July 26, 2023

Lab to Alliance Management with Swathi Gannavaram

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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This week I am talking to a former client, Swathi Gannavaram, about her experience moving from a bench scientist role to Alliance Management. But this episode has a twist. I worked with Swathi about a year ago, and I wanted her to share her experience of what her career has been like since we stopped coaching.

What are the things that stuck with her? What have been the sustainable results she experienced? She is sharing what the coaching experience is like but also what her career and development look like a year after coaching. How fun this that?



  • Swathi’s views on coaching and mentorship – and how you can use both to achieve your goals
  • The impact of coaching on her career after one year
  • Her story of moving from the bench to the office (even without having experience)
  • How to have a growth mindset to try new things

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Melissa Lawrence (00:01)

Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast with me, Melissa Lawrence. I’m a career and life coach with all the corporate credit and talent development and organizational psychology. I help women like you get extraordinary results by being more you, not less. I won’t just help you have a career experience worthy of you, but I will help you build your self worth to shift what you think is possible and take the action that will create the career you’ve always wanted. Whether it’s more meaningful work you’re passionate about, making more money, getting to your next level, or being more effective as a leader, we are shattering the glass ceiling here. The one that exists for women at work and the one we put on ourselves with our doubt and inner critic. Each week you will get practical teachings grounded in neuroscience and effective career development strategies.

You’ll experience deep mindset shifts and the perfect amount of woo so you can run your career with ease rather than your career running you. You were born for more and I’m going to help you get there, with maybe a few dance parties along the way. Your up level begins now. Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast. 

Melissa Lawrence (01:29)

This week I have a special guest. I have a former client, her name is Swathi, and she is on the podcast to talk about not just her experience in coaching, but I wanted to take a different angle on this and bring someone on the podcast that I worked with a year ago so that you could hear what her experience was like and what has stuck with her, what has not stuck with her, how she thinks coaching has impacted her career today a year later so that you could really understand more about what the process is like and also what you might be able to do for yourself to help you take action towards those goals that you want for your career, whether it’s with coaching or something completely different. 

I think her story about going from a lab scientist on the bench to working in Alliance Management and someone that is highly academic, a high achiever. And hearing the steps that she took, how she was feeling, and where she is today is really going to give you a lot of insight and wisdom that you can take for yourself to help you with your own goals.

So without further ado, here is my conversation with Swathi.

Melissa Lawrence (02:38)

Hi, Swathi. Welcome to the podcast.

Swathi Gannavaram (02:40)

Hi, Melissa. Thank you so much for having me here.

Melissa Lawrence (02:43)

Of course, I’m so excited for our conversation. Just to get started, can you share with everyone who you are and what you do and a little bit about your background?

Swathi Gannavaram (02:53)

Sounds good. I am Swathi Gannavaram. I work as an Alliance Manager right now in a big pharma company. I’ve been in a couple of scientific lab based roles before I ended up where I am today. And education wise, I have a Bachelor’s in Pharmacy from India. And then I moved to the US obviously to pursue higher studies. And I ended up getting my Master’s in Chemistry from Illinois. And then it seemed like I wasn’t done. So I went on to get my PhD in Biochemistry from Georgia State University. And then at that point in time, I felt that getting a postdoc was important and almost mandatory before going into industry because that’s the thinking at that point in time and the advice that I got from my mentors. So I went on to get a postdoc in biochemistry as well from Penn State University. So as you can tell, I’ve been in academia for a long time. And of my 17 years of stay in the US, 10 years have been in academia. And then the last seven years have been moving into industry and serving in several roles, ranging from being in a business development role, to handling proposals.

And then I went, as I mentioned, into pharma with scientific lab based roles before transitioning into the business side.

Melissa Lawrence (04:14)

Yes, you have such a vast background. Thank you for sharing. I’m sure a lot of people listening are really resonating with all of that as far as the academic piece. So thank you for sharing that. 

