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.

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Bonus Link: GlaxoSmithKline International Women’s Day Videos

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2019), healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline asked three of its scientists — including CUNY alumna and contributor to this blog, Bonnie Kruft — to talk about their experiences.  Find out what Jamila, Karen, and Bonnie have to say!

 

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.

 

 

Monica Carreira, Scientific Editor

Name:  Monica Carreira

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Occupation:  Scientific Editor

About Me:  I am a Chemistry graduate from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). I later obtained my PhD from the University of Bristol (UK) in Inorganic Chemistry and Homogeneous Catalysis, where I worked on a project for Shell Global Solutions. My PhD research was therefore very industry oriented, working on developing new ligands for a hydroformylation process. After graduation, I moved to the United States as a Research Associate in the group of Prof. Maria Contel in Brooklyn College (The City University of New York) to work on coordination and organometallic anticancer compounds. The chemistry was very similar in terms of the synthesis and characterization techniques, although the final application of the compounds was completely different! As such, I developed new skills related to experiments with DNA and proteins.

In 2013, I moved back to Europe and joined the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) as a Publishing Editor where, for more than two years, I carried out the assessment of articles and production tasks for their journal portfolio. My tasks in this position involved supporting the publication process of articles from submission to printing. In 2015, and after living abroad for almost 10 years, I decided to move back to Spain, where I currently work as a freelance Scientific Editor.

About My Work:  My career as an editor began at the Royal Society of Chemistry, a not-for-profit organization aiming at advancing the Chemical Sciences in Industry and Academia, as well as by influencing policy makers. A huge part of their activities is supported by the Publishing Department, which publishes chemistry-related books and over 40 specialized journals. As a Publishing Editor in the Journal Department, I would assess the suitability of articles submitted for publication, but also establish and maintain good relationships with the scientific community. I even participated in the organization of a conference, which I also attended in representation of the RSC. Some of the responsibilities involved production tasks, including editing and proofreading the manuscripts accepted for publication or commissioning covers for the journals. I was also involved with the ethical aspects of Publishing, making sure all articles followed the standard guidelines (copyrights, plagiarism, retractions, etc.) and mediating author disputes.

When I moved back to Spain, I changed from working in an office with the typical 9-to-5 schedule to working as a freelancer from home. I still maintain a working relationship with the RSC, where I copy-edit books on highly specialized topics for the Books Department. In addition, I work for a number of editing companies around the world (Brazil, India, USA), as well as with some Spain-based clients. The science community is an international one, and I am glad that I have been able to maintain this aspect in my current job but from the commodity of my home! Research in regions such as China or India is developing very fast, and their scientific production is increasing at a speedy rate. Unfortunately, these authors still have trouble presenting their work and getting published in international journals, hence they seek the services of editing companies. In this regard, this is a growing business with great potential for many years to come.

My scientific background is definitely crucial to do my job. Communicating science requires clarity and accuracy, thus understanding the scientific method is fundamental. I also advise authors on how to make the most of their research and present it in the most efficient and appealing way. Although I started working exclusively in chemistry-related documents, I am now able to assist authors in many different fields (I now routinely edit about chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, biochemistry, or medicine). The type of documents I work on also covers a wide range: articles, books, press releases, proposals, etc.

As an editor, I remain informed on the latest advances and state-of-the-art technologies, while making sure that these are communicated in the most effective way. On the downside, I guess the job can get a bit tedious, which is why I try to mix different projects in different fields to keep it interesting.

Advice About Entering the Field:  You definitely need to be passionate about science. This job covers many different research areas, so having curiosity for the natural world definitely helps. Also, you need to love reading, as you will spend a lot of time doing so! Another skill very valuable is attention to detail, as sometimes you will be the last person seeing something before it goes online/is printed. Finally, you need the necessary skills to establish good relationships with the scientific community.

Overall, I would recommend a job in Scientific Publishing to someone who maybe is not that keen on lab work anymore, but who will always be a scientist at heart. As you can see, you can choose to either work for a Publisher in an office, or work from home as a freelancer. Also someone looking for the flexibility freelancing offers; not many jobs as a chemist would allow you to work full/part-time with the freedom to adjust your schedule on demand.

 

 

 

Antonio Sanchez, Senior Chemist

Name: Antonio Sanchez

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Occupation: Senior Chemist

About Me:  I was born and raised in the city of Zaragoza in Spain. Since my childhood I had a strong interest in science and, in particular, in chemistry. I obtained my bachelors/Masters degree in Chemistry in the University of Zaragoza and, later on, decided to continue studying in a Ph.D. program at the same university. I finally graduated in the year 2010 as a Doctor in Organometallic Chemistry (specialized in catalysis).

Soon after, I moved to the United States to continue my education at Brooklyn College working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Chemistry under the supervision of Prof. Roberto Sanchez-Delgado. During that time, I had the chance to complete my expertise in catalysis while working for a project with the aim of developing cleaner fuels via catalytic reactions. Even though I liked working in Academia, there were several aspects of industry that I found very attractive, such as working closer to the practical applications of Chemistry rather than publishing articles. Therefore, I decided to go to the private sector in the year 2012.

