed through on his word. Working with the team at the IDEA Center was one of the highlights of my time at ND. Not only did I learn a ton about the incredible research that is being done in the University but I also forged great relationships with colleagues at the IDEA Center, fellow Grad Students and undergrads on my team that hopefully will last for a long time to come!
Most memorable moment from IDEA Center work?
During my last weekend in South Bend (thanks COVID) I attended a Rare DIsease Day conference with Kunci as I had been working on a couple of Rare Disease Projects throughout the year. It was great to meet patients and their families, learn about what research is going on, and what concerns there are about drug approvals and clinical studies.
Favorite spot in the IDEA Center?
Third floor standing desks! You get to chat to everyone as they come into work in the morning (& those who are just up looking for snacks). It’s probably not the best place to be productive but there’s always a good energy there!