Natalie LaFranzo

We are thrilled to catch up with Dr. Natalie LaFranzo recently. Natalie was involved in the BALSA group as a consultant and project manager, and won the Outstanding Project Manager in 2012! 

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Please describe your experience with the BALSA Group.
I joined the BALSA group about halfway through my graduate career. I knew I was going to follow the industry path, but I didn’t know if leaving the bench was right for me. I served as both a Consultant and Project Manager and was Outstanding Project Manager in 2012. The projects I worked on with BALSA enabled me to make connections in the St. Louis community, have real-world experiences in managing clients, communicating professionally, and gain confidence in my business acumen and ability. It solidified that I could be a scientist outside of the lab, and find a position where my technical training could be leveraged to address business problems.

What do you do now?  What does a typical day on the job look like?
My current role is the Director of Scientific Projects and Market Development at Cofactor Genomics. Cofactor develops tools to interrogate RNA and better diagnose disease. Our flagship product is an immune-oncology (IO) assay that provides a comprehensive immune characterization of a solid tumor. I was previously responsible for both marketing and sales, and have recently transitioned to focus specifically on marketing/market development. My primary objective is working with Key Opinion Leaders in the field of IO to demonstrate the utility of our assay. This includes experimental design, data interpretation, technical writing, and figure generation to tell an impactful clinical story about how our assay can be applied. I generate technical marketing materials, find the best method of distribution, and bring feedback from the field to inform our product development path.

How did your experience in BALSA impact your career?
BALSA provided so many opportunities for career growth, it’s hard to mention them all! As a Chemistry student on the Danforth campus, I would not have interacted with students in other Departments, especially on the Medical Campus, without BALSA. The colleagues, clients, and advisors I met through BALSA are still people I rely on as part of my professional network. The experience of leading a team of your peers is rewarding, impactful, and prepares you to influence without authority. Having real interactions with clients who are invested in a project, and provide candid feedback on your work product, empowers you to learn from mistakes in a non-threatening environment. Through BALSA I honed both my professional communication and presentation skills far beyond any other graduate experience. BALSA provided a distinct advantage when job hunting, and I felt prepared to apply for and select a position that best fit my desired career path.

Any advice you would like to share with current and prospective BALSA members?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day of graduate school. Lab work is all-consuming and there’s a lot of pressure to generate results and publish. While publishing is certainly important, you also have to make time to invest in yourself and your future. BALSA is a great way to test the waters of what it’s like to work in the commercial side of science, it’s far beyond just traditional “consulting”. Each project is different and provides a perspective you would not have otherwise. At the end of your graduate career, the goal is to find gainful employment. No matter what career path you choose, participating in BALSA will give you a distinct advantage.