About My Work:  I am currently working for a multinational company in the field of chemicals for semiconductor applications (like microchip fabrication). My work involves understanding chemistry and physics of the materials we develop and requires a strong background in science. I would not be able to do my job if I had not obtained a Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

The best thing about my job is that it offers the opportunity of overcome interesting challenges that are directly connected to the applied science. It is really exciting seeing how much impact you can make in industry if you think out of the box and propose new ideas.

A typical day at work is usually a combination of working in the lab (yes, Senior Chemists in the industry still do bench chemistry) and working in the office, attending meetings, conference calls… We are a big international company so we have to coordinate people in America, Asia and Europe sometimes at the same time.  So we often have conference calls at crazy hours due to the time zones.

The worst thing about working in industry compared to academia is that deadlines are in general much tighter and sometimes you will be in quite stressful situations.

Advice About Entering the Field:  In first place, working as a chemist implies being a person with curiosity and a logical mind. In terms of preparation, I strongly recommend going to graduate school (Ph.D. or, at least, a Master’s Degree) because the investment in time and effort definitely pays off.

In general, perseverance is a very important trait for a chemist and a person who easily gets frustrated is not suitable for this type of career. In research, there are more instances when things do not work than when they do. Therefore one has to be resilient enough to accept negative results and keep on trying. But when good results come, the satisfaction of the accomplishment pays it off by far.

Shaun MacMahon, Branch Chief, Chemical Contaminants Branch, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Name: Shaun MacMahon

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Occupation: Branch Chief, Chemical Contaminants Branch, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

About Me:  Until I moved to Maryland for my job, I lived in New York my whole life. I grew up on Long Island before moving to New York City to attend New York University, where I received my Bachelor’s (in Chemistry) and Ph.D. (in Organic Chemistry). Starting as a volunteer in my junior year of college through completing my Ph.D., I worked in Professor David Schuster’s laboratory.

Professor Schuster was a great mentor, and he prepared me very well for my career. He trusted me to operate complex and expensive scientific equipment on my own, and that was a huge help when I was interviewing for jobs. Most companies thinking about hiring you will want to know what equipment you’ve operated or what lab techniques you know, and being at a University is a great place to get that experience. I was able to present my research at conferences, which helps you get over any fear of public speaking and helps you learn how to answer tough questions.

After I finished my Ph.D., I started working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory in Jamaica, NY. After a few years of just working, I missed being at a college, so I started teaching Organic Chemistry at Brooklyn College in the evenings. I did that for two years, and I would have done it for longer, but that was when I moved to Maryland to start my current job.

About My Work:  I work in the Chemical Contaminants Branch in the Office of Regulatory Science in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, MD, which is a few miles north of Washington, DC.  Most people in the Branch are working in the lab on methods to test for allergens, toxic elements, and nutritional elements in food. To complete their work, they use everything from really complex scientific instrumentation like mass spectrometers to simple, handheld color changing tests.

When I started at FDA, I also worked in the lab developing methods for contaminants in food. But now, I’m the supervisor for a Branch, so I don’t spend much time in the lab anymore. My job is to help everyone in the Branch complete their lab work solving all the most important food safety issues. I have to make sure they have everything they need to complete those projects. I also review all of their articles and presentations, making sure everything in them is clear and correct. I go to a lot of meetings with people inside and outside the FDA to learn more about food safety issues that I can share with the Branch.

The best thing about my job is applying everything I learned in school to an important issue like ensuring that food in the United States is safe. I particularly like when I get to use Organic Chemistry to solve an important problem at work! It’s much easier to work hard when you like what your job and you feel like you’re doing something good for people. I enjoy getting to work with a lot of very talented scientists. The most difficult part is that sometimes there’s just so much to do that I end up working even after I go home at night or while I’m supposed to be on vacation.

Advice About Entering the Field:  When I was finishing school, I thought the choices for a chemist were to either work in the pharmaceutical industry or to work at a University. Working in government was not something I knew was even an option, but there are many paths available to people with a chemistry degree. Lots of businesses want to hire people with chemistry knowledge who can think critically.

I think the first preparation you need is to learn the fundamentals of chemistry in classes. Then try and identify which parts of the course work you enjoy most and apply them by getting hands-on experience in those areas. Take upper level classes that can teach you more, volunteer in the lab of a Professor whose work interests you, get an internship. That kind of specialized experience is extremely valuable, both in figuring out what you like to do and developing the background you need to find a position you’ll enjoy once you graduate.

Chemistry rewards people who really like to dig deeply into a subject; that’s why it’s so important to identify an area you enjoy working in and want to learn more about. It’s also a good fit for a curious person who wants to continue learning throughout their life. Scientific knowledge is always expanding and changing, sometimes rapidly. New techniques are developed, new theories are proven true, or old theories are proven false. As a result, whatever you’re doing as a chemist today probably won’t be what you do for your whole career, or even a few years down the line!