Giovanna Scapin, Senior Principal Scientist, Merck & Co., Inc.

Name:  Giovanna Scapin

Occupation:   Senior Principal Scientist, Computational & Structural Chemistry, Merck & Co., Inc.

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About me: I was born and raised in a small town in Italy, in the mountains about 60 miles northwest of Venice.  My father was an MD with a strong interest in biomedical research, and my mother a high school math teacher. Since early childhood I had a clear propensity for math and science, and even though I attended a classical studies (Greek and Latin and history and philosophy and literature) high school, I soon realized that chemistry was in my future.  I eventually graduated in 1985 from Padova University with a degree in Organic Chemistry, and in 1989 I received my PhD in Organic Chemistry from the same university with a thesis in protein crystallography. After my PhD I was convinced that my future was in Academia, and the first step was to find a post-doc position in a foreign lab.  In February 1990 I joined the laboratory of Dr. James C. Sacchettini at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx (NY), as postdoctoral fellow, and subsequently as Instructor. I spent 6 years at AECOM, where I did a lot of research and I also mentored several graduated students and post-doctoral fellows.

When Dr. Sacchettini moved on, I was faced with the need of finding another position.  At that point academic and industrial research positions were equally attractive to me, and in 1997 I joined Merck and Co., Inc, as Research Scientist in the Structural Biology group. In 2015 Merck decided to invest in the emerging cryo-electron microscopy field, and together with my manager I took the lead in developing cryoEM at Merck. Initially I spent two years embedded in the New York Structural Biology Center – Simons Electron Microscopy Center to learn hands-on single particle CryoEM, and after my return full time at Merck, we acquired a ThermoFisher Krios and established a full CryoEM facility.

Since 2010, I am also an active member of the organizing committee for the International School of Crystallography.

About my work: At Merck I work within a group that aims to provide structural support to drug discovery programs.  Structure based (or guided) drug design is an integral part of the drug discovery platform across the pharmaceutical industry, and it is well recognized that having detailed information about the atomic interactions between a drug and its target can considerably accelerate the drug discovery process. The most common methods utilized so far for structure determination are X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), but both techniques have limitations mostly caused by intrinsic properties of the target of interest, such as size, conformational stability or flexibility. In recent years, single particle cryoelectron microscopy (SP-cryo-EM) has emerged as a complementary technique for determining structures suitable for application in drug discovery. SP-Cryo-EM has also the advantage of allowing characterization of larger, more complex and conformationally heterogeneous biological systems.

Our group is formed from people at different stages of their career within the company, and the position in the career ladder defines the daily activities of each person in the group.  While we all spend time in the lab, growing crystals or freezing grids, collecting data and solving structures, my more senior position requires that I participate more in strategy discussions, portfolio management meetings and human development.  As cryoEM lead, I am also responsible for evaluating all the EM requests we receive, maintaining a balanced portfolio between internal work and outsourcing, organizing cross-training of other people in the company (people that come from different backgrounds but want to work with or within the cryoEM group) and provide scientific support to the youngest members of our team.

I am an experimentalist at hearth, and I think that the best part of working in a research driven company is that after so many years I am still doing what I love the most, which is hands on experiments to solve novel structures and understand biology.  The drawback to that is that we are often under very tight deadlines, with lots of stress and long hours.

Advice About Entering the Field: A PhD degree is essential, and 1-3 years of post-doctoral research experience are strongly suggested.  You are expected to “hit the ground running”, there is very little on the job training, and the more experience you have beforehand the better off you are.  Several companies offer industrial post-doc positions, not as a means to get into that specific company but as a way to gain experience and test the waters.  I would strongly recommend it.  Working for a private company is indeed very different than working in academia, and it may be very unlike what a recent graduate is told or has learned.  You will be first and foremost a scientist, so curiosity, interest in discovery, and passion for research are a must.  But being a good team player, having good social skills and being able to articulate your work in front of large and diverse audience are also important factors to consider.

Matthew Zisk, Patent Attorney

Name:  Matthew Zisk

Occupation:  Retired Partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates

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About Me:  I was raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts in an academic family (both parents and one grandparent were professors), but came relatively late to my love of chemistry. I was more interested in music and arts than science all the way through my teens and early twenties, until I decided at the age of twenty two to stop complaining about the state of the world and (instead) to try to work toward its betterment.  To that end, I went back to school to study marine biology at Boston University, where my mother was a Professor of Political Science.