I think that’s going to make it a lot more meaningful. And people go and hear about your background and the journey that you’ve been on, which we’re going to get into. So I invited Swathi to be on the podcast as a way to talk about life after coaching. We had worked together about a year ago when she was looking to transition into another role. And now it’s been a while and she’s been in her new role. And so I thought it would be really fun for everyone to hear what sticks with you after coaching and maybe what doesn’t and just the impact that it has over time because I really like to focus on sustainable results. And so it’s really going to change and have a positive impact on you outside of just that time that we’re working together. So this is just a fun new way to share your story. So I really appreciate you doing that for the people that are listening.

So if we take the listeners back to the beginning, what were things like for you before we started working together, if you can remember, how you thought or felt about your career?

Swathi Gannavaram (05:30)

Oh, absolutely. I remember very clearly how I felt before we got together and started working on the coaching piece. I was very happy. As I was transitioning from one role to another, even from academia to industry and from one role to another in industry, I was very happy with the way I was jumping from one role to another. It seemed like I was making progress. In my last role, the lab based role, I was in that role for almost close to three years. I was very excited when I started off because it was a new space. I was getting to use my background in biochemistry very well, and I was also learning new things. It was very exciting when I started out. The first year, of course, the excitement was there. Second year, a little bit, but I think things started getting a little bit stagnant. Then I think by the time it was almost like third year, and when I approached you, I remember that I wasn’t very excited to even get up and go to work.I felt very stagnant, very stuck. It didn’t seem like I was making much progress.

Swathi Gannavaram (06:35)

It’s not that I wasn’t a high achiever or I wasn’t contributing to the team. It’s just that what I was doing was not resonating with where I wanted to be career wise. So that’s really what I think pushed me to look for avenues where I can rent and release and get the help that I needed and also be told that, okay, there are other ways in which you can think and proceed to get to where you want to. So I think that’s how I felt and glad I was able to reach out to you. And then we just connected and took things from there.

Melissa Lawrence (07:09)

And so do you remember if there was a tipping point that made you want to just seek coaching or move forward with coaching?

Swathi Gannavaram (07:19)

Yes and no. I think the people that I was working with, the atmosphere, if you will, was, I think, also contributing to my, I guess, a negative space. And the fact that I was in academia for so long where I had mentors all along the way who were telling me this is the way to go forward, like guiding me and all those things. So I was missing that presence big time. And I think being where I was career wise and having realized that I wasn’t having that mentorship, I think really pushed me towards coaching. So I think that I would say the tipping point was the realization that I didn’t have that mentor to guide me for that next step.

Melissa Lawrence (08:02)

And I know coaching was new to you. You had experience in the mentoring piece, but hiring a coach was something that you hadn’t done before. So do you recall what made you make that decision that you thought, Okay, instead of finding another mentor, I’m going to hire this coach to help me?

Swathi Gannavaram (08:20)

Yeah, that’s a great point, Melissa, because coaching was, I guess, relatively new at that time than it is now. And I was obviously unaware of the coaching space and the benefits and the joys coaching brings forth. But then, of course, I connected with you on LinkedIn, and I was still exploring my options because I didn’t really know coaching was going to be my savior. But it was that exploratory phase where I think we connected. And then we had that initial call where you walked me through what the coaching process is going to be. And I think I also have to give myself some credit for being open minded and not just being conservative and reserved about this whole coaching because it’s completely new. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about the coaching experience. So I do appreciate a little bit that I was a little open minded about taking on something that was completely new for me, and I never had any understanding of that. So I think the fact that we had that initial conversation where you walked me through the benefits of coaching, I felt like I had to take that next step with you.

Melissa Lawrence (09:26)

Yeah, it definitely takes courage. So you definitely had courage. Whenever we’re doing anything new like that, especially… Because you talked about your background, right? We’re so used to investing a lot of money when it comes to academics. But then when it’s like, Oh, I’m going to reach out to this person on the internet. I’m going to give her money to help me because she says she has a process. That takes some courage. You have to have some trust for that person and see that they can help you. And it takes courage to try something new because you haven’t done it before. There’s not a college institution behind my name. So that definitely takes courage. You can give yourself all the courage and credit you want without it. It’s well deserved. So by the end of our time together, you had moved from someone like you said, who had primarily been in the lab and been ready for a pivot into more of a management or office space, and you have moved into that role. So what has that transition been like for you?

