Veterans at Biogen: Q&A with Jim Fikes

For nearly ten years, Jim Fikes has supported Biogen with our mission to serve humanity through science. He has been in and out of service as a career army reservist, ultimately finding his way to Biogen after multiple deployments and several roles in the civilian sector. This included working in the military as a trained veterinarian and a civil affairs officer. He now leads Biogen’s Pathology group within Nonclinical Safety. 

With multiple transitions under his belt, Jim has extensive experience with the challenges that come along with building a post-military career. And he’s not shy about sharing his experience. Read on to learn his advice for other veterans embarking on thrilling transitions of their own. 

In what capacity did you serve in the US military? 

I am a veterinarian and did some related work while serving in the military; however, most of my military career was spent as a civil affairs officer where I worked in civil-military operations. Abroad, this role ranged from working with local governments and tribal leaders to national ministries of health, agriculture, and economic development. 

What was the transition from military service to the civilian workforce like? What would you say your biggest challenge was? 

As a career Army Reservist with three major deployments, I experienced multiple transitions between military and civilian service rather than a single major transition. You could say I already had a foot in both worlds. However, I admit that each transition from military to civilian life was challenging.  Some of the more significant challenges for me included: shifting from a very direct, military-style of communication to one that is more nuanced; resuming a leadership role in an organization that had been successful and progressive without me; and catching up technically and professionally as a pathologist in biopharmaceutical development.   

Yet, each time I was fortunate to have strong management backing and colleagues that supported me, speeding along the process of reintegration. A valuable lesson I learned during my first transition was that it wasn’t just me that was transitioning, but also the numerous colleagues and team members I was working with. They kept the lights on, making decisions and moving forward for a year or more in my absence. Because of that, my return was not a solitary challenge, but one that we actively worked on together.

Have you felt supported by Biogen as a veteran—both during recruitment and afterwards? 

As a veteran applicant it was meaningful to see that Biogen had an active employee veteran’s network and this piqued my interest as a jobseeker. Although I was not recruited directly from the military, I can say from experience that Biogen recognizes the value and skills possessed by miliary personnel. I have personally served as a Biogen representative at job fairs and forums for transitioning military members.

After recruitment, Biogen supported me as a veteran from day one. The Biogen Veteran’s Network (BVN) has allowed me to connect with others from similar military backgrounds. The BVN has given me purpose, too. They sponsor volunteer opportunities to support veterans struggling with suicide and homelessness, while also putting on events that recognize Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. These opportunities have served, and continue to serve, veterans at Biogen incredibly well. 

What skills and values did you learn in the military that you were able to carry over into your civilian career and, more specifically, into your current role? 

The military is a champion of delegating leadership and responsibility to the lowest level. Everyone in an organization can be a leader. You should help those you are responsible for to find their leadership niche and then foster it. Leaders, while responsible for the training and development of their teams, need to then trust their team to be accountable in their jobs. The same is true in civilian jobs as it is in military service. Treating others as they should be treated is foundational and immaterial to what your job level (or rank using the military term) may be. 

Additionally, integrity is a military value that is core to my current position. Our role in nonclinical safety assessment demands that we are detailed and accurate in our work and scrupulously honest in our reporting. I have had the fortune of witnessing this value permeate my civilian colleagues throughout my professional career.

What advice do you have for military veterans considering a career at Biogen?

Be confident in your leadership skills and your ability to manage significant responsibility.  These skills are recognized and applicable at Biogen. You have likely carried substantial responsibility during your military career. Although your military occupational specialty (MOS) may not have a direct civilian counterpart, the accountability and responsibility the military instills in you readily carries over and translates in the civilian world. The formal and informal leadership training you have received will stick with you forever and make you a quick study on leveraging those skills in the civilian world.        

What is the best career advice you’ve received, particularly as you transitioned from the military to civilian work? 

I had a commander once ask me “Are you satisfied with what you are doing, or would you like to do more?” Although it wasn’t advice per se, it encouraged me to do activities outside my routine job and comfort-zone. When we stretch ourselves, and are supported in doing so, that is how we grow both as a worker, an officer, and a person.

At Biogen we work to make sure that our employees are successful no matter what background they come from. For military veterans, go to our careers site for more information on open positions and ways to apply your skills in the civilian sector.