I took first-year biology and first-year chemistry (together with calculus and intensive statistics) my first semester back, and had truly dedicated and gifted professors in all subjects; I quickly learned that, for me, chemistry was a greater challenge than biology, but also held a greater fascination.  I spent a lot of time in office hours with my first-year chemistry professor (Dr. Klaas Eriks) who encouraged and led me to go beyond the scope of the class material in order to understand some of the physics that is implicit in first-year chemistry, but that is held back until physical chemistry; I was fascinated.  Toward the end of my second semester, I sheepishly approached my biology professor for advice on changing majors.  To his credit, he stated that he and many biologists of that era wished that they’d studied chemistry as undergraduates, because it was central to what they did, and very difficult to pick up on their own; he encouraged me to switch majors (which I did).

My organic chemistry professor the next year, Dr. Guilford Jones II (a physical organic chemist), was equally gifted as Dr. Eriks (and equally enamored of the application of quantum mechanics to the study of chemistry), and invited me to begin research in his lab during the second semester of my second year.  I joined his lab and continued to do research under his guidance through the rest of my undergraduate studies (including two full-time summers).  That I would go on for a PhD in chemistry was an inevitable outcome from those early experiences, so off to Stanford I went following my days an undergraduate.

My experience in the PhD program at Stanford convinced me of several things – that I was not overly interested in lab work after all (thus, I did a fair amount of work in silico), and that the changes in funding for big-time academic research ongoing in the late 1980s made that path really unpalatable to me.  My then wife, however, was a hot-shot political scientist (feel free to hit me with your best Freudian references . . . ) and I decided to follow her to wherever she landed, which turned out to be in Columbus, Ohio at Ohio State.  After a year with me as a visiting professor at Wittenberg University, we wound up with the holy-grail for academic couples – tenure-track positions in the same metro area (hers at Ohio State, mine at Otterbein University).  They were less than ideal jobs, however (for reasons I will skip), and I concluded during my first year at Otterbein that being a small college professor would not make me happy in the long term.

Fortuitously, toward the end of my first year at Otterbein I was asked by a large agricultural chemistry company to assist as an expert on a patent-infringement claim against the company (based largely on differential scanning calorimetry – something with which I had worked extensively in my graduate work), and the experience of working with the team of attorneys and company scientists whetted my appetite to transition into patent law.  (Sheepishly, again) I approached the department Chair at Otterbein, who was a friend and trusted advisor, and my PhD advisor (James P. Collman) about their thoughts.  In the case of the Chair, he allowed that, had he had it to do over again earlier in his career, he might well have gone into patent law.  In the case of Jim Collman, after hearing my proposal, he uttered the single word “perfect” (followed by a brief description of the lives of two other of his advisees who had gone into patent law).  Bolstered by this encouragement, I applied to and attended law school full time at Ohio State starting the following year.  I then moved to the New York City metro area where I have happily lived and worked in a variety of legal positions ever since.

About My Work:  I did not know until that fateful first summer at Otterbein what patent attorneys do, so first and foremost, I want to give you an idea about that. I speak from broad and specific experience — short of being a judge, over the span of my legal career, I assumed (for significant periods of time in all cases) pretty much every role performed by patent attorneys – worked in a small law firm, worked in a large law firm; worked as an Associate, worked as a Partner; worked in-house on a corporate legal team; worked as a litigator, worked as a prosecutor, and worked on transactions on behalf of small medium and large companies, banks, and academic institutions owning or interested in technologies, acquiring technologies and businesses, and investing in or lending to (or being invested in or lent to) entities in whole or in part based on the value of technologies on or off patent.  In most cases, I used my background in chemistry (and physics and computers) to gain a deep understanding of the technologies at issue in my clients’ or their targets’ businesses.  This understanding enabled me to help foster investment in and development of ground-breaking, and in many cases life- or environment-saving technologies.

Patent attorneys can be roughly thrown into two buckets (although many of us occupied both buckets at the same time) – those who work with inventors and companies to help them obtain patents (so-called patent prosecutors), and those who are involved in administrative and court proceedings to enforce (or defend against enforcement of) patents, or to challenge their validity (so-called patent litigators).  As a technical matter, only patent prosecutors are required to have formal scientific or engineering training (bachelor’s degrees are fine) and to take a specialized bar exam in order to practice, although most of the best litigators also started out as scientists or engineers.

