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Engineering New Frontiers
Woman engineers play a key role in the growing biotech-biomed-biopharm industry, as they evolve healing.
Innovations in the biotech, biomedical and biopharmaceutical industry are helping people live fuller, longer lives, and these sections of this overall industry are showing no signs of slowing down.
In fact, a report released by Grand View Research, Inc. in August 2017 showed that the global biotechnology market alone is expected to growth 7.4% percent by 2025, reaching a total value of $727.1 billion by 2025.
Both the growth and innovation will be driven, in part, by engineers. Here four female engineers working in various roles in these growth industries share their experiences, how they’re evolving healing and what makes their companies great places to work. They also provide advice for succeeding in this advancing industry.
Delport Delivers Supply Chain Value for Sonora Quest
Elissha Delport and her team work to ensure that her company’s customers get what they need on time, every time.
Delport is vice president of supply chain management at Phoenix, AZ-based Sonora Quest Laboratories, the nation’s largest integrated laboratory system with approximately 3,100 employees serving more than 23,000 patients daily throughout Arizona. Sonora Quest Labs is a joint venture between Banner Health and Quest Diagnostics, and performs more than 60 million diagnostic tests per year.
To put her work in perspective, Delport recently completed a complex negotiation with Roche to standardize Sonora Quest’s chemistry and immunoassay testing across all of its 34 sites. This standardization, she explains, improves operational efficiencies, lowers turnaround time and reduces cost.
Delport was drawn to chemical engineering by her love for and skill in math and science. After starting her engineering career in the petrochemical and semiconductor industries, she felt her skill set could provide value on the business side in supply chain and marketing, and pursued her MBA to determine which of those areas was a better fit.
“As it turned out, I really enjoyed applying the pragmatic problem-solving and analytics skills used in engineering to supply chain management,” she says.
After 13 years at Honeywell, Delport wanted to move to an industry that aligned with her personal passions and interests, specifically healthcare and pathology. Her search led her to Sonora Quest. She’s been with the company now for two years.
Having won Best Places to Work awards for many years, Delport believes what makes Sonora Quest a desirable workplace is its dedication to living the company’s values.
“Our teams know that we’re emotionally invested in their health, wellness and growth. Also our teams are passionate about how they each directly impact our mission of driving patient and client value across the continuum of care,” she says.
To find a rewarding workplace and career, Delport offers three pieces of advice.
First, go to the industry that moves on an emotional level: “Being able to live and breathe your passion every day you walk through the door is what will make you happy and successful.”
Second, figure out what type of work is your idea of fun; just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it, she notes.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, even if you find your dream job in your dream industry, it’s critical to find the company whose culture aligns with your values.
“There usually aren’t bad companies or teams…there are bad fits,” believes Delport. “Find the company and team that fit you.”
Once in the field, seek a trusted mentor, she further advises. “This mentor will be your advocate for opportunities in other functional areas, and provide guidance on how to build your value proposition,” says Delport.
“But mentors won’t come to you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to strong successful leaders in your areas of interest and ask if they will mentor you. You will likely be on their short list when they’re recruiting.”
Find your next career opportunity at sonoraquest.com/careers. Connect on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Fabián Ensures Abbvie’s Production Runs Smoothly
Elizabeth Fabián plays a key role in ensuring AbbVie’s life-saving pharmaceuticals are made well and made right.
As the company’s manufacturing and engineering program director, Fabián manages multimillion-dollar capital investment projects across several plants in the company’s network, including construction or build-out of new areas, purchase and installation of equipment, qualification and validation activities, and overall readiness for the plant.
“The projects focus on optimizing existing plants, expanding the capability of our plants in response to new products in our pipeline, as well as providing assurance of supply for our existing products,” she notes.
Recently, Fabián had the opportunity to manage a project installing a new packaging area in one of the company’s European plants. Requiring coordination across different functional groups, the project included relocating products to different lines, demolishing an area, building out the new line, and purchasing and installing new equipment.
“As a result, we now have a line that’s able to produce several key products for our company,” she says.
Fabián was drawn to engineering by her love of numbers, structure and logic, along with a desire to know how things were made. After graduating from college in Mexico - where she grew up - with a degree in industrial engineering, she was looking for a company of which she would feel proud to be part. She also sought one that had a great purpose.
She participated in the AbbVie’s professional development program, where new graduates rotate through the company for three years experiencing different roles and learning about the different areas, especially piqued her interest.
“I liked everything I saw so I applied for the program and, 17 years later, I’m still here!” enthuses Fabián.
Since North Chicago, IL-based AbbVie was created five years ago - when it became a separate company from Abbott - Fabián notes there’s been a heavy focus on patients, and decisions are made with patients in mind. This, she says, makes AbbVie a great place to work.
“I really love this perspective as it gives everyone a single purpose: serve our patients. When you watch one of the patient videos and see how our products make such an impact on them, it makes you feel so proud to work for AbbVie.”
She also appreciates working with smart, passionate people and how the company offers its employees opportunities to grow.
“There are different programs in place such as mentoring, networking events, and learning and developing weeks that give you the tools you need to progress in your career,” she says.
For success in the field, Fabián suggests gaining a variety of experience before coming into the field, or doing so within your first few years.
“The more you know about the business, the better you’ll be at making decisions as you’ll better understand the implications to the patient and the business.”