Swathi Gannavaram (10:23)

Very tough initially, I have to say, because I think in my previous roles, I have done similar things in a very supporting role way, but it was never a primary focus. But then when I moved and transitioned into this business operational role, obviously I was not in the lab. I wasn’t even doing scientific things. Of course, I was interfacing with the scientists and the technical scientific people, but I wasn’t actively doing that. I had to look more into the business things and organizational things, if you will. So it was a very tough adjustment, but I’m glad that when I took this role, I still had a few more months of coaching left with you because I remember we did have a lot of conversation, especially on stakeholder management, because that was something that I wasn’t doing a whole lot in my previous roles, but it was a major piece, I guess, the primary important thing in my current role. I think those initial conversations that we had during our coaching sessions in my new role at that time were very crucial in helping me settle down in that role and use that knowledge to build forward.

Melissa Lawrence (11:37)

How long have you been in your role now?

Swathi Gannavaram (11:41)

It’s a little over a year, actually.

Melissa Lawrence (11:43)

Yeah. Congratulations on your year. I knew it was about that. I saw that in the toy. Yeah. Okay. So what would you say, if you look back on that time when we were coaching together, and then fast forward to this year of you being in your new role, what would you say is the biggest transformation or change that you’ve gotten from the coaching process?

Swathi Gannavaram (12:08)

Oh, a lot. I think the biggest thing, like I mentioned, was the stakeholder management piece because that’s a big thing in my role right now. I always think back to our conversations and how it is very important to establish that communication link and keep that open because a lot of the time when you are dealing with different people, the biggest thing obviously is lack of communication or over communication. I think it’s always good to over communicate rather than under communicate. So I think that’s one of the big pieces that I learned from our experience together that always keep that communication link open and make yourself as clear as possible when you’re dealing with people and understand where they’re coming from and what my point of view is. So just keep things transparent and clear by communicating.

Melissa Lawrence (12:59)

And how does it feel to know that you’re in the right job for you?

Swathi Gannavaram (13:04)

The fact that I’m just happy and excited every day.

Melissa Lawrence (13:08)

Yeah, you’ve crossed that yearmark, right? Because you talked to it your whole entire life. You’re like, Okay, the year was fine. And then it started going downhill. But you’ve crossed that now, right? And you’re not having that downhill feeling.

Swathi Gannavaram (13:19)

No, I’m not. But it’s how I can expand my horizons. There’s just so much I can learn and do. And I think that’s very exciting for me.

Melissa Lawrence (13:29)

Yeah. And that is such a great mindset to have, too. You talk about being open minded, but having that at work also where you said there’s so much you can learn and grow. And within your company, you can always pivot and think the opportunities are really endless as far as what you can do. And you know now how to make those pivots. You’ve gone through the process so you know what that looks like. You know how to make changes if something feels misaligned as opposed to going down to that raging LinkedIn scroll or trying to apply to a bunch of different jobs. Yeah, that’s fantastic. Is there anything else you want to say about how your career is now?

Swathi Gannavaram (14:13)

I think just having the growth mindset is really helping me and not going in thinking that I know everything and just be able to make those awkward… Well, not awkward, but I guess just be open minded to connecting with different people. Even if it brings some level of awkwardness because you didn’t know them from before. I think that’s something that I learned from our coaching experience as well. Just be open minded and not hold yourself back when it comes to connecting with new people. That’s something that I took very seriously. I have made so many connections that my manager is sometimes surprised as to how many connections that I have made in my short stay compared to others. That has really helped me in troubleshooting, getting things resolved, or just getting the knowledge and the information we need for certain tasks. So I think just having that mindset, that growth mindset is very important. And I’m able to do that very well in my role.

