Thriving in McKinsey’s academic-like culture

I come from academia, and prior to McKinsey, I earned my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, cellular biology, and molecular biology from the University of California at Berkeley. I received my PhD from Harvard University in cellular and molecular biology and did my PhD study in neurodegenerative diseases using stem cells and gene editing.

At McKinsey, my work focuses on the life sciences sector.

Menglu Quan
Menglu Quan

The firm is home to many PhDs and scientists

One of the things that surprised me about McKinsey is the sheer number of PhDs at the firm, from associates to partners, across all majors, including STEM and social sciences.

I have stood side-by-side with my engagement manager—a chemical engineering PhD—late at night in front of her laptop, looking at the picture of a next-generation antibody and trying to figure out what makes it a safer drug.

I have walked down the street with a peer associate—who studied chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T) for her PhD—discussing the most recent trends in cell therapy. My email box is sometimes flooded with high-impact reports shared by a senior associate—a PhD in bioengineering—who coached me on my first project and has since become a mentor.

I often find myself in earnest scientific discussions with a variety of colleagues on topics including how drugs can be effectively delivered to human eyes or how a technology platform works to empower R&D.

I am continually amazed by my colleagues’ intellectual power and curiosity to go deep on topics to find next-level answers for clients. It inspires me and makes me feel like I never left academia.

Bringing science to our clients

Projects at McKinsey often require solid analyses similar to scientific research. We leverage the latest science to help our clients.

For example, my most recent project was to help a client develop a growth strategy for their cardiovascular business in China. I did an in-depth analysis on 30+ cardiovascular diseases for the project. I interviewed physicians from the top hospitals in China, talked to industry experts, read piles of clinical guidelines and research papers, and dug through various databases.

I also had intense problem-solving sessions with my team members, which included finance major business analysts and MBA associates; a neuroscientist research analyst; and a biomedical engineering PhD engagement manager. The team was full of people with a wide range of scientific expertise and a common goal to help our client.

The work enabled me to tap into my PhD knowledge. At one point, the client was interested in learning more about the cutting-edge innovations we could expect for cardiovascular diseases. I delivered a lecture to explain the latest scientific breakthroughs, including cell and gene therapies. It was one of the many moments at the firm I was empowered to use the knowledge gained during my academic studies for client projects.

Using my expertise to drive healthcare change in China and beyond

During the past 18 months at McKinsey, I’ve been involved in more than 10 healthcare projects in the Greater China region. Throughout these diverse projects, I’ve received mentorship that is helping me become the professional and person I aspire to be. I’ve gained the freedom to explore what intrigues me and the ability to help global and local clients.

I’ve described to the CEO of a US-born biotech what the China market looks like and what his company’s future might look like in China. I’ve stood in front of 100+ employees of a local healthcare client showing them how the world is evolving and where their new business opportunities could be.

I’ve helped one of the world’s largest multinational pharmaceutical companies launch new drugs, which will soon bring urgently needed therapies and new hope to Chinese patients. And I’ve helped a leading local medical device company develop globalization strategies, which will show the world the power of China’s technology.

I cannot imagine another place where I could experience the same level of accomplishment or make an equal amount of impact.

To learn more about opportunities for those with advanced professional degrees, sign up for the McKinsey Greater China APD Information Session.

Never miss another post

Receive new stories once a week directly in your inbox