How to get started in life sciences – tips from six top women biotech leaders

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The life sciences industry might seem like an attractive sector for women to start their career and find a job. But just how should women get started in the sector? We asked six top professionals in the field for their advice.

We asked Charli Batley, COO, Phoremost; Tamsin Mansley, president, Optibrium Inc. and global head of application science, Optibrium; Fiona McLaughlin, CSO, Avacta Therapeutics; Debora Lucarelli, CEO, Enhanc3D Genomics; Sheelagh Frame, CSO, Ubiquigent and Maureen Coleman, chairman, CN Bio for their comments.

Tamsin Mansley, president, Optibrium Inc

Choose a field that you’re passionate about. I chose life sciences because I wanted to have a positive impact on global health. However, when I started out, I never imagined myself in a leadership role at a software company. I started my career in experimental medicinal chemistry in pharma but eventually found my niche at the interface between computers and chemistry.

Every position you accept should teach you new skills or expand your expertise into a different direction. The experiences I have gathered along the way have all led up to my current role at Optibrium. So, have courage, take the next step, and see where your career leads you.

Debora Lucarelli, CEO, Enhanc3D Genomics

Pursue training and work-experience opportunities in different labs, speak to your teachers/professors, join a network/forum to discuss ideas and challenges, try different environments (for instance academic and industry). All of this will help you to understand what you enjoy, have a passion for and what drives you.

Science skills are for life and you will learn to learn.

Sheelagh Frame, CSO, Ubiquigent

Go for it!

There couldn’t be a better time to enter a career in the life science industry. There are so many inspiring women in STEM, including scientists, entrepreneurs and of course, CSOs, but there is always room for more. The life science industry is a very rewarding space to work in – every day we see advances in drug discovery as we work towards targeting diseases with unmet clinical need.

Women are excelling every day at founding and running biotech companies, blazing academic trails and making their voices and contributions heard, so why not join us?

Maureen Coleman, chairman, CN Bio

Life science is such a wide field encompassing many different disciplines and approaches. After a basic scientific training – which stands you in good stead in any future – the world is your oyster – from advanced detailed research and development, manufacturing, to commercial, communications and broader disciplines.

Our sector involves many people, and we need creatives, entrepreneurs, those who attend to detail, good communicators, introverts and extroverts- but most of all, we need people with enthusiasm and curiosity for what they do. There is always something new to learn or discover. If you like something, give it a try, and if your first shot is not for you, try another aspect.

Persevere and enjoy.

Fiona McLaughlin, CSO, Avacta Therapeutics

Lead by example, be role models. Role models, of any gender, are powerful. I found a strong connection with biological sciences at a young age and knew that this was the career path for me — and it was my biology teacher who really nurtured and inspired my passion for science.

Never think “I can’t do that,” just show that you can!

Charli Batley, COO, Phoremost

I was 34 when I realized what I wanted to do so my main piece of advice would be that it’s never too late to make the switch. The industry is much more than just laboratory-based roles – there are a wealth of opportunities in operations/project management, etc.

Also don’t underestimate the power of your network – reach out to your contacts. We are always happy to have a coffee and a chat!

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