Biochemistry and medical training leads to exciting career in oncology research and development

Photo of Kevin Sokolowski
Kevin Sokolowski, B.S. 2003.

Biochemistry is the foundation of what Kevin Sokolowski does every day in his career. Armed with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, as well as an M.D., he has embarked on a unique alternative career as a Senior Medical Science Liaison for Solid Tumor Oncology Development at AbbVie.

Sokolowski came to UW–Madison in 2000, after a year at UW–La Crosse, and graduated in 2003 before heading to medical school. He says he was drawn to Madison because of the university’s history and strength in biochemistry.

In his role at AbbVie, Sokolowski works to develop and support the company’s solid tumor oncology research and development pipeline. In addition, he works with academic and community physicians to educate them on solid tumor disease states. He says is it an exciting, novel, and challenging alternative career path for those with a medical or pharmacy degree or a Ph.D.

“This position is very rewarding as it allows me to combine both my passion for medicine as well as my excitement for research,” he says. “My biochemistry background at UW has enabled me to understand and grasp the complexities of cellular signaling as well as provide input in oncology development.”

While an undergraduate in the department, Sokolowski participated in the biochemistry undergraduate association — now a student chapter of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) — as well as student organizations in CALS and the pre-medicine society. He says his advisor and now-Emeritus Professor David Nelson, as well as the lab of Herbert Chen where he did undergraduate research in oncology, played an integral role in exposing him to research and opportunities he was interested in.

“Understanding the role of signaling pathways in cancer and mechanisms of disease resistance, and then leveraging these concepts to develop novel therapies, is critical to my current role,” explains Sokolowski, a native of Mukwonago, Wisc. “Furthermore, part of my role is staying up to date on all the advances in solid tumor medicine. Having a strong biochemical foundation allows me to efficiently review manuscripts and generate thought-provoking discussions.”

He continues to leverage his medical background and passion for science on a daily basis, he adds, as well as relationships he’s built over time. In his role he works with academic and community partners, including some at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.

“My goal is to improve the lives of patients and their families through my research and development,” he says. “It’s a team approach, but when I prepare for each day, I think of what I can do today that can help patients. It is very rewarding and humbling to know that we are working on developing new technology that has the potential to help patients and their families.”

His advice for undergraduate students, particularly those interested in medicine, is to network and build relationships by being involved and meeting others. He benefited from joining the pre-med society and contacting UW physicians to ask about their career paths. Additionally, keeping his mind open to alternative career paths allowed him to land his current rewarding position.

“Remember, we all started on the same road,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, ask for support. Finally, remember that the path to success is never a straight line. It is the obstacles, failures, disappointments that make you successful. As I reflect on my career, it is those failures that made me who I am today.”