The following interview with Pressley was edited for length and clarity.
What first sparked your love for chemistry?
My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Shirley Lassoff. She just had a very enthusiastic personality. She was chemistry, like the way she wrote her name on the board with subscripts. We actually reconnected a couple years back. It was pretty amazing to tell her that I was getting my Ph.D. in chemistry of all things.
Do any mishaps or failures stick out to you as formative experiences?
For a long time, I tried to do as much as I possibly could. That actually became a stumbling block for me because I was too busy. And then, I had a mentor tell me, “You can have 10 things that are 90% complete. But that just means that you haven’t finished anything.” I use that to this day, and as a result, I’ve gotten such clarity and focus in my life.
That makes sense coming from someone who balanced graduate school with a full-time forensic science job. What did you like about that job?
I tested samples submitted by law enforcement for the presence or absence of controlled substances. Testifying in court was definitely the highlight for me, because it brings it full circle. You get this case that comes to the lab, and you’re responsible for the testing and for submitting a report. Then you get to testify about your findings.
What was your first time testifying in court like?
It was a high-profile case. I just remember the courtroom being packed. There were cameras and everything. So I was very nervous, but I think I did a good job.
What do you work on now at Janssen Pharmaceuticals?
I develop methods to test biotherapeutics and then transfer those methods to quality-
control labs. Most of the medications that I’m working on are for cancer therapies. It’s very rewarding. The drugs that I get to test have the potential to literally change someone’s life for the better.