Recap of my KGI Orientation Experience: Foreshadowing

“KGI takes the traditional science PhD program and turns it on its head. KGI prepares students for what they will face in the industry. In the real world, you have to have business, people skills and science to get a product to market.”

-Dennis Fenton ( executive vice president of process development, operations, and quality at Amgen)

It has been almost two weeks since I have started my orientation at KGI, but it feels like it has been a month!

But the good news is, it feels like that for all the right reasons.

Immediately, I felt welcomed at KGI. That family environment I talked about in the past? Yup. It was all there. The events there were all set up and well organized too. What a great learning experience it was. But the greatest thing was how fast I got to know everyone. From the get-go, I acquainted myself with my future colleagues and friends. And it sure worked well. I got to know most of my fellow classmates and got to know them well too. I made sure not to be shy and always spoke up when I needed to.

First and foremost, for those that are currently unaware, KGI belongs to a group of school which is known as the Claremont Consortium within the Clarement Colleges. Rather, the Claremont Consortium is just the name for the amalgamation of all the schools. The oldest is Pomona College, and it bolsters a prideful no. 8 in the nation spot currently. The great thing is that being accepted to KGI makes me feel like I am a part of the 6 other schools! In fact, I am! I do not just access to the books and library, but I get to take classes there (officially registered, not audit) if I so desired! I know Harvey-Mudd has some sexy NASA work going. Hmm, I should dive in… Or take off, keeping with proper technological jargon. Although I guess I could technically “dive in” into the Mudd!

Claremont Colleges. KGI is the newest!

From the start, I was given a name tag badge to wear with the school name and logo. A badge? No, I am not talking about a “Hello, my name is…” badge. That is weak. I am talking about a full-on metal badge that could be put on suits! It is pictured on the very top of this article. More on that later.

But the reception was warm, and the people there were warm too. On the first day of orientation, I got the privilege to finally meet the President of KGI, Dr. Sheldon Schuster. Not only that, I got to have lunch with him too! We got to know each other better and this conversation reassured me that I had made the right choice by coming to KGI. I mean, I was never considering otherwise but events like this would only build on top of each other during the entire orientation process.

The beautiful thing about KGI is the colleagues and the people. Right away, I could tell that these people were easy-going, fun, but serious and meant business. This did not cause any intimidation however, since I consider myself to be the same. Well, maybe some people would not find my undergraduate days “fun,” since it was books and studying, but hey, it was fun for me!

That focus will never change, but I am thinking, maybe it is time to have some fun now!

Respectable fun with respectable people, I always say.

But yes, orientation was amazing. The campus is rather small, and so is the class size, but with that, I see perfection. However, it is important to note that KGI is growing, and it is growing exponentially. In the main building, there are laboratories, lecture halls, team project independent offices, a student lounge with mailboxes and a pool table, a library, a banquet room and the major offices. Is that not perfect or what? I can take a nap or eat lunch, and then go to research right after! In the same building! That is absolutely amazing.

Another great thing about KGI is the networking that comes with the program. Before we even got started, all of the faculty, staff and colleagues became potential networking opportunities. Literally, it is a web of opportunities for everyone. It is the kind of environment which I could sit down, talk to a colleague and then start a business with some mentorship. It is that amazing.

Another thing? At KGI, the focus is a strict Masters program with an equal emphasis on both business and science. Literally, scientists become business-savy and business entrepreneurs become scientifically literate. The program cannot be compared with any other ordinary scientific masters program because it is much, much more. It meets the demand in the life industry currently. The key is to get scientists into industry and this meets that fast growing need. KGI is better than any other program out there because of the great alumni network as well as the lifelong ties that can be made as well. In the age of facebook being the society-set parameter for networking, it is good to know that KGI people surpass that. If you make the right contacts, you can call them up for lunch and discuss anything or get help. But of course, I go in with the same mentality as well. I will open myself to colleagues for collaborations and help. You would think that in such a competitive industry and institution, that people can… well let’s just say they have an unwanted magnet next to their moral compass. But that is not true of KGI. There will be no knives in anyone’s back nor will there be a stampede of individuals to gain the upper hand. I always had a collaborative mentality and it is good to know that my peers share that value as well. The truth is, I want everyone to succeed  with me and I will do anything to guarantee the success of both myself and my colleagues. There is a great team emphasis here.