Patent prosecutors spend a lot of time with inventors and company executives digging deeply into the technical elements of an invention.  They do so in order to be able properly to draft patent applications and to work with patent examiners to negotiate the scope of an invention that will be allowed to issue as a patent in the US and elsewhere.  Prosecutors must also understand the broader field of the invention (what’s already known, how scientists and engineers in the field think, what works and doesn’t work, etc.) and ideally, in analogous fields, in all cases to defend against an examiner denying a claim as legally obvious.  Prosecutors must also know the history of federal court and administrative patent cases in order to be able to argue that a particular case supports the issuance of claims in an application undergoing prosecution.  Patent prosecutors furthermore must understand the voluminous regulations surrounding the examination of patents (deadlines and procedures and other formalities that have been developed over more than a century and that make up the ground rules for the negotiations with examiners), and ideally, will, with time, develop a rapport and mutual trust with the examiners in the particular areas of specialty in which the prosecutors operate, so that the negotiations will run smoothly.

Patent litigators must know the patent case law and must understand, in depth, the history of the negotiations surrounding the issuance of a particular patent at issue in a litigation.  They must have enough of an understanding of the invention and field of invention to be able to argue the merits of their side of a case, but will generally rely on experts to provide the deeper understanding of the nuances and context (field) of the invention.  Litigators need also to understand the broader business context of an invention (litigation almost never ensues absent many millions of dollars on the line), and need to be able to argue the detailed value of a business using the invention claimed in a patent at issue.  Litigators must muster their understanding of all of these elements and advocate on behalf of the position their client is taking in the litigation (that an invention is or is not properly patented, that a competitor product does or does not properly fall within the scope of an issued claim of a patent (i.e. that it does or does not infringe the patent claim), and that if it does infringe, the degree of harm caused by the infringement in monetary terms), and be prepared to advocate for that position irrespective of their personal views on the merits of their clients’ cases (as long as doing so does not cross a line into committing fraud).  Litigators who are trial attorneys must be able to relate to jurors and judges on a human level, must be adept at public speaking, and must be quick on their feet in coming up with and countering arguments that arise in a case.  Keep in mind that very few cases actually go to trial (and if they do, not all complete the trial), so much of a litigator’s job is to position the case in the minds of their clients and the opposing parties in a manner that will lead to an advantageous settlement of the case.  Litigation, like prosecution, is subject to voluminous rules and regulations that must be understood and followed.

Both patent prosecutors and patent litigators can also become involved in business transactions beyond settling infringement claims.  Whenever a pair of companies agrees to combine all or part of their efforts in a particular field for which one or both of them holds patent rights (for example, to form a collaboration, sell a business, or merge businesses), patent attorneys will be involved on both sides in structuring and negotiating the combination to take into account the value of the patent rights and how they will be used following the transaction.  When a bank agrees to lend a company money or a company decides to issue stock (privately or with an IPO or otherwise), if the value of the business is determined to any significant degree by patent rights (held by the business or held by competitors) then patent attorneys will be needed on both sides to guide the structuring and negotiation of the loan or issuance documents to account for the patent rights.

Much of this transactional work involves planning for the mess that might arise if the business, following the transaction, doesn’t do well, so a lot of a patent attorney’s time is spent coming up with potential risks and downside scenarios, and then arguing about how they should be handled (lawyers are thus often seen as an impediment  to a deal– the “brakes” – worrying about doomsdays and bad actors while those same actors may be sitting with them in a conference room feeling impugned; but that is properly part of the job!)  Complex work can also be needed where some, but not all rights in a technology are transferred as part of the transaction, how the remainder is to be handled.  In all cases, a relatively deep understanding of the technologies involved is critical, or at least extremely helpful.

Day to day, patent attorneys spend a great deal of time reading (opinions from court and administrative cases, scientific literature, correspondence from other attorneys and examiners and courts, and documents related to transactions), in meetings with clients and other lawyers, and drafting and re-drafting documents (letters, briefs, contracts, responses, etc.) as part of prosecution, litigation or transactional work.  They work as part of teams, for the most part, and so also spend a lot of time in professional gatherings with colleagues and clients.

Advice About Entering the Field:  I loved working as a patent attorney.  The combination of being able to dig into cutting-edge science and contributing to development of new and important technologies was very rewarding for me.  I also love reading, and especially writing, which are huge parts of the job.

