Find Your Passion…My Advice to Young Students| March 25, 2019
In the upcoming weeks, I will have the opportunity to speak to an eager group of young women at my daughter’s school. What do I tell these students with their entire future ahead of them? I want to motivate and inspire them. As a successful senior leader and mother of three, I will explain that they can wear many hats, and be successful across multiple arenas – both work and home. Finding your passion may take time, and that is okay. I discovered through my scientific studies and working in a STEM industry that my greatest passion is oncology drug development and bringing these treatments to patients.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved learning about science and medicine. As a child, I would visit my grandmother during her shift on the cardiac care unit. She loved patient care and research and taught me to do the same. As I got older, she would send me research papers or mention a study she had read and we would discuss the results and impact to patients. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that engagement, and her valuing my input, gave me a strong sense of self. My grandmother was a full-time working mother as part of a generation in which few women worked outside the home. She taught me it is okay to do something you love, even if that means you sacrifice time away from those you care about.
After graduating from Cornell University, I moved to New York City and worked with the oncology research team at Cornell Weill Hospital. It was there that I chose a career in oncology and never looked back. I remember visiting patient rooms to collect blood or bone marrow specimens and only being able to focus on the patient. At that time, exciting new treatments were emerging for patients living with cancer.
We were learning more about the significance of genetic translocations in various leukemias, such as the Philadelphia chromosome in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). We were also exploring exciting research with hematopoietic growth factors. At that stage of cancer treatment, patients often couldn’t complete their therapy because of chemotherapy-associated myelosuppression. Growth factors allowed patients to receive the therapies they so desperately needed. Witnessing this transformational research led me to continue exploring my passion for oncology in the pharmaceutical industry.
My industry experience was not traditional, to say the least, and this is what is most exciting to me. I moved from oncology clinical research to a role in new product planning that introduced me to the business side of drug development. Learning about early product commercialization was stimulating because it made me realize it wasn’t just about a product and its attributes - it was about how physicians and patients would benefit from a new product.
It was critical for our team to ensure the product offered unique and impactful benefits. I never lost sight of the patient as I entered roles in marketing and sales. I taught my teams to share that same passion. This same passion is critical at a company like Adaptimmune, where we are truly developing personalized patient therapy. Working at Adaptimmune has allowed me to continue working in oncology to bring cutting edge therapies to patients in need. I work for an inspirational female leader, Helen Tayton-Martin, and I am surrounded by other senior leaders, male and female, who share the same passion for developing our SPEAR T-cell therapies.
My advice to these young students will be simple in message, do what excites you – find a passion – and if you are lucky, that passion will help others.