And that is the true beauty, isn’t it? Science is a team sport and everyone must get their hands on the ball. Pardon the bias. I keep saying “science” since I am a scientist but at KGI, I will also be a businessman!

We all are. That is the great thing about it. Being at KGI means that you will learn only the necessary knowledge needed to succeed in the medical/life science industry. This is great, even for a guy like me who just enjoys liberal arts just to know the knowledge.

Oh, did I mention how the people here are great? My fellow students are really top-notch. Literally, at the graduate school level, all of the students who did not give a damn in undergrad seems to have been sifted out by a fine colander. Granted, I assume that people without the fire would not have applied/got in to such a prestigious institution but wow. KGI really nailed it on the head when they made their selections. I can trust any one of these guys and I have a feeling that many seeds were planted for the start of a beautiful friendship. It is as if only the top students in the undergraduate level all decided to meet and then chose to study further. That is the level KGI students are at.

The logo. The two perforated circles that are about ready to be joined represent science and business, respectively. The full circle represents the new formation after the amalgamation of the two separate disciplines. Many schools have the individual perforated circles. Only a few (none in CA) have a program that is represented by the full circle like KGI does.

And I trust them. I hope that I can grow with everyone here and collaborate with these individuals. Collaboration over competition is the key if you want to really come out and make a difference.

For a day during orientation, we all took a coach bus to Huntington Beach. The team-building the ensued was rather amazing. KGI held a sand-castle building activity hosted by a professional company to simulate how teams function in a business environment. I had the task of packing the sand in the templates and nothing else. The twist? During the middle, the team had to let someone go. And in the business world, that is a really nice way of saying “you are fired!”

So was it me? um… Let’s just say I was about ready to retire! I was not getting enough insurance benefits and my back was killing me!

(actually, my position was doubled up and there was no need for two packers due to the bottleneck. Hence, I was “let go”)

Afterwards, the guys and I played football but it was not just a pick-up game at the beach. Even then, the teams really got the chance to demonstrate teamwork and support. Literally, you could drop a pass and no one would yell at you. (I caught every one though). The team dynamic to solve problems was amazing. Even in little things like this, the spirit that KGI students have really shine.

But the KGI orientation was not all fun and games. Right away, we were assigned into teams randomly to work on a project. And no, I am not saying a random useless project where the group gets together and talks about their hobbies and nicknames, then introduces them in front of everyone. No. It was a professional, hardcore presentation on prostate cancer (for our group, but other groups had different cancers).

The Honnold Library. The library for all 7 campuses.

Oh, sounds easy right? Well, get this: We had to select biomarkers about the topic and then do a full-on market analysis on it. Oh yea. How it can benefit or detriment payors, patients and the government and why. On top of the science! Essentially, we spent days and days researching. Days. And we were expected to give a presentation on it within a week! But we got to use a private team project room to do our studies.

To be perfectly honest, I prided myself on being strictly focused on the science. I would go around with exuberance that way. “Oh, I do not need to know the business aspect of things.” I mean, I enjoyed it and respected it, as I enjoyed learning everything and anything. But the amazing this about KGI is, it DOES give me that business training so I can actually get a drug into the market. I mean, I knew that many great scientific ideas die because of the costs, benefits (or lack of) and interest but I really did not know how significant it was. And then I thought to myself, “How much more powerful could I become if I got the business training in order to get my science actually heard?” Then it all became clear. I need KGI. Otherwise, I am a useless scientist wasting hours and stressing in my office in futile efforts to make that key discovery.

