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MentLife: mentor and mentee share takeaways

The MentLife mentorship program aims to support young researchers interested in a career within life science industry. The program was founded in 2013 by Lars Erik Edholm and is since 2019 organized by the Careers Center at the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University. Mentor Helen Sjögren and mentee Diahann Atacho share their experiences from the program.

Photos of Helen Sjögren (to the left) and Diahann Atacho (to the right).

Helen Sjögren, Senior Principal Scientist at Ferring Pharmaceuticals in Copenhagen 


Doctor of Technology in Physical Chemistry. Has worked for more than 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry in various positions, both in research and development and in production, ranging from line manager to researcher. 

Why have you chosen to become a mentor? 

 - Being a mentor gives me a complementary way to stay in touch with the university, slightly outside my own expertise area. It provides a great opportunity to build a network both with academia and other companies, through other mentors. Being able to guide young researchers in their future career choices and share experiences from the life science industry feels both satisfying and a bit like paying back for the support I received during my doctoral studies. Additionally, it's an excellent way to represent my employer, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, to potential future colleagues. 

How does your experience contribute to support young researchers? 

– It's quite individual depending on each mentee's background and goals. Generally, I can help with concrete things like writing a good cover letter and CV, where to find the "right" job, how a hiring process works, how the organization in a life science company is structured, what different roles exist in a company, and what one does in these roles. I can also support the mentee in identifying their strengths and how to best utilize them, as well as in the process of understanding what the mentee wants and what goals he/she has, both short-term and long-term. I can also help with cultural understanding, how things work in a Swedish or Danish company. 

What has mentoring given you? 

– Mentoring has given me so much, it's not easy to summarize in just a few lines. It has given me such wonderful mentee friends. I still keep in touch with almost all of my previous mentees, and it's a joy to follow their development. They are all fantastic individuals, and it's so lovely to see them evolve and grow. I have almost exclusively been a mentor for foreign doctoral students, and during mentoring, I have the privilege of really getting to know my mentees. It has given me a unique insight into many countries and their cultures, which has been very useful for me in my work at Ferring, both internally within the company and in contact with other companies globally. Mentoring has also given me new contacts through other mentors. Last but not least, all the events organized by Mentlife are so enjoyable, inspiring, and positive, even for me as a mentor. 

Would you recommend others in the industry to become mentors?

 – I can absolutely recommend others in the industry to become mentors. It provides a unique opportunity not only to gain a new network within academia but also the privilege of getting to know young, brilliant doctoral students and post-docs on their way into working life. Additionally, it's very satisfying to see that you can actually make a difference and help a doctoral student find their way into the job market.

Diahann Atacho, Portfolio System Manager at Lundbeck


2014 PhD in Biomedical Sciences, University of Iceland. While participating in MentLife 2022-2023, Diahann was a postdoc in Johan Jakobsson´s Molecular Neurogenetics laboratory.

You joined MentLife in the fall of 2022. Why did you join?

 - I have always worked in basic research, but a few years after starting my postdoc I realized that I wanted to use my skills to have a direct impact on patients’ lives. I wanted to do project management and business development or work at a venture capital firm to scout out new drugs or techniques and help bring them to market. To do this, I had to find my way into the pharmaceutical industry to gain the required knowledge and experience. However, I also knew that I didn’t want to enter the industry as a Researcher: I was over the routine benchwork and needed something more challenging and people-, and business oriented. Then the question was: “How would I be able to join a pharmaceutical company without applying for the obvious Researcher positions which were an obvious fit?” My hope was that MentLife would provide me with a mentor that would help me assess which jobs outside of the research field would be best suited for someone with my diverse skill set and teach me the ins and outs of the industry, so I can ultimately get where I want to be. 

What has the program given you?

- It was an invaluable experience. My mentor made me realize that I have a set of highly transferrable skills and that I shouldn’t limit myself to applications that are a perfect skill match, which was eye-opening. However, the most important thing that my mentor showed me is that there are way more options to get into industry than just in a Researcher position. I also learned that the career paths in industry aren’t a straight line: I can end up where I want to be through a wide variety of entry points. It’s also been very exciting to have the possibility to talk to a wide variety of people in the industry and to gain the ability and confidence to network effectively. Thanks to this, I’ve applied to and been accepted to a very exciting industry position, which I will start August 1st. 

Would you recommend the program to other young researchers? Why?

- Most definitely. If you know that you don’t want to stay in academia and you’re ready to take the next step to go into the industry, this is the perfect program for you. However, you need to commit to it and understand that a mentor-mentee relationship is built on trust, communication and understanding and requires time and effort to be able to get the most out of it. 

Would you like to become a mentor yourself? Why?

- Definitely. In a few years I will have more experience in the industry and then I would love to be a mentor in MentLife. It really was an invaluable experience and not only have I gained an awesome mentor and started building a great network, I also learned a lot about the industry and myself. I’m very confident about my new role, despite it not being benchwork related, because I know I have the skill set required to be very successful at it. I would love to pass my knowledge on and hopefully help others to take their first step into the industry.

Would you like to become a mentor?

In September, a new group of mentees will enroll in the program. If you have a doctoral degree, at least five years of work experience in the Life Science industry, currently work in the Öresund region, and are willing to become a mentor, please contact MentLife's coordinator Pernilla Carlsson at pernilla [dot] carlsson [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (pernilla[dot]carlsson[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se) to learn more.

Would you like to join MentLife as a mentee?

If you are a doctoral student or postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Medicine with an interest in life science industry, you are welcome to apply to the program. Deadline for applying is 1st of April. Find out more about MentLife and how to apply.