After seven years spent studying and working in the country, including three years with a green card and over a year studying American history and preparing for a test that would be difficult for most people who were born and raised in the U.S. to pass, SilcsBio’s Oliver Tao was granted U.S. citizenship in February this year.
Tao, 33, came to the U.S. from China in 2015 looking to expand his education in the pharmaceutical science space, after earning a bachelor’s degree from Xiangtan University and spending nearly two years working at a drug company in China. He applied to several graduate degree programs in the States, and ultimately decided to pursue a Ph.D. at Idaho State University. He didn’t know much about the Northwestern states, but recalled that the advisor who interviewed him assured him the weather in Boise was similar to that in China.
Turns out, that weather assessment was off – Tao said he was used to California-ish weather living in southern China, and “Boise is pretty cold” – but the program was still worthwhile. (Plus, being in Idaho allowed him to connect with his wife, whom he met online in 2016 and married in 2017.)
His research work at ISU focused on computational chemistry, or computer-aided drug design. This field allows him to combine his knowledge and experience in pharmaceuticals with his love of computers, which he said began when he was very young. Tao was in elementary school when he first started trying to take apart and reassemble computers, he said. He and a friend would often try to hack computer games like “Command & Conquer.”
That combined skill set helped Tao land a job as an applications scientist for SilcsBio, an Early Charm portfolio company that builds software tools designed to accelerate the development of new pharmaceuticals. He got the position after exiting his graduate program into the strained economy and job market that characterized the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tao said he applied for more than 100 jobs before getting hired by SilcsBio and moving to Maryland last summer.
He prepared for the job interview by assembling a 30-slide “Why Me” presentation, which spelled out in great detail all of the qualifications, skills, and unique personality traits he would bring to the job. Tao said it was kind of a last-ditch effort to prove his hirability before he considered an entirely new life path, like joining the military. It turned out to be a memorable and convincing demonstration of his creativity and commitment, traits which Ken Malone, Early Charm’s CEO, said continue to be apparent in his work for SilcsBio.
Beyond his role building drug design software, Tao has become known as resident office techie, storyteller, and wearer of quippy t-shirts (most of which were gifted to him by his wife or one of his three kids) at Early Charm.
Notably, he was among the first employees to attain citizenship while working at the venture studio – an accomplishment which was aptly celebrated with a burger and a day’s work at a desk decked out with American flag decorations. The studio employs a handful of others who are not yet citizens. Malone said there is tremendous value in the creativity and diversity of thought that people from various countries and backgrounds bring to Early Charm’s ventures.
Tao said his citizenship was a long time coming, but he is extremely proud of the accomplishment – not to mention his new life in Maryland, his job in Baltimore, and new family home in Carroll County.