Feature: Celebrating Convocation with PhD graduate Safee Mian

By Emily Leighton, MA'13

How many KFC chicken pieces should go in a lunchbox? What are the optimal routes for a commercial airline? How can a pet supply company boost dog food sales?

Safee Mian, PhD Candidate, says you don’t need an MBA to tackle these questions; basic science has the answers too.

“There is a demand for professionals who can analyze data, solve problems, think on their feet and successfully manage projects,” said Mian, who is graduating from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry this month. “As graduate students, the skills we learn in the lab setting are highly translatable, but we need to know how to apply them in different settings.”

Mian launched Western’s chapter of the Graduate Management Consulting Association (GMCA) in 2017 to show graduate students the possibilities of employment outside academia. Originally created by students at the University of Toronto, GMCA provides training opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral trainees interested in non-academic pathways.

The local chapter offers tools and hosts events to help students prepare for careers in management consulting, including case competitions and a 10-lecture course taught by MBA candidates from the Ivey School of Business.

“The experience really opened me up to a different world, one where I can do other things with what I’ve learned in graduate school,” he said.   

Born in Pakistan, Mian came to Canada with his family at the age of 11. He attended high school in Mississauga, completing the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.

With an interest in science, he pursued a BSc degree at Western with an honors specialization in biochemistry and genetics.

During his undergraduate studies, Mian interned at Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the global pharmaceutical company based in Toronto. He worked in a quality control lab, testing polio and whooping cough vaccines.

It was an experience that motivated him to pursue a PhD. Supervised by Stanley Dunn, PhD, a professor with the Department of Biochemistry, Mian’s doctoral research focused on the structure and function of a protein called stomatin-like protein 2 (SLP-2).

The SLP-2 protein helps activate T-cells, which play a central role in the body’s immune response. The protein has also been found to be upregulated in cancer cells, a phenomenon linked to poorer prognosis for patients.

“We have overarching data about the importance of SLP-2, but we don’t know how it is carrying out these functions,” Mian explained. “With a better understanding, we could potentially develop therapeutics to try to limit its activity.”

The Dunn Lab also studies a protein called TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) that is associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Mian was involved in the project, looking at how the protein forms aggregates, or clusters, that are correlated with disease.

“Proteins are the building blocks for everything in a cell,” he said. “If we can figure out the basics, we can hopefully get a more thorough and full understanding of what’s happening in the cell.”

Mian says his biggest lesson as a graduate trainee was embracing failure. “Science is about failure,” he said. “Every time you learn from a mistake, you take small steps forward.”

He also learned from the people he met throughout his graduate school journey. “It’s a tight-knit community, everyone is encouraging and supportive,” he said.  

Outside the lab, Mian coached for the London Ramblers basketball team, working with a group of 11- to 14-year-old boys for about eight hours each week. “I gave up on my aspirations to play in the NFL or NBA, so this was a great way to stay involved in sports and develop my leadership skills,” he said with a laugh.

This summer, the 29-year-old is starting a position with Bain and Company, one of the world’s most influential management consultancy firms. He’ll be working with clients across a variety of industries to research, analyze and address their unique operational challenges.

This rather unconventional career move for a PhD graduate aligns with Mian’s approach to life. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. “That’s the best way to grow.”

“If you’re a PhD student with an inkling to try something different, reach out, find a support system and build your network,” he added. “There’s so many possibilities if you expand your horizons beyond the traditional career path.”

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry congratulates Safee and all graduating research trainees on their achievements during their time at Western University.