About | The Team

The Team


Vay Cao, Ph.D.


I founded Free the PhD soon after I transitioned into my job outside of academia, in order to pay it forward for others who are eager to make a difference in the world with their research knowledge, but are struggling with their career transitions. If we want to change the experiences of fellow PhDs on the job market, it’s up to us to make it happen for each other. My mission, and the mission of our Advisors and Advocates, is to Free Your PhD: to help you join us in the world outside of academia, because we don’t see the need for anyone else to struggle, flounder and stress like we did.

I received my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the National Institutes of Health Graduate Partnerships Program with Brown University, and started my day job in a neurotechnology startup company after a brief postdoctoral fellowship.


Laura Mariani, Ph.D.

Senior Advisor

My transition from a PhD to a non-academic career wasn’t easy. I felt obligated to make it easier for the ones who came after me. As a Senior Advisor for Free the PhD, I consult with the Founder on strategies to help more PhDs discover and thrive in their new careers and create content for the website and community discussion forum.

Laura completed a combined BS/MS in Neuroscience at Brandeis University and received a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Emory University in 2016. After grad school, I transitioned to a career in executive search consulting. Today, I help academic and industry clients identify and recruit transformative leaders in healthcare and scientific research.


Diana Bogorodskaya, Ph.D.


I am a Cell Biology Ph.D. with experience in market research, consulting, business development, and sales. I currently work in technical sales at a multinational company; previously I led business development for a Series A biomedical startup.

I also consult for startups and venture funds and serve as a mentor at Free the PhD and NSF Innovations CORPS.

Some of the topics I cover at Free the PhD are commercial roles, interviewing, employment with early-stage companies, and job search strategies for international students.


John Burkhardt, Ph.D.


I am a neuroscientist and behavioral scientist, specializing in competitive behavior change. I am the founder and managing partner of Capita Neuro Solutions, a consulting firm for the application of applied neuroscience, behavioral economics, and data analytics in the commercial space.

John earned a B.S. in Experimental Psychology from Duke University and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Wake Forest University. Originally a research scientist, John has worked as a professor of neuroscience, having served on the faculty at the University of Oslo , the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, and the NIH. More recently he served as Director of Behavioral Science at Integrated Systems, Inc, a government contractor with practice in the IRS, SEC, and DOD.


Alexa Petrelli


Senior manager for life science services; management guru; background in biochemistry. Expertise in service contracts for life science companies; internal organizational structures, client engagement, managing teams and managing up. Happy to discuss any and all things management.


Olga Davydenko, Ph.D.


As a PhD student, I always knew that a non-academic job would fit me better than the academic track. I’m here to share what I learned during my year-long job search, as well as my experience in sales and field application support for a research equipment manufacturer, aka the Best Job Ever.


Soroush Ardekani, Ph.D


I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign followed by my Ph.D. in Bioengineering from UC-Riverside, where my thesis work focused on the development of therapeutic polymer/lipid-based drug delivery systems. Currently, I’m a formulations scientist and manager at Pacira Biosciences Inc., a company focused on improving patient care through enhancement of conventional drug delivery. Happy to be a part of FTP and happy to chat!


Jessica Wilson, Ph.D


I’m a Senior Product Specialist at iMotions, a position that combines sales engineering, application science and research consulting in the field of biosensor technology and consumer neuroscience. In grad school, I was engaged heavily in education and science outreach, and ran communications workshops for how to promote science to others. I knew I would have to dig deep to find a career path that fit my unique skillset outside of pharma and big-name consulting — and I would need to know how to promote those skills in a way that is marketable to companies. I’m happy to help you on your career journey!

I got my PhD in neuroscience at Northwestern University in 2015, specializing in the physiology of Parkinson’s disease. I live in Chicago, practice martial arts in my spare time and live with my Quaker parrot Pete.


Christina Kim, Ph.D.


I joined FTP in 2016 as a second year Ph.D. student and have been with the community since then! I have recently decided to become an advisor because I believe in Vay’s vision for FTP and want to give back to others. Happy to chat about all things graduate life, job search, and work life. I specialize in advising people who are interested in consulting.

Christina graduated with dual degree (B.S. in Chemistry, B.S. in Biological Sciences) from the University of Connecticut in 2013. She worked for a year in small pharma as a Q.C Chemist before going to graduate school. She earned her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Virginia Tech in 2020. She is an incoming Life Science Strategy Consultant at EY-Parthenon. 

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Camillia Monestime, Ph.D.

Digital Outreach Coordinator

I run social media campaigns to boost awareness of non-academic career options for researchers. I also use digital media automation platform to engage and educate.

Camillia graduated with B.S. in Biology from CUNY in 2013. She earned her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from Stony Brook University in 2019.

Will you join us as our next Advisor or Advocate? Contact us to get involved!

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