Melissa Lawrence (15:11)

Yeah. And I remember I was talking to you a lot about expectations. Yes. Having a lot of high expectations for other people and then getting frustrated when they’re not delivering that way, which I think is really common for all the high achievers of like, this is just a logical way to do it. Why wouldn’t you do it that way? And I think that speaks to your growth mindset also to look at other people and appreciate what they bring to the table, even if they’re not meeting those same expectations and knowing what you can manage for yourself versus what you can manage for them. It just is so powerful when you think about how you use that for stakeholder management.

Swathi Gannavaram (15:43)

Yeah, I tend to do that sometimes, but then I lower my expectations. I’m still putting it on the right thing.

Melissa Lawrence (15:52)

Yeah, definitely. So how do you view career development now? Definitely sounds like it’s very open minded. You talked a lot about growth mindset. Is the way that you view development now different than it was before we started working together?

Swathi Gannavaram (16:04)

I have to say yes, because I think before we started working together, I was very limited in how I was thinking and approaching my career just because I didn’t know what were the options that were available. Definitely, the coaching experience has opened my mind and enlightened me in ways that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gone through the coaching process. Now that I have gone through the coaching process and it’s been a year in my role, I feel like I can definitely be my own cheerleader and push for myself if I feel like I have to head in a certain direction or if I have to learn something or achieve something professionally. I feel like I have a voice for myself and I’m definitely able to do that now than, say, before the coaching experience.

Melissa Lawrence (16:54)

Yeah. And the next question I wanted to ask you is, so you definitely have moved into this new role in the time that we work together. But if we had never worked together, where do you think you would be now in your career and just the way that you’re experiencing your career?

Swathi Gannavaram (17:10)

Would have been very different, I think. For me, I wanted to transition into project management and the business side of things. That transition would probably have been… I probably would have done it, but the timeline must have been much more stretched if I hadn’t gone through the coaching process with you just because it was not just about coaching and letting me know what are the opportunities, but the resources you provided. When I had roadblocks along this process, the resources that you were able to provide were very crucial in expediting my journey in transitioning into where I am today. I think if I hadn’t gone through the coaching process and all the roadblocks that I have hit, it just would have been a very different space for me.

Melissa Lawrence (18:02)

Yeah. And suddenly you might have gotten into that role eventually, but then those other skills would have been lacking, too, right in the way that you approach your career. Yeah. And I wish people could see your face when I ask that question because you’re so smiley. And then when I asked that question, you had this look of disgust.

Swathi Gannavaram (18:26)

You won’t believe me. Well, it’s that I have told so many people that felt stuck or in that same space that I felt before taking the coaching process with you that they have to explore what is called coaching, professional coaching. And I think I was actually able to positively convince a few people to take that leap. So definitely coaching is the way to go. You have the experience to do it. 

Melissa Lawrence (18:51)

Well, it’s like you said, when you haven’t done something before, it does take that courage. And now you’re on the other side, which is why I think it’s so great for people to hear your story because then they can see, okay, here’s someone who is also a little hesitant, took that leap, and now it’s a year later and they still have a positive impact from that. And those types of stories, I think, help people build the courage for themselves for whatever it is they want to do, whether it’s coaching or learning how to surf or whatever it is that they’re feeling scared to do. It shows you that you can do anything and those things apply to you at work, too. But I’m sure there’s things at work that maybe you were a little bit hesitant to speak up about or advocate for yourself about. Now doing this shows you that you can do those things and you’re okay.

Swathi Gannavaram (19:40)

Yeah, 100%.

Melissa Lawrence (19:42)

What are your current development goals? What are you working on now?

Swathi Gannavaram (19:48)

Well, right now, as I mentioned, I’m an alliance manager and I did not have any previous experience being an alliance manager. So definitely my career goals right now align with what I’m doing right now. That is to expose myself to more courses or attending conferences that talk more about Alliance management and what is out there in the space that needs to be tapped into. I think right now I’m working on those and stakeholder management, building those relationships, relationship management, all those things are something that I’m actively working towards.

