Denise Walters | Chemist Profiles
A chance encounter at the grocery store launched Denise Walters' chemistry career. She was working at her job as a grocery store cashier shortly after finishing her undergraduate degree in chemistry, when the wife of the head of the organic synthesis department at A.H. Robbins came through the checkout line. As Walters was ringing up her groceries, the woman told her that there was an opening for a summer position at her husband's company. Walters applied for the job, and was hired that day.
Walters was planning to attend graduate school, so after the summer ended, she began her graduate studies in pharmacy, with a focus on bioanalysis, a new specialization at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received her Ph.D. in 1991.
"It was my dream to work for a large company," she says. A.H. Robbins had been bought out by the time she got her degree, so she went to work for Whitby Research, a smaller company in Richmond, VA, doing pharmacokinetics and analytical development work. After a layoff, she moved to Columbus, OH, where she was a Principal Research Scientist at the Battelle Memorial Institute. Five years later, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare was hiring in their Richmond location, and Walters returned to Virginia, where she has had technical leadership positions in various analytical development groups. Pfizer bought Wyeth Consumer Healthcare in 2009.
Today, Walters is Senior Manager for the Global R&D Operations Analytical Team at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. She is responsible for an eleven-member team that performs analytical method development, validation, transfer, and stability testing for dietary supplements. She also serves on a female leadership committee at Pfizer and she co-chairs her site's wildlife habitat committee. She is especially proud of the wildlife habitat, a program that Pfizer started on their small urban campus in Richmond in 2004. Plantings on the campus attract birds and insects, and wild turkeys and deer have been sighted. The committee also organizes an annual Earth Day program.
What's a typical day on the job like?
A typical day includes anywhere from 3 to 5 meetings. Some meetings are on-site only, some are web-ex/teleconferences with other U.S. and/or international sites. I spend most days reviewing data, discussing analytical problems, providing technical guidance and managing resources. I am also involved with writing and/or reviewing documents.
Typically, how many days each month do you spend away from your workplace on travel?
I don't travel every month — it varies a lot. Typically, I attend regional ACS and national AAPS (American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists) meetings. Sometimes, I travel to our corporate headquarters, and when required, to our manufacturing sites.
Are there any apps/software/instrumentation/tools that you can't live without?
We use mainly HPLC/UPLC with a variety of detectors, including UV, PDA, fluorescence, ELSD (evaporative light scattering detector), and mass spectrometry.
All documentation is electronic. We use electronic laboratory notebooks, GDMS (Global Document Management System) for documents, and QTS (Quality Tracking System) for investigations.
What type of equipment is in your workspace?
I have both an office and cubicle in the lab. I have a laptop computer that I can use to access many pieces of equipment and all of our data systems.
Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?
I work about 50 hours a week. The environment is very fast-paced. Since I work on dietary supplements, we can produce new products much faster than some prescription drugs. We have aggressive plans with large numbers of projects and short timelines.
What do you like most about your job and why?
I like participating in the development process and enjoy working with intelligent, enthusiastic, and productive people. At the end of the day, I am excited to see a product we developed on the market. Since I am a strong believer in supplements and nutritional health, I feel that I am making a difference in the quality of life for people around the world.
What is your best productivity trick?
I plan my time and stay focused. I use a planner and typically plan my days and weeks. When new things come up, I can shift priorities, but still make sure to stay focused on completing the task in the allotted time. I also keep detailed notes and minutes to make sure that I understand and follow up on commitments.
What's the best career advice you've received?
Authority is taken, not given. Look at the situation and do your best. If no direction is given, take the initiative and solve the problem. If you are successful, it is recognized. If not, you are usually told that you exceeded the boundaries and now you have learned where they are.
What personal talent or trait makes you a great fit for your job?
Perseverance. I have been with the company for 15 years and have continued to work hard, learn new techniques, develop new skills, and take on challenges. I approach each situation with a can-do spirit, which helps me reach my goals. In addition, I was part of a Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Leadership Development program in 2012. This program helped me build the skills and confidence that I needed to take on a management position.
What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?
Bravery. In the last year, I have been more willing to try new things and take on new challenges. I think that I would have gone farther in my career if I had taken this approach earlier.
What is your favorite ACS resource?
ACS local section activities. My local section has helped me to stay in touch with former instructors, network with other scientists in the community, and learn what other scientist are doing in other chemistry-related fields.
How have you benefited from being an ACS member?
Through my ACS membership, I have maintained a connection to a network of chemists, which has been helpful in problem solving and keeping me intellectually stimulated. In addition, ACS has provided me opportunities to speak to groups and organize activities. This year, the ACS is providing me a chance to further develop my leadership skills as a member of my local section's executive committee — my boss is the chair-elect of my local ACS section, and he encouraged me to become his vice chair.
I plan my time and stay focused. I use a planner and typically plan my days and weeks."