That said, while it can be incredibly rewarding, it can (and for scientists often is) incredibly frustrating to transition from working in science to working as an attorney.  Why?  As scientists, we are taught to seek out the single best answer, which we expect to lay out in black and white terms when finally discerned.  As an attorney, it is critical to be able to see the shades of gray and to be able to advocate for a position whose correctness may not be clear to you (I stopped litigating after about 8 years in part because I was never comfortable advocating for a client I believed was in the wrong, but even in prosecution and transactional work, it is an attorney’s job to take the client’s strongest reasonable position permitted by the circumstances).  If you are not comfortable in this gray world or advocating for positions in which you may have some doubts, you may not be comfortable working as an attorney.

Also, the practice law is a social endeavor.  If you prefer to be a loner, you may not enjoy, and may not be able to generate the necessary business required for success in law (there are exceptions to this last observation, but the work tends not to be very interesting).  If you enjoy spending long hours hard at work and socializing with other people (and golf outings and business lunches, drinks and dinners) then you may love being, and find yourself successful as, an attorney.

I would also caution you that law school is expensive (both in tuition and in lost income from being out of the workforce), and should be viewed and tested as an investment.  If you are able to attend a really good law school (top tier) and do very well (near the top of your class in law school), your prospects of getting an interesting and well-paying job are reasonably good so the investment will likely pay off, but if you attend a lower-tier law school or place out of the top of your class (or top quarter of your class if you go to a top-fourteen law school), then those payoff prospects are much dimmer, although with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or another science or engineering, your chances are somewhat better than they would be without that degree, as long as you want to be a patent prosecutor and are willing to move to certain cities around the U.S.

Finally, I would advise you (whether in becoming a patent attorney or in other areas of your lives) to keep your head up at all times and look out for and take new and interesting opportunities that will almost certainly arise.  My getting into law, my moving to (and later back to) what is arguably the top law firm in the world, my move in-house to a Fortune 50 company – all arose somewhat as a result of happenstance, but mostly as a result of observation, deep consideration, careful planning, keeping track of my values, and seeking out and listening to the advice of people whom I trusted and who could provide some perspective on current and possible future directions.

Orrette Wauchope, Professor of Chemistry

Name:  Orrette Wauchope

Occupation:  Professor of Chemistry, Baruch College of the City University of New York

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About Me:  I was born in the coastal town of Montego Bay in Jamaica. In 2001, I migrated to the United States, to New York, during winter I might add. It was a big change, but a change that I embraced. In fact, I fell in love with cold weather! I absolutely loved it. Upon settling in New York, I enrolled at Brooklyn College, CUNY and planned to major in Chemistry.

During my time at Brooklyn College I conducted research in the lab of Professor Alexander Greer. My time in Professor Greer’s lab was very transformative for me as this was where my career in science began. I learned how to think about science, conduct experiments and how to report the results of our findings. I’ll touch more on these experiences a little later in the post. After graduating with my BSc in Chemistry in 2005, I began my graduate work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the lab of Professor Katherine Seley-Radtke. I was in another new city, but had a connection there as the seafood in Baltimore reminded me of the seafood in Jamaica.

After completion of my PhD in Organic Chemistry in 2011, I accepted a postdoctoral research position at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I found that I liked Nashville, which was surprising to me as the personality of the city was the complete opposite of New York. It’s a great city, I couldn’t however embrace country music. After my postdoctoral work at Vanderbilt, I accepted a faculty position at Baruch College, CUNY, in 2017, where I am currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences.

About My Work:  Being a professor has been overall a very rewarding experience for me. At Baruch College, I get the opportunity to interact with students from a very wide range of backgrounds, both socioeconomic as well as educational. Baruch is also special in that several of our students are returning students, meaning that they already have careers or families and have decided to return to school. At Baruch, my role is multifaceted. I teach chemistry classes, lead a very active research group (currently six students) as well as carry out other professional responsibilities at the department, college and/or university levels.

I must admit that my responsibilities sounded really daunting when I first started. However, it was my training and background that really made this transition easier. This training began as an undergraduate researcher at Brooklyn College with Professor Greer. The chemistry projects that I participated in were very diverse and it exposed me to several techniques. It was during this time at Brooklyn College that I started to become more scientifically mature. I started to think about how to design a good research program that is hypothesis driven, recognize what tools I needed to test the hypothesis and begin practicing how to report/discuss the results that were obtained.

