Have you heard about CAS Future Leaders? Since 2010, the program has provided early-career scientists with essential scientific, business and leadership training to help them make meaningful impacts in science. In the weeks to come, we're sharing "where are they now" stories written by our program alumni. This week's post features Fernando Gomollon Bel and Ben Naman, both participants in our 2014 program.
Discovering a new career path in science communications
How cool it would be to be a CAS Future Leader? Spending a couple weeks in the U.S. learning the secrets behind SciFinder and other CAS tools that you use in the lab every single day. On top of that, being selected gives you the chance to attend to the biggest chemistry conference on the planet—the ACS National Meeting & Exposition. Being part of the Future Leaders transforms your life. You never forget the moment you get that email from CAS. But more importantly, you never forget the people you meet during the program. It goes beyond connections and networking. It may sound tacky, but CAS Future Leaders creates true friendships for life, kind of like covalent bonds in diamonds.
I participated in the CAS Future Leaders in 2014. At the time, about half way through my Ph.D., I decided to finish and start working in what I believed was my passion—drug discovery. However, being in Ohio changed my mind completely. These days, a lot of people ask me why—and when—I decided to step out of the lab and pursue a career in science communication, and my memory is often fuzzy. However, today, thinking back while writing this, the influence of the CAS Future Leaders program is crystal clear.
Being there, I discovered you could do more in chemistry than just reactions and columns, day after day. Some of my classmates pointed out how I seemed happier presenting my results, tweeting about my experiences, and talking to the people around me, and encouraged me to look into opportunities within the fields of science writing and communication. After coming back from this life-changing experience, I soon started collaborating in magazines like Principia, and somehow felt confident enough to submit an essay to a competition organized by the prestigious Chemistry World, and ended up being a finalist! Even though science communication seemed like just a hobby back at that time, it eventually became my full-time job. Early in 2016, I started co-hosting a regional TV show about science, and now I coordinate the press and communication activities of the Graphene Flagship—one of the biggest EU-funded research projects.
For a while, I was also an intern for Chemistry World, the same publication that organized the competition, and I still freelance for them every now and then. Recently, I was writing an article that needed an expert in the natural products field, and of course my dear friend Ben came to mind. Ben was one of the people who, back in the day, encouraged me to do what I truly love, and was the perfect guy to give an interview. A single message was more than enough to get his help, despite how extremely busy he now is running his company, his lab, and teaching. All thanks to strong covalent bonds, bonds that were forged during the CAS Future Leaders program.
Realizing an entrepreneurial dream in natural products
There is a good camaraderie among the CAS Future Leaders, and we are global. Joining this cohort helped me realize that I could also be worldly in my career. In trying to fulfill the title and become a leader, I decided to take my show on the road. Before joining the CAS Future Leaders program, I had always planned to live permanently in the U.S. Instead, today I am an associate professor in the College of Food and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Ningbo University, China (NBU), and I have spent about two months with colleagues in South India.
I recently felt enabled by NBU to pursue another personal dream: creating a startup company "on the side" of running my academic lab. There really is no "side", I just don't sleep much. A fellow Future Leader, Fernando, knew about my dream in entrepreneurship and connected me to Ávida Biotech. This Spanish company develops natural product-based drugs for neglected tropical diseases. That opportunity turned more toward consulting, because as excited as I am to see Àvida succeed, I was then mid-process of incorporating a startup that consumed my entrepreneurial focus.
My company is called CyanoRx, and we are developing natural product anticancer drug candidates to enter Phase I clinical trials. As Future Leaders in 2014, Fernando and I could not have projected this, but now I am the CEO of my own drug development company. CyanoRx also has, with some NBU faculty, opened a joint venture in China called Ningbo Blue-Green Pharmaceuticals (宁波蓝碧药业) to do the research work together. It may not all be because of the CAS Future Leaders program, but I seriously doubt I would be here now without having participated in it back in 2014.
Would you (or someone you know) like to join an elite group of Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers from around the world to blaze a trail toward scientific leadership? Learn more and apply for the 2019 CAS Future Leaders program today. Applications are due Sunday, April 7, 2019!