There is a deep interest in the healthcare sector at Harvard Business School, and the program offers many resources to support this critical field. Most notably, the Healthcare Initiative at HBS creates an interconnected health care community at the school by promoting faculty research, supporting the development high-impact educational programs, and educating leaders and innovators who aspire to improve value across the health care industry. There is also the opportunity to join the student-run Health Care Club — one of the largest at HBS — which organizes everything from the large annual health care conference, to small coffee chats with CEOs, to treks around the country to meet with cutting-edge companies. For Katherine Shen, who wanted to join the life sciences and healthcare sector, the reach of the HBS Health Care Initiative and Health Care Club incited her interest in pursuing her MBA from this esteemed university.
Coming from a deeply technical background, Katherine Shen has always believed in the potential of science and technology to bring benefits to the world, and she brought this philosophy to life through her internship at Amgen, one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies. Wanting to stay at the forefront of innovation following the completion of her MBA, Katherine remained at Amgen as a senior oncology specialist as part of the Commercial Leadership Program.
In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Katherine Shen, Harvard MBA ‘20, shares how business school built on her technical experience with business knowledge, taught her to grow as a leader and broadened her network — all in a way that is allowing her to have an impactful career in healthcare.
Katherine Shen, Harvard ‘20, Sr. Oncology Specialist at Amgen
Hometown: Cerritos, CA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Chemical Engineering (Course 10)
Graduate Business School and Graduation Year: Harvard University, Harvard Business School Class of 2020
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 3 years, data science and product management at a tech firm working with life sciences clients
Why did you choose to attend business school?
Coming from a deeply technical background, I’ve always believed in the potential of science and technology to bring benefits to the world. In my pre-MBA career, I learned first-hand the need for scientific inventions to be paired with strong business acumen to bring them to the public and fulfill that potential.
I saw business school as an opportunity to build upon my technical experience with business knowledge. It was also a chance for me to grow as a leader, and broaden my network in a way that would allow me to have more impact.
Why Harvard? Which factors influenced your decision?
I chose HBS for a number of reasons. I knew some HBS alumni who spoke highly of the school and its renowned alumni network. I was interested in joining the life sciences/healthcare sector, and was impressed by the reach of the HBS Health Care Initiative and Health Care Club. I also appreciated the chance to learn from my peers’ experience through the case method, and hear about parallels in bringing science to the public from different sectors.
What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at Amgen, as part of the Commercial Leadership Program (a rotational LDP). Prior to business school, I had worked with many scientists at life sciences companies, and was inspired by their commitment to serving patients. Thus, I sought a company that had a track record of bringing important scientific innovations to patients.
I also looked for a role that would provide strong growth opportunities. The rotational program at Amgen not only provided that, but paired it with terrific coaching and mentorship.
Why did you choose to work for your current company?
I had a wonderful summer internship experience at Amgen. I enjoyed getting to know many people in different roles across the company, all of whom shared the same commitment to serving patients. I was fortunate to be able to meet some patients in person and hear from them how the science done at Amgen was making a difference in their lives. I was extremely impressed by the leaders I met and could not pass up the chance to learn from them.
In addition, Amgen is a rising firm, and was the first biotech to join the Dow Jones Industrial Average, in Aug 2020 (shortly after I started full-time). As COVID shows us, there is more need for the life sciences than ever, and I’m excited to be part of a company on the forefront of innovation.
How did your MBA experience prepare you for your current career?
One of the richest parts of the MBA experience was learning from the experiences of both teachers and peers. The teachers often brought in their practitioner’s experience, peppering classes with real-life examples that connected theory and practice. Peers would share great perspectives on the latest changes they had personally seen in their industries.
Business school also provided an environment where I could practice skills such as applying structured thinking to a complex business problem, and speaking confidently on various topics to different audiences — skills that I use every day in my career.
How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
The Amgen three-year rotational program is usually structured so that participants spend their first year in the field in sales, meeting with healthcare providers face-to-face on a daily basis. Evidently, COVID changed those plans. My cohort will be the first to spend most of our sales rotation virtually, leading to a very different experience than typical, but it’s also been a great opportunity to learn from the ground up how to navigate the virtual environment.
What advice would you give to a current MBA student? What do you wish you would have known?
Seek growth opportunities out of the MBA. Think about what role you want to have long-term, then look for jobs that will provide the needed skills and experience to achieve and succeed in that role.
One tip I received from alumni that I wish had followed up more on: taking advantage of the time as a business student to reach out to anyone you’re interested in learning from. A lot of people are happy to grab (now virtual) coffee with a student, but those chances arise less often once you graduate.
Learn about more business school alumni like Katherine Shen by exploring our Real Humans: Alumni series.