I did quite a bit of teaching/tutoring while at Brooklyn College and I realized that I also have a second passion, teaching. This training then was even more amplified at graduate school. I continued to develop my research skills and was also given more opportunities to develop my teaching. One important thing that happened during graduate school was that I had the opportunity to mentor students. This was very important as I learned how to drive the research projects of undergraduates and to give effective mentoring advice for career development. My postdoctoral experience further expanded on my training in graduate school. My research skills became very diverse, which became a huge benefit in my career. I was also able to mentor students and to teach classes at Vanderbilt.

At Baruch College, my group works on understanding the mechanisms that underlie bacterial communication (quorum sensing). The work in my lab lies at the interface of chemistry and biology and borrows tools from synthetic organic chemistry, bioorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry and molecular biology. Quorum sensing is responsible for the formation of biofilms. Biofilms are very complex bacterial (and in some cases fungal) aggregations that are almost impenetrable to antibiotics. According to the CDC, more than 80% of microbial infections in the body involve biofilms. Biofilms are deleterious and have huge impacts not only in the health field but in the food industry, water purification and the shipping industry. One aspect of our lab works on designing inhibitors that will disrupt bacterial communication (quorum sensing). Another area works on understanding the mechanisms that underlie the signal transduction within the bacterial cells. In other words, how do the bacteria decide to make a biofim? A third area is looking at the role that DNA damage plays in the signal transduction involved in biofilm formation via quorum sensing.

A typical day for me actually depends on the day of the week. For days that I teach, the day begins with me preparing for my lectures and working on some grading of a previous assignment. I typically do have office hours on the days that I teach and if there is any time left in the day (very rarely), I try to get ahead and prepare the next set of lectures. In between teaching etc., I always try to sneak some time to get into the lab. I always want to be accessible to my students in case they have any questions about their projects. Also, I want to make them know that I’m available to provide mentoring whenever they need it. On days that I do not teach, my time is spent almost exclusively on research. I’m either in the lab or in my office reading articles and thinking of other research ideas. This doesn’t always work out perfectly as during the week I attend meetings that are associated with my administrative roles with the department and/or college.

Before I leave work each day, I try to make a list of tasks that need to be done the next day. I find that this helps me complete important activities that need to get done. I oftentimes take work home with me. This is usually in the form of an article(s) to read or maybe I do some light grading. I live in Staten Island so I use my time on the train and ferry to do some work. On hectic days however, I typically use my commute time to reset and unwind a little usually with some help with music. I try my best to find time for family/social obligations in the evenings after work. I found that getting rest/unwinding was critical to my productivity the next day.

Being a professor is very rewarding for me. However, one of the biggest challenges for me is time. During some days, there’s so much going on. So, I have to be able to teach, do research and mentor in addition to my other responsibilities. To be effective, I’ve found that I have to be deliberate with my time and give priority to the more critical things that need to be done. This means that sometimes instead of working in the lab on my research days, I might be in my office working on writing a manuscript or working on a grant proposal. This gives me less time with my students and I try to make up for this on another day. Inevitably, it means that my schedule is in constant flux on some days. Always on the forefront of my mind is getting research done so that I can get it published and to write new grant proposals to get more funding for the lab.

The best thing about my job is the freedom that I get to work on something that I’m intellectually stimulated by. Loving what I work on definitely fuels my success in that I’m continuously engaged in all stages of the projects and I get excited when the lab has reached a milestone in a project. It also leaves me open to think of and develop new ideas. Another area that I enjoy comes with the teaching and mentoring aspect of my job. I get really excited when I see the sparkle in a student’s eyes when they understand a particular concept being taught in class. I really do enjoy teaching and I try to reach out to students to ensure that they do well. I take mentoring very seriously and I endeavor to provide the support that the students in my lab need to advance in their career. The mentoring that I received as a student was very important in my development and I’m very honored and proud that I get the opportunity to help aspiring scientists in similar ways that were done for me.

Advice About Entering the Field:  I think the best advice I can give about entering the field is preparation. I think that this was crucial for me in my career. Ok, so how do you prepare? Where do you start? I think that it’s absolutely important to get some research experience. This experience would probably best come from areas involving synthesis overlapping with some biology/biochemistry. This experience should come before entering graduate school. Your research experience will greatly prepare you for graduate school. Picking a lab where you fit in is important. It’s always a good idea to reach out to professors and talk about prospects for doing research with them. Always ask questions. You need to become a cheerleader for your success. We are always here to help and we will provide guidance and become cheerleaders for your success alongside of you. If you desire to teach then it’s important to try and seek out tutoring/teaching opportunities with the advice of your research advisor whether as an undergraduate student or when you’re in graduate school. You must be prepared to work hard and have an open mind.