Melissa Lawrence (20:27)

Yeah, that is great. Building that business acumen. I think you didn’t even just say this directly, but what I’m hearing also is, if everyone picked up on this, is that you moved into this role without experience in alliance management. And I think there are a lot of people that have similar backgrounds as you that are maybe looking to get out of the lab and they might look for something like project management. That seems to be a very logical choice for people to say, I’m going to go get my PMP, or something like that to try to get out of the lab. And I think everything you’ve shared really around stakeholder management, communication skills, and what you’ve done to make sure that you’re making the right moves for you has allowed you to continue to grow and get opportunities with roles even when you don’t have that experience. They’re trying to just say that you’re able to figure it out when you get there.

Swathi Gannavaram (21:17)


Melissa Lawrence (21:18)

Yeah, it gave me chills. Oh, my God. So knowing what you know now, what would you say to someone who is maybe feeling stuck in their career or not sure what their best role is or how to get there? What advice would you give them?

Swathi Gannavaram (21:38)

Well, definitely I think people are a little more aware now because of social media, obviously LinkedIn. I think when I started out almost like a year and a half ago, coaching was just picking up. I mean, it wasn’t really as established and popular. That’s what I feel like is looking at my social media and the number of people that I talked to that are open to the idea of coaching. So definitely, I would say people that are feeling stuck. And even listening to your podcast, I feel like there are a lot of people out there and they should actively look into coaching. They could find someone, hopefully, that mentor within their own organization. And if they are not able to do that, then I think they could always look externally and look at what is out there. And coaching definitely can alter the way you perceive your career. And if you’re feeling stuck, I think you need that help, whether it’s internally through someone that you know that can offer that guidance, or if that’s not possible, definitely look outwards.

Melissa Lawrence (22:41)

Yeah. And I’m hearing you say also, like owning your development, right? Not just waiting for your boss to help you or whomever to help pave the way for you. But if you’re not happy to do something to figure out what that looks like, whether that’s hiring a coach or getting a mentor or looking for another job, if you know that’s what you want, but just not sitting and settling with good enough when you can have something different.

Swathi Gannavaram (23:07)

Absolutely. Own it. You said it.

Melissa Lawrence (23:09)

Yeah, own it. 

So I ask everyone that joins the podcast as a guest, what is a piece of advice that you wish you had earlier in your career?

Swathi Gannavaram (23:23)

A piece of advice that I had earlier in my career. I wish I was a little more proactive early on. I guess I ended up being eventually, but I wish that was some advice that I got. Just don’t feel shy or don’t hold yourself back. If there’s something that you actively want to do, just reach out. Don’t hold yourself back. That is something that I would tell, I think, someone that’s starting out their career to just be proactive and own it. Just go get it.

Melissa Lawrence (23:54)

Yeah. Take a little bit of that courage. Maybe they can get coming from this episode to go and do those things. Yeah, that’s great advice. So is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you want to mention?

Swathi Gannavaram (24:07)

I think we’ve touched upon everything, but if I had to reiterate something, I think it’s just having that open mindedness and growth mindset because until and unless you have that, personally, I don’t feel like you can make progress. So I think just being open minded, courageous, and owning it, you’re not making any progress. So I think that’s how I would like to end my story.

Melissa Lawrence (24:32)

Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. For people that are listening that maybe want to check you out on LinkedIn, connect with you, are you open to that?

Swathi Gannavaram (24:41)


Melissa Lawrence (24:41)

Okay. And where can they find you? On LinkedIn?

Swathi Gannavaram (24:45)


Melissa Lawrence (24:47)

Okay, so we’ll put a link to it in the show notes so people can easily access it and say hi to you.

Swathi Gannavaram (24:53)

Yeah. Sounds good. Well, thank you for having me. As I said, it was a lot of fun talking about my previous experience.

Melissa Lawrence (25:00)

Thank you for joining. I’ll talk to you soon.

Melissa Lawrence (25:04)

Hey there. If you’re ready to be in a role you love, I want to invite you to join Beyond the Ceiling, where you’re going to stop feeling stuck, know your best career move, get in a role you love where you can have the impact you want to while feeling more confident and earning more with my proven process.

Head over to www.yourworthycareer.com/beyond to get all of the details.

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Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

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