Courtesy of Kristen Park Hopson
- Before Kristen Park Hopson was a top scientist at the $4 billion biotech Moderna, she was a new college grad debating different professions.
- That’s a common experience, and yet speakers at career talks make it sound like "it’s this absolutely preordained thing," Hopson said.
- Understanding what science research would entail helped Hopson settle on that path, speaking to something she says is especially important in biotech: pursuing opportunities, instead of titles.
- Business Insider just named Hopson one of 30 young leaders transforming the industry.
- Here’s the full list of the 30 people under 40 who are transforming healthcare.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Like a lot of recent college graduates, Kristen Park Hopson wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do.
Hopson was leaning towards science research, but had also been on the premed track at Connecticut College. So she gave science research a whirl, working as a research associate at University of Vermont’s medical school after graduating.
That early work experience gave Hopson a sense of what that might mean as a career — and speaks to a philosophy that still guides her career choices today. The 39-year-old currently directs key cancer research at the fast-growing, buzzy biotech Moderna, and Business Insider just named her one of 30 young leaders transforming the industry.
"I’ve always tried to not say, ‘I have to be at this level by this age in my career,’" Hopson told Business Insider. "The way that biotech is, it’s less about title and more about opportunity and what you’re able to do."
Sure, she wants to advance as a manager and scientist, Hopson said. But "an opportunity might come up, with no title, and be exactly what I want to do," she explained.
Careers aren’t always ‘this absolutely preordained thing’
After working as a research associate, Hopson earned a doctorate in molecular medicine from Boston University School of Medicine and later began working in the biopharmaceutical industry.
She started at $4 billion biotech Moderna in 2016, and is now leading projects like its signature personalized cancer vaccines, which are custom-built for each individual patient in an effort to treat the disease better.
Hopson is also refreshingly candid about how normal it is to be unsure about one’s career path.
At career talks, speakers make their work history sound like "it’s this absolutely preordained thing. And it isn’t always that way," she said.
So she advises young people just starting out "to feel OK about not having a direct line of sight to exactly what they want to do," and simply explore the space they’re interested in.
Focus on "do I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives," she said, "rather than, ‘I need to be CEO of a company by age 35.’"
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