Remember, you don’t know what you like until you start doing it. So, this means the possibility of working on different research projects before you find one that’s a good fit. The same advice goes for teaching. Hands-on teaching is the only way to know for sure that you like it. You may not be the best at teaching right away, but you’ll get better the more that you teach. You won’t be alone in this step as your advisor will be there with you.

Working hard also means embracing failures in experiments. Failures are equally important in preparing you for success as oftentimes there’s something to me learned in a failed experiment. While you’re developing your experimental tool set, don’t be afraid to venture a little out the box: come up with your own experiments, or research project(s). Run your ideas by your advisors, they will help you develop and/or improve your ideas. It’s important to remember that you are not alone in this process, networking is critical. This comes in several forms. It could come from students at similar points in their career or from people who have gone through the process who can give some useful suggestions. I should point out that your research mentor/advisor should always be your primary contact. In terms of your scientific advancement, it’s important to try and attend conferences. At conferences, you will get the opportunity to talk to different scientists and form important connections that might be beneficial later in your career.

Jacob Fernandez-Gallardo, Quality Management Scientist (QA/QC Specialist)

Name:  Jacob Fernandez-Gallardo

Occupation:  Quality Management Scientist (QA/QC Specialist)

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About Me:  I have loved chemistry since the very first time I read the word “atom” at school. I was 12 years old and I still have the book. My father is the last in at least five generations of blacksmiths, and his work always made me wonder about metals.  I had always wanted to know about the nature of metals, where their unique properties came from and how they played so central a role in human history.  Knowing about atoms was the beginning of an answer to those questions.  And the most important part of the answer was finding something even better:  lots of new questions!  I decided to read and study as much about chemistry as possible.

After high school and some sabbatical time working as a varnisher, I studied chemistry in Toledo (Spain) and Zaragoza (Spain), where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Organic and Inorganic Chemistry. In my last year as undergraduate student I worked in two different research labs: first in Toledo for two months, in Prof. Otero’s lab under supervision of Prof. Ruiz, and then in Zaragoza for 9 months in Prof. Navarro’s lab under supervision of Prof. Contel. I worked with different metals with different applications within the area of Green Chemistry, focusing on the activation of small molecules and catalysis.

This time in research labs showed me that research was my vocation, so I decided to do a PhD in Chemistry. I applied for different grants and eventually I was awarded a fellowship from the Spanish Government to do a PhD in the University of Castilla-La Mancha, in Toledo (Spain). I mainly worked in the synthesis of organometallic tantalum compounds for the activation of small molecules with potential applications in Green Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry. During my PhD I did a short stay in Prof. Lledós research group in the Autonomous University of Barcelona to learn computational chemistry in order to understand the way “my” tantalum compounds were working in the flasks.

Intrigued by the way computational chemistry works and its huge variety of applications, I decided to broaden my knowledge on this field and look for a postdoctoral stay. I was accepted as a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Himo´s research group at Stockholm University (Sweden), where I learned computational and quantum chemistry. Besides theoretical chemistry, the time in a foreign country brought me a lot of new and rewarding experiences. After almost three years in Sweden, I decided to go back to the lab. I was accepted as a postdoctoral research associate in Prof. Contel’s research group at Brooklyn College (CUNY). This was the way to achieve two of my dreams: to work in the US, and, from the professional point of view, to explore the nature and applications of molecules containing two metal centers. This experience was amazing, and meant one of the happiest and fruitful periods of my live. Unfortunately, two and a half years after arriving in the US, I had to leave for personal reasons.  Even so, I got one of the most remarkable of my professional achievements: I participated in the design, synthesis and full chemical and biological study of an organometallic drug (a gold-titanium compound) able to reduce the size of renal tumors in mice.  This work that gave rise to several scientific publications and a US patent.

About My Work:  Back in Spain, I realized that finding a job in research in this country is something really hard to do. So I decided to widen my range of job applications and found that Forensic Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry (Pharma Industry) might be interesting fields to work in. First I worked as a Scientific Advisor and then as Quality Management Scientist and as Quality Control/Quality Assurance Specialist, both jobs at the Laboratory of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances of the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS) of the Government of Spain.