She also encourages young engineers to embrace opportunity. “Always be open to new experiences or those opportunities that require doing something completely out of your comfort zone, but will give you a chance to learn something new.”
Finally, don’t stress about your next role. “As long as it’s something that interests you and will challenge you, go for it,” encourages Fabián.
“You’ll learn something from every position you have, and the more diverse you are early on in your career, the better your long-term career path will be.”
Find available positions with AbbVie at abbvie.com/careers. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Northwell Health’s Straka Is on the ‘Final Frontier’ of Biotech
Malgorzata "Margo" Straka, Ph.D. works on the “final frontier” of biotech: the brain and neural engineering.
As an assistant investigator with the Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institute of Medical Research, a division of Northwell Health, Straka is one of just a few biomedical engineers working to restore fine dexterous movement among spinal cord injury patients.
“I always wanted to help people and was fascinated by the brain,” says Straka. “It’s really the final frontier, and we’re so far from knowing how everything is connected and works together. There’s so much room for discovery, all with the goal of helping people.”
Straka’s current project is a “neural garment,” which is worn on a paralyzed arm and enables an individual to contract and move their hand through electrical stimulation of that limb’s muscles. It connects to a chip in the person’s brain that can detect when and how they want to move their hand.
“And I love pushing the envelope in this field to help people, making a device to interface with people’s brains to help those with a spinal cord injury to move their hands,” she says.
As the research branch of Lake Success, NY-based Northwell Health, the Feinstein Institute doesn’t commercialize products, but does the foundational biology and engineering needed to make devices, which are then spun off to other companies.
“I love focusing on translational devices,” shares Straka, who’s also worked in academia and joined the institute about two years ago.
“I love this in-between stage. Here we work together as a team, and we get to do cutting-edge technology and creative engineering to yield a device….It’s such a supportive place and really encouraging. It’s this really niche area where we can have a big impact, and I personally can have a really big impact.”
With a demanding career following intense academic training, Straka knows well the challenge of finding balance, and offers a bit of practical advice she heard that was summed up in a podcast.
“She was talking about how life is about juggling a lot of different balls at once, your job, family, health. The most important thing is to identify the most important balls and focus on them, and for all, identify metrics,” explains Straka.
“What does it mean for me to be a good scientist? Good mentor? Good daughter? Have specificity, and let the other less important balls drop. We can’t drive ourselves crazy trying to juggle all the balls, but you don’t want to drop major balls. Remembering this helps you reframe when life gets demanding.”
Aside from setting priorities and finding balance, Straka notes it’s especially important for woman in STEM careers to build resiliency.
“We face a lot of challenges, and it’s important to find ways for us to help face those challenges. Build a good support network in work and outside of work,” she advises.
Find career and internship opportunities with Northwell Health at jobs.northwell.edu. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.
Paley Helps Takeda Optimize Its Products for Patients
Olga Paley, Ph.D. has brought her lifelong love of problem-solving to Takeda, where she works as a senior staff engineer. On the development side of R&D within Takeda’s biotherapeutic area, Paley oversees a small team of process engineers that’s developing and optimizing protein purification processes.
“Our group supports programs all the way from the very early stage out of discovery to process validation, which is one of the last steps for the process before commercial registration,” says Paley.
Over the past few years, Paley has led a cross-functional team responsible for validating a late-stage molecule at two contract manufacturing sites, which is now wrapping up with a successful result.
“It’s been a great experience to both learn from and be able to contribute to,” she notes.
While many of her cohorts opted for more traditional chemical engineering careers, Paley was attracted to biotech for its potential for growth.
“Relatively speaking, [biotech] is still new,” says Paley. “That makes it fresh and exciting, with a lot of opportunity to grow. It’s great to be part of that.”
With Takeda for three years, Paley came to the company after completing her doctoral degree, drawn by the comfort she felt when interviewing there.
“During the interview process, it had this quality where you felt like you fit,” says Paley. “I didn’t get a sense that there were predetermined limits of what I could do and contribute, but that there would be a lot of opportunity to make this role what I could make it.”
In addition to the excitement and motivation that comes from doing challenging work, Paley appreciates the people and work culture at Takeda, which has global headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, and U.S. headquarters in Deerfield, IL.
“We have great people here because we have a great culture, and we have great culture because we have really great people. I think that’s what makes Takeda special,” she says.
“Here we put patients first, and showcase trust, integrity and responsibility to the greater community.”
To be successful in the field, Paley recommends going beyond the expected coursework.
“Whenever I get resumes, one of first things I look at is not GPA. It’s not even coursework. It’s the practical, relevant experience you’ve gained, even if it’s not in the immediate field,” Paley reveals.
“If you can show you made an effort to go beyond the expected coursework to seek more knowledge and experience, whether that’s lab work, an internship or something not related directly like working in a pharmacy, be ready to tell that story of how it supports what you’re trying to do in your career. Go beyond what you learned in class.”
Particularly for woman engineers, learn to be resilient, she recommends. “Resilience is important. Learn how to be comfortable with discomfort,” Paley elaborates.
“There are going to be scenarios when you’re in a room of experts who know what they’re talking about and you don’t feel like you can contribute. Being temporarily in that place is okay; if you’re not, then maybe you’re not challenging yourself.”
Find available career opportunities with Takeda at takeda.us/careers. Connect on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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