Virtual Graduate Industry Panel Focuses on Career Development

June 26, 2020

By James Powers-Black

According to Graduate Advisor Amorette Colby at Khoury College, “Many of our students reach out expressing interest in networking opportunities, wanting advice from employers in the field.”

Even in a time of social distancing practices and virtual ways of learning and interacting, graduate students are fervently interested in thinking about their future careers. So Colby and her colleague, Assistant Director of Graduate Student Services Kim Gubelman, hosted the Virtual Graduate Industry Panel, via Zoom, in April.

“We asked the panelists to share their career journeys,” Colby said, “and provide input on how to maximize their resources, especially in light of the current COVID-19 crisis.”

The panel discussion provided a rich opportunity for students to learn about career paths and insights from seasoned professionals in various technology roles. The panel comprised William Hedglon, senior information security program manager at Broad Institute; Esmond Kane, vice president and chief information security officer at Steward Health Care System; Sean Martin, chief technology officer at Cambridge Semantics; and Sowmya Senani, software quality assurance engineer at Philips Healthcare.

Hedglon is an alumnus of Khoury College; in 2014, he received the MS in Information Assurance. Centering his career on information system security, for the past eight years he has held various roles at MIT. In his current role, Hedglon oversees an information security team at the Broad Institute, a joint venture between MIT and Harvard focused on genomics and human disease. He explained that his team is trying to maintain a lighthearted tone during the pandemic, so each weekly meeting has a theme. “Today was dress-up day,” he said, “so you actually get to see me in a suit.”

Like Hedglon, Kane’s field is information security. He noted, “Information security is constantly changing. My job is to question the status quo in order to stay ahead of security threats.” Kane is currently focused on the safety of Steward’s patients and staff, and he is cautious of those who may try to exploit the pandemic environment by compromising data security.

In her remarks, Senani addressed the broader question of career development, suggesting that students consider professional development in both tangible and intangible ways. “Be constantly intellectually curious,” she said and encouraged students to develop tangible skills, such as those that can be learned in courses, certification programs, and internships. She added, “Ask yourself how you can be better, cutting-edge.” Serani also noted the importance of intangible qualities that might set one apart, such as kindness, integrity, and selflessness.

Connecting experiential learning to career preparation, Martin emphasized that the Khoury co-op experience provides many paths for Khoury students. He advised graduate students to balance those “everyday” opportunities, which sustain interest, and “difficult” challenges, which can be taxing but lead to important professional growth. Hedglon agreed with Martin, observing that overcoming difficult challenges can impress prospective employers: “Show that you’ve sought out hard problems and how you’ve helped solve them,” he told students.

When asked in the what advice they would give to their younger selves, each panelist agreed that the development of communications skills is essential. Martin said, “I would have learned earlier how to communicate with various people and personalities, thinking about how they receive information.” Senani concurred, suggesting that new professionals should read about communication skills, as well as focusing on acquiring experience.

“Hang out with people who stretch your mind,” Senani said. She also encouraged the audience to “take risks and be open to making some mistakes rather than over-analyzing.”

Hedglon said he would tell his younger self, “stop trying to be the smartest person in the room. You’re not! It’s okay, so ask questions.”

Kane would have encouraged his younger self to take advice carefully and trust himself more. He also recommended that students keep in mind that a resume is primarily an historic document that tracks professional accomplishments. Instead, he said, “what’s important is how you will apply that experience and knowledge in the future.” Be ready, he advised, to answer: “What have you learned?”

After the event, Colby and Gubelman debriefed with other colleagues involved in the event, and they concluded it was a success. The panelists carefully considered students’ questions as they responded. Among the Zoom audience, there was a positive vibe. “The students who attended were very engaged and asked great questions,” Colby said.

For a sample of insights from panelists and their responses to student questions, watch this 16-minute edited excerpt of the Virtual Graduate Industry Panel.