I have a double role in my work.  On one hand, I work in a project that deals with the implementation and maintenance of a Quality Management System under the compliance guidelines from the International Organization for Standardization, which certifies the techniques that are used in this type of work.  The best practices for this are known, and we have already obtained the corresponding accreditation certificate.  And on the other hand, I work as a scientific advisor in the structural characterization of new psychoactive substances (NPS), not only for the interpretation of the information obtained from the current analytical instruments in the lab, but also for the advising in the purchase of new instrumentation and the design of new experiments.

In a typical day I process and analyze the data generated in the lab, assuring that the different analytical methods and techniques are used appropriately. I also work in the structural analysis of NPSs and other narcotics seized in Spain, as well as in the development of new analytical methods for the quantification of illegal substances.

The chemistry I learned as undergraduate and during my PhD is very important for me when I work on the structural characterization of NPSs, especially analytical techniques and structural elucidation. One of the screening techniques mostly used in the field is the “reagent testing.”  This approach is similar to the “Qualitative Inorganic Analysis” of ions, though rather than being an easily visible change the result depends on subsequent chromatographic measurements that determine the presence (and sometimes the concentration) of a narcotic or psychotropic substance in a given sample.  Among the chromatographic techniques employed in the field are gas chromatography (GC), high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and the coupled version of these chromatographic techniques with mass spectrometry (GC-MS, HPLC-MS, among others). Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Infrared Spectroscopies are among the techniques used to perform structural elucidation.  In the part of Quality Management, the analytical capability acquired during my PhD and postdoctoral stays turns out to be a very useful and powerful tool. Also, the IT and computational skills that I got along the way have turned out to be an essential part of my work day.

The best thing about my job is getting to work in a cross-functional team, and knowing that we are helping people by finding out the kind and quality of substances that some of them are abusing. The worst thing is that the number of NPSs that appear is so big (and more appear so fast) that sometimes there is not enough time to warn people about it and some people die.

Advice About Entering the Field:  My advice is that before finishing you bachelors degree, stop for a while, think thoroughly, look at yourself and look around, especially the job market, and then make a decision about what you want.

If you have a really curious mind and love to understand the “last” reason why things happen, the most fundamental one, learn how to do research and get a PhD.  But remember, first think about what you will want to do after the PhD!

If you are interested in working in Forensic Chemistry, my advice is to study not only chemistry, but also quality management, and to develop your IT skills as much as possible. I believe these two things are very important for a wide variety of jobs.

Hualin Li, Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young LLP

Name:  Hualin Li

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Occupation:  Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young LLP

About Me: I was born and raised in a small town of south China. After finishing my undergraduate study in the University of Science and Technology of China in 2005, I joined the chemistry Ph.D. program at CUNY graduate center (GC), at the same time I served as a TA and RA at Brooklyn College teaching general chemistry laboratory and recitation classes. In 2010, I graduated from the program, and also received research excellence award from the CUNY Graduate Center.

During my 5-year Ph.D. study at CUNY under the mentorship of Prof. Kobrak, I mainly focused on studying materials science using molecular dynamics simulations. During this time, I learned many important skillsets for academic research as well as critical thinking.

About My Work: After finishing two rounds of postdoc training, I returned to Brooklyn College in 2014, joining the M.A. program in the department of computer science where I studied big data and cloud technology.  In 2015, I joined Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (FINRA) and focused on market regulation and trade surveillance. FINRA is a non-profit organization contracted by the New York Stock Exchange to watch for violations of the law, such as insider trading.  So my career started a new page as a “watchdog of Wall Street” by looking for any market abuse or insider trading; my beat covered  99% of US stock and ~70% options market.  Analysis of big data and the use of artificial intelligence are the major tools that I used in my everyday work at FINRA as a market regulator.

In 2018, I joined Ernst & Young as a senior consultant, focusing on financial services and risk management. My major clients include several top US banks such as Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Advice About Entering the Field:  As an old Chinese saying goes: good fortune follows upon disaster;disaster lurks within good fortune. From my 10-years’ experience in the ivory tower and five years on Wall St, I think it is difficult to say what is good and bad preparation for a job. My advice would be: keep studying, and in the meantime don’t forget to take a long and broad view when you plan career moves.

Moving from a STEM field to become a “Quant Developer” (someone who develops computational models for finance) takes skills in statistical machine learning and deep learning, stochastic calculus, and a range of financial engineering courses.  The computer science courses for that kind of work are available at Brooklyn College, but those who are sure they want to make the move should consider pursuing a Masters of Financial Engineering at Baruch College or elsewhere in New York City.

