Tony Yang, BSc’08, PhD‘16

Tony Yang, BSc’08, PhD’16 resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, and works as a Translational Research Program Manager at UBC and Providence Health Care (PHC). Dr. Yang shares his experience providing mentorship through his own non-profit and the diverse skillsets he has gained throughout his career.

Tell us about your role

I am building and managing a multi- and inter-disciplinary research team that’s dedicated to innovation commercialization and improving the care of patients with chronic lung diseases. In 2019, I started an additional role as the Partnerships Manager at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (HLI). I work closely with the Senior Leadership Team and external academic, non-academic, and industry partners to accelerate potential collaboration opportunities and strategic research initiatives.

Did you expect to be in this type of role/organization upon graduation?

No, I did not expect to be in this type of program management role upon graduation! During my 2016 interview with Drs. Don Sin, Peter Paré, and James Hogg, I learned about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and its enormous impact on patients, family members, and society. I want to contribute my background in Science (Physics and Life Sciences) and Bioengineering to support the translation of bench findings into biomarker and therapeutic solutions for improving patient care.

What excites you about this role/organization?

I have led the development of many cutting-edge research projects involving genomics and ‘omics, data science, biobanking, imaging, biomedical engineering, machine/deep learning, and drugs and therapeutics. By leveraging strategic granting awards, we were able to consolidate the local and national researchers and diverse expertise into a single research cluster. The number of investigators, trainees, projects, new technologies, and partners continue to grow! I get to learn new things every day!

What was your first role after graduation? 

This is my first role after graduation from the PhD program in 2016. However, I would say my management training started during my PhD, when I founded a BC-registered non-profit organization called Elite Mentors Association in 2013. This volunteer-run organization was dedicated to providing world-class, career-oriented mentoring opportunities for high school students. Within 3 years, we were mentoring approximately 500 students, with programs in Science/Engineering, Business/Marketing, and Performing Arts.

What skill did you learn in your very first job after graduation that you are still using to this day?

By creating the Elite Mentors Association, I gained numerous valuable skills and expertise: entrepreneurial mindset, business management, program development, strategic partnership, website development, print and digital marketing, staff recruiting and training, event planning, customer service, program evaluation, as well as working knowledge of non-profit law, tax and finance. I still use all of these skills to this day!

What techniques did you use to address career ambiguity?

Currently, I work independently and collaboratively to develop new research projects, build strategic partnerships, and commercialize novel technologies. There is an extremely high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty in these endeavours.

From a recent CliftonStrengths Assessment, my top five skills are: Activator, Strategic, Achiever, Futuristic, and Arranger. I use these strengths to deliver results. Most importantly, I believe open communication is the key to success.

What memories do you have of graduation?

The beautiful UBC regalia for doctoral graduates! However, you will need to obtain a Ph.D. degree (not recommended for everyone) before you can wear this particular “fashion item”!

What uncertainty were you feeling upon graduation?

I didn’t start looking for a job until AFTER I received an email from UBC saying: “Congrats, you’re not a student anymore”! I didn’t know who would hire me and value my training and skills. Plus, there’s family pressure to get married, buy a place, and start a family…etc. I turned all of that anxiety into a systematic approach to job hunting: UBC jobs, Vancouver jobs, Canadian jobs, US jobs, and postdoctoral positions (as a back-up option). Fortunately, I had many interviews with multiple Canadian and US biotech companies, as well as numerous management and postdoctoral positions. I was lucky to land my current position within 1.5 months after starting the job search. Please don’t repeat my mistake! Start exploring career opportunities EARLY!

What did you wish you knew when graduated?

Internship opportunities are available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral fellows. Definitely leverage these unique opportunities to explore your interests/passions and build your connections with the industry you’re interested in pursuing.

What advice do you have for the class of 2020? 

UBC’s motto, Tuum est, really resonates with me: “It’s yours, and it’s up to you.” I truly believe that every person has a unique talent that the world needs. It is up to you to use your special skills, knowledge, and expertise to shape the world into a better place. I understand that in 2020, there can be a lot of uncertainty because of COVID-19, but I always believe that you can turn obstacles into unique opportunities for personal, professional, and career growth.

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