I’m a Scientist Turned HR Leader: Here’s How My Past Shaped Me and Advice for Defining Your Future

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Janice Hong

Janice Hong. Photo courtesy of BD.

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April 20, 2024 at 7:2AM UTC

How did you wind up in your current position? For many, answering this question isn’t easy because career journeys are often not a straight and simple path. As Janice Hong, HR Programs Manager at BD, says “our full life experiences are incorporated into our career journeys.”

For instance, Hong’s own journey to becoming an HR leader involved a diverse set of experiences, including a series of “first jobs” (such as being a math tutor, volunteering, clubs, and her college degrees) that helped shape her as a person, a role as a Senior Scientist at a startup (where she got to use her academic knowledge to make a real impact), being a Quality Manager (where she learned project management, prioritization, and how to influence without authority), and a position as the Manager of R&D and Quality Control at BD (which was her first foray into people leadership and helped her grow a mindset grounded in growth and coaching).

It was through all of this experience, Hong’s support network, and participation in BD’s Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) that Hong made the leap from Scientist to HR. In fact, that leap was sparked by a conversation with the VP of R&D at BD, who noticed Hong’s passion for helping others when she helmed a Capability Matrix project that wound up supporting managers and facilitating career conversations for as many as 400 associates in the R&D department.

While Hong thought of this project fondly as the favorite project of her career, it wasn’t until her conversation with the VP of R&D that she realized what this project really was — an HR tool! And the VP didn’t stop at helping Hong define her passion either. “He helped to identify a space where my capabilities and passion met a business need,” Hong tells us. “He connected me to the VP of HR, who gave me a six-month stretch assignment on her team. That assignment turned into a full-time role, and I’ve been on the team since.”

“I knew so little about HR when I joined the team,” Hong reflects, “but I brought the personal experience of our people leaders, along with transferable skill sets, including data-based analytical thinking, process-orientation, information synthesis, and learning agility. In some ways, I am very different from the rest of the team, but it just serves to make the team stronger and more capable. “

“Even if you move to a completely different area of expertise, recognize and own that you bring a wealth of knowledge with you,” Hong advises other career pivoters (or soon-to-be career pivoters!). “You’re not starting from scratch.”  

In the following interview, Hong takes the time to share more about her job, her advice for others who want to make successful career pivots, and how BD helped support her unique journey.

To start, can you tell us a bit about your current job. What do you find most rewarding about your current role in HR, and how does it compare to being a scientist?

There are so many rewarding things in my current role, including seeing light bulbs go off when teaching/facilitating, helping others see (and value) different perspectives, advancing our culture, helping others advance their careers, and driving mindset changes. It’s about creating positive culture change and facilitating learning, development, and self-discovery. I love to connect with others and help them connect with each other. Personally, it’s about helping others while I get to learn new skills, develop meaningful relationships, and be successful in new areas.

In some ways, being in HR seems pretty different from being a scientist. Instead of using instruments to measure properties and analyze data, I am working to develop people and leading HR programs. But if you take a step back, to me, HR feels like the science of people and of organizations. If you think about the similarities between science and HR, in both fields, you get pretty far with curiosity — asking “what if?”, developing and testing hypotheses, analyzing data, and coming to conclusions before adjusting your hypothesis and then starting again. Yes, HR is different from R&D, but not nearly as different as people think!

Can you tell us more about how you benefited from the skills and experience you’ve gained in your career pivot?

I came from a specialized space within R&D (fluorescent dye technology). Moving out of that space and into this role, I have gained a more integrated and comprehensive understanding of the business.

I’ve gained exposure as well. In my previous role, I had visibility to my local R&D team and some local Operations and Quality Assurance team members. In terms of visibility to leadership, I had some visibility up through the VP of R&D and his leadership team. In contrast, in my HR role, I regularly interact with people in multiple functions throughout BD Biosciences (and beyond into other BD businesses and central teams), from frontline workers to the global Biosciences leadership team, including the president. I really appreciate the opportunity to connect and work with the amazing talent that runs deep throughout our organization at every level, and to learn from our astonishingly intelligent, insightful, and strategic leaders. Being present to hear their thought processes is an incredible opportunity that has helped me approach my work more holistically. In this role, I have been able to take an ever-broader view of my work, understanding the needs of our organization on multiple levels, and make a more strategic impact.

And, I better understand myself in both what I want to do and in understanding the person I am and the person I aspire to be.

What are your best pieces of advice for other women who are thinking about making a career pivot?

It’s okay to explore, to not know exactly what it is you want. It’s okay to be messy. It’s okay to feel a bit like you’re leaving something important behind (because, frankly, everything that we come from becomes a part of us — in a sense, you never leave it behind). It’s okay to be scared, and, in fact, it’s important to be a little bit scared, a little bit unbalanced. That means that you’re learning and growing. It's okay to lack a little bit of confidence; take the leap of faith and believe in yourself. If it’s the right thing to do, be scared and do the thing anyway – and give yourself the space to honor the challenges that may come with the pivot. You are capable of more than you know

In fact, go find two or three people with an aspirational mindset and who know your work. Ask them what they think about your capabilities and your successes. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Also, envision a Venn diagram where capabilities and passion meet a need. Try to shape your responsibilities to focus on where the three intersect. That sweet spot will bring you so much career satisfaction

Overall, what would you say are the top 5 traits/skills someone needs to be a successful career pivoter?

  1. Learning agility.

  2. A growth mindset and openness to challenges, feedback, and failure. 

  3. Listening to a variety of people, and being open to new ways of doing things, to trying multiple approaches, and to finding the best way to move forward. You gain so much from learning what works and doesn’t work and from getting the perspectives of others, especially if it differs from your own view.

  4. Rebuilding your new support network in your chosen field through informational interviews, learning how different roles work together to achieve goals, and understanding where you can build value with your complementary perspective and skillset.

  5. Self-reflection to understand what drives you, what you want, and what you don’t want.

What are your favorite things about working at BD?

I really align with the company’s purpose to Advance the world of health™. It’s important to me that what I do every day helps make the world a better place. We spend so much of our time, energy, and brain power at work, and it should align with our personal purpose.

BD also welcomes me to truly, unapologetically be my authentic self. This gives me the space to spend my energy where I want to, instead of trying to mask aspects of myself. I’ve built strong relationships throughout the organization over time, spanning different functions, different businesses, and different relationships with people all over the world.

Finally, it’s just the plain fact that I have been able to shape my career path to fit my strengths. I am grateful to BD for giving me the space to navigate an unusual career path and always make an impact, all while learning and growing.

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