Overall, I think interest is the best teacher. One needs to invest a great deal of effort and enthusiasm in the study of a new area to succeed, but it can be worth it!

 

Bonnie Kruft, Director, Data Science Strategy at GlaxoSmithKline

Name:  Bonnie Kruft

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Occupation:  Director, Data Science Strategy at GSK

About Me:  Thinking back on my education and career, I like to describe it as a patchwork quilt that was stitched together by my love of learning, my passion for science, math and technology, and my desire to try out new and exciting things. Science has always been a major part of my life, and lucky for me it has provided me many different opportunities.

For my undergraduate degree I studied Chemistry at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. During that time, I worked with a small clinical-stage contract research organization, which eventually I helped to launch a start-up incubator and investment firm. Somewhere along the way I caught the travel bug and decided to put my degree to good use by working as a wine chemist at vineyards in Australia and New Zealand. And yes – it did involve some tasting! Eventually I came to realize that although this was a lot of fun, it didn’t quite satisfy my need for learning. This led to a move to NYC to pursue my PhD in Physical Chemistry with Andrzej Jarzecki (Quantum chemistry) in close collaboration with Richard Magliozzo (Biochemistry). My research focused on the use of computational methods to study the structural, spectroscopic and mechanistic properties of biological molecules.

Following my PhD, I knew I wanted to have a career that combined science, technology, and leadership while making an impact on the world. In 2016 I joined the global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where I currently lead Data Science Strategy for Pharmaceuticals R&D. GSK employs 100,000 people in over 150 countries, and has three global businesses that research, develop, and manufacture innovative pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and consumer healthcare products. In my role, I am focused on shaping and executing plans for our data science and machine learning strategy as well as enabling new data-driven capabilities for scientists across the R&D organization.

About My Work:  Maybe you’re wondering what data science is? Data science is the discipline of combining programming, machine learning, statistics and visualization to collect, process, model, and visualize data to create data products that address business questions. The term ‘data science’ has been around for many years and has been used in various contexts; however, in the past decade or so there’s been a significant increase in both the data generated and consumed by companies as well as advances in computing and technology to harness insights from that data. Data scientists can bring value to businesses in many ways – they empower leaders to make better decisions about the company’s portfolio; they improve decision making with quantifiable, data-driven evidence; and they can identify opportunities to improve processes. At GSK, data science can be used to improve decision making across the R&D pipeline. This will enable teams of scientists to discover and develop medicines for patients that are safe, effective, and treat the causes, not just the symptoms of disease.

What I like most about my job is the opportunity to really make a positive impact on someone’s life. It’s well known that developing medicine for patients is incredibly difficult. It’s slow, it’s very expensive, and as an industry we fail more often than we succeed. Data science and machine learning applied early in the drug discovery process can help improve decision making and ultimately lead to more high-quality drug targets, faster development, and better success rates. One of the areas where we are focusing is in genetics, and we’ve learned that if you have genetic evidence about a potential new medicine, it doubles the chances of that medicine becoming a new product in the future. Through strategic partnerships with companies like 23andMe, we now have exclusive access to human genetic data from over 5 million people. We’re using machine learning to analyze this vast amount of data to reveal insights that would otherwise be undetectable, with the goal of finding new medicines that can modulate the immune system.

You can read more about these initiatives here:

https://www.biospace.com/article/gsk-r-and-d-chief-hal-barron-lays-out-new-r-and-d-strategy-focused-on-genetics-and-immune-system/

https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/gsk-and-23andme-sign-agreement-to-leverage-genetic-insights-for-the-development-of-novel-medicines/

https://www.cio.co.uk/cio-interviews/gsk-cdo-mark-ramsey-explains-how-data-is-transforming-drug-discovery-3673555/

Advice About Entering the Field:  Data science and machine learning are transforming every industry, not just pharmaceuticals. Companies of all sizes and industries are looking to bring in data science talent and the demand continues to grow. As a career choice, it can offer you the opportunity to apply your domain expertise in chemistry in combination with the bleeding edge of technology to real life problems. If you’re interested in getting into this field, it’s important to master the foundations of math and statistics, programming (python or R), collaborate with others, and communicate your work effectively. Recognize that technology and techniques are constantly evolving and be prepared to never stop learning. I also recommend understanding the variety and distinctions between different roles and skillsets within the big data world, from data scientists and machine learning engineers to data curators, data engineers, or data translators. Finally, develop your network to include other data scientists, data analysts, subject matter experts and data leaders.