So how did this project go? Amazing. However, to be honest, I was nervous at times for it. Here I was thinking, “this is just a project during orientation.” “Do not sweat it. It is nothing important.” But I sure did not see it that way. The truth is, it was extremely important and my teammates saw it that way too. In the end, I got commended for being enthusiastic and breaking the convention of boring presentations. This is my talent. I got to show it on the day of the presentation. In a suit! I never wore a suit to a presentation before. How cool was that?

Also, got to use my $175/75mW green laser pointer. Just sayin’.

But after that was said and done, I noticed how KGI truly shaped me. It was really amazing to see how much I could push myself and how much room I had left to grow. Oh, did I mention, it was only orientation?

Do you know what this means? This means that I can grow intensely if I put that passion into everything I do at KGI! My passion for science can be further polished. I will develop the tools of the trade in order to get my scientific idea into market, build my business education with the precision of an MBA program and ultimately become the pharmacist I want to be! Oh wait, did I mention? KGI will be starting a biopharmacy school in 2014. Which just happens to be the same year I intend to graduate from my MBS program. I cannot help but chuckle when I tell people this because it almost sounds too perfect. It is like Cinderella. But for scientists. What an opportunity! I cannot wait, but the destination of pharmacy school is just a destination for now. Besides, if I get too caught up in the destination, then I would lose the wonderful scenery along the journey. I cannot wait to continue learning.

Dr. Schuster, our President.

KGI is an institution that fosters learning through teams as well as individuals. Another great thing about KGI is how closely tied it is with the board of trustees. Companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Beckman-Coulter stand behind us. Thus, the science that can be done by Keck Graduate Students and professors can be amazing. Talk about leaving a footprint in the industry, right? Or rather, talk about leaving a huge one in society for the current generation, as well as the future generations to come. That is the beauty of going to an institution that has been started not too long ago (1997). People are attracted to USC and Harvard because it has been branded over time. It has a strong sense of history/ But wait. Who made that history? Man did (I say “man” figuratively. Women are extremely important, needless to say). Students made history and shaped it. But in a sense, the block of marble here at KGI is still being refined. But to all of its students, KGI gives a tool. A chisel. That way, we can shape it so it can make history. Besides, neither USC nor Harvard has the program that OUR school has. No disrespect, I just love KGI. I wouldn’t be surprised if KGI becomes a household name in a few years. And do you know what? As far as I am concerned, it will be. I will contribute and do whatever I can to make KGI huge. But the best way to do this is by making sure I succeed.

Overall, the experience was absolutely fun and amazing. I started right away, giving my homemade business card to my new friends that I had met. You know, to keep contact! And I just noticed. To my surprise, some people thought that I was holding a cigarette when they saw this picture. It is actually chalk! For a chalkboard! You know, because chalkboards are much cooler than whiteboards! I carry chalk in an Altoids tin sometimes because you never know when you will need chalk! In an attempt to correct this, I have a newer edition where I am holding the chalk still but I wrote the Einstein equation on top. I hope it works but overall, I get a great chuckle from that too!

I cannot wait to see how much I can truly grow at KGI. As I start classes the day after labor day, I am ready to start strong in order to finish strong. That is my modus operandi. I have so much KGI pride and I hope I can give back to KGI in many different ways, including my success.

That is the least I can do for an institution that has done so much for me in this short time period.

Thanks KGI. Here is to the next two years. I will fight to the top as I continue to bend my stress.



About the Author: Kevin Kim

I have devoted my life to science and rational thinking. As a student in life's classroom, I am striving to learn something new every day. Graduate of UC Riverside, Class of 2012. Graduate Student at Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont Colleges. Class of 2014 with a Masters in Bioscience. The track is pharmaceutical design and development with the ultimate goal of becoming a pharmacist who can also contribute scientifically through research. I hope that through my postings, people will no longer be crippled by stress and anxiety. Fight on! Fight Strong!

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