Andy Hsieh, PhD, is a biotechnology analyst at William Blair. Hsieh is joining the QB3-Berkeley Professionals in Residence (PIR) program on Friday, March 24, 2023. UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Lab graduate students and postdocs may register for Hsieh’s PIR events here. Hsieh spoke with graduate student Samvardhini Sridharan about his transition into the financial services sector.
Samvardhini Sridharan: Can you tell us about your background and scientific training experiences?
Andy Hsieh: My scientific background has always been focused on life sciences. I did my undergraduate degree in Biology from Carnegie Mellon University and fell in love with organic chemistry. I was inspired by the marriage between biology and chemistry and the potential that it can create in the world. I’ve always viewed things from a therapeutic lens, because it’s so fascinating to see how both small molecules and biologics could modulate biological processes and ultimately reduce or even reverse pathogenesis in the context of a disease.
I was lucky enough to do my PhD work at UC Berkeley with Nobel laureate, Carolyn Bertozzi. During graduate school, I had a mini drug discovery project, working on tuberculosis, and specifically interrogating the dormancy phase of that pathogenesis.
But I wasn’t aware that there was a link between the science I was passionate about and investment, which I did as a hobby—I always viewed it as a hobby and certainly not a “real job!” I was fortunate enough that during graduate school to complete the Management of Technology certificate program, which allowed engineering and life sciences PhD students and postdocs to take MBA courses. I thought that was an eye-opening experience to explore different areas like entrepreneurship in biotech, the venture capital landscape, and IP law that is so important for drug development, and the bigger picture on how to think about innovation in the broader scheme of things. It opened my mind to alternative career paths.
I was trying a little of everything over the course of my graduate career and I explored management consulting, which consisted of doing case studies and thinking about questions from a very deep perspective to find solutions. I wasn’t really successful in that—I got maybe a few interviews, but they didn’t lead to anything. I explored IP law too. That was kind of interesting.
But it wasn’t until I found a website called Dropout Club, which is designed for either MDs or PhDs looking for alternative career paths, that I found this summer internship opportunity for equity research. I immediately thought it was interesting when I read the description. When I applied, I highlighted the business aspect of my training, and the fact I’ve always loved doing personal investing on the side. I was really lucky that Cowen and Company gave me a chance; it was a way to get myself through the door and knew I’d absolutely have to take it. And I was again lucky when William Blair took a chance on me; that was over nine years ago, and I’m still here. A lot of things fell in place, maybe spontaneously, and that’s one of the reasons I decided to do this.
SS: What is equity research and the financial services sector? What does your role look like?
AH: The one sentence summary is we follow a number of publicly traded biotech stocks and make recommendations.
I have a list of companies I follow and have a buy, hold, and sell rating. By follow that implies there a longitudinal aspect–I track their development. It’s my job to say, “Company ‘A’ has new data; what does that mean? What does that new data mean to the stock? Is that new data better? Is it better than expected? Does it mean that the drug has a higher of chance of approval, or maybe a lower chance? Does this warrant further investment?” I track these companies, and the progress they make progress and milestones along the way.
I use the analogy of being a point, and a plane, and a space. We follow companies as points, very closely–every single development, every single press release, every single conference. We also look at it as a plane: from this therapeutic area, or from this modality, or from this target, what are other players doing that could influence how we think about the company’s investability. And then we look at things as a space. For example, you see Silicon Valley Bank basically becoming insolvent and the FDIC coming in and rescuing all the depositors. What does that mean for the biotech sector, and what does that mean for companies that actually have money in Silicon Valley Bank?
This is how we think about things from a holistic standpoint, but ultimately, we’re making stock calls: buy, hold, or sell.
SS: Are there recommendations you have for STEM PhD students who are interested in the financial services sector?
AH: I think back in the day as graduate students we were pretty siloed: a single-track mind terms of carrying out our project and being entrenched in the academic field. Trainees really should have an ability to look outside academia and talk to people who work in the industry and explore other career opportunities.
I didn’t really think about all this until the end of graduate school. But it’s important to think about opportunities to explore before and during graduate school and align your training to your dream job down the line. Nothing beats hands-on experience–internships, side projects, consulting. Many people try this and know it’s not what they want. It helps to conduct your career search from a process-of-elimination perspective. Just get out there!
SS: Do you still follow a lot of the science that you did as a graduate student?
AH: I’m definitely not as involved as before, but I still do read papers! These are more of clinical trial studies and less “scientific.” I still attend medical conferences too! Science remains a foundational part of my career. It helps me understand how a drug works, why they picked it and figure out the biological rationale. I still love this aspect and it’s nice to have. The financial services sector is not a 180-degree pivot to something that’s completely foreign. You don’t need to say goodbye to your scientific training!
Andy Hsieh, PhD is a senior research analyst and partner at William Blair & Company, LLC and a UC Berkeley alum.
Samvardhini Sridharan is a PhD candidate in Molecular and Cell Biology in Peter Sudmant’s group in the Center for Computational Biology, where she uses computational tools to study human genetic variation. Samvardhini is also passionate about science communication and is the blog editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Science Review, as well as a writer and editor for the print magazine.