How and When to Encourage Women to Pursue STEM Careers

Christina Bodurow also talks about the trait that has been instrumental to her career success
Women working in STEM
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Prior to your current position, you worked at Eli Lilly and Company. What sort of adjustments did you make in moving from a large company to an even larger one? 

Recently, my career transitioned in the pharmaceutical industry. For the vast majority of my career, I worked at Eli Lilly and Company, an innovator and “sponsor” company. Then in 2019, I moved to one of the largest global service provider companies, IQVIA, which is the merged Quintiles-IMS company, with over 55,000 employees around the world. The missions of the companies are similar, to drive healthcare forward, and bring medical innovation to patients.  So fortunately, there were not many adjustments needed.

What’s the one trait that has been most instrumental in your career success?

After many years in the workforce, one learns that career success is the continuous layering on of a multitude of learnings, experiences, failures, successes and even sheer luck.  

The trait that has helped me the very most through all of it was learning to be objective and balanced as much as possible. There are many facets to every problem, in research, in business, and in life.  As you face each challenge, calmly onboard information, and think through multiple options or scenarios. It’s amazing how much insight can be gained by not jumping to conclusions, rather striving to be objective and balanced.

What can the pharma industry do to make the workplace more welcoming and rewarding for women?

The pharmaceutical industry has undergone a significant change over the past 40 years as far as the environment for women. Many of my fellow sisters that joined the industry 30-40 years ago were faced with blatant discrimination and disregard.  In those days, there were strong stereotypes for what constituted a “successful” scientist in terms of work ethic, persona, work output, etc. 

As the pharma workforce diversified from a gender and ethnicity perspective, these stereotypes softened quite a bit (but didn’t completely disappear!)  Today and in the future, the pharma workplace needs to deal with the implicit and subconscious bias that still exists, and ensure equity and inclusion is provided, by way of career opportunities and career growth, to members of all diverse groups.

You have expressed support for increasing the numbers - and success - of women and underrepresented minorities in the physical sciences. What’s the optimal age at which to initially intervene to make progress in this area? And what does that intervention look like?

To be successful in the physical sciences, one needs an educational foundation that generally gets laid down between the ages of 12-21. It is much more difficult to be successful if you wake up one morning at age 25 or 26 and say “oh, I think I’d like to be a scientist now!” 

The foundation starts in the teen years with learning and exposure to math, science, engineering, and hands on experiences. That’s where the seeds are sown. But there is even a more important phase to retain women in the sciences and that is between the ages of 20-30. The post-bachelor years of doctoral training or the first years on-the-job are critical to ensuring women have the chance to make a life in chemistry. Too often, negative experiences in graduate education or first jobs push women out of the profession, and therefore steps to plug the leakage from the pipeline in that age cohort are critical.

Favorite memories from your time with the ACS Women Chemists Committee (WCC)? 

In 1989, I had the privilege of representing my company to the ACS WCC with the Eli Lilly and Company Travel Awards. These awards were intended to support young women scientists (undergrad, grad, post-doc) to travel to their first scientific conference to give a presentation or poster. The WCC totally owned the program from the very beginning, and they have stuck with it for 31 years. As a result of the amazing dedication and commitment of the WCC, there have been over 700 young women scientists who were able to present their first scientific work as a WCC-Eli Lilly Travel Awardees. 

What non-technical skills are most essential for early career industry chemists?

While one might expect a standard answer like “communication” or “leadership”, I believe that the most important skill for an early career chemist is something very different. It has to do with making a successful transition from the academic environment to the industry environment.  

It goes without saying that working in industry revolves around successfully contributing to the company’s goals. The skill is to quickly discern and orient yourself to the goals and priorities of the project or team to which you have been assigned. This consists of 1) understanding the goals of your project, 2) understanding why that project and those goals are important to the company, and 3) getting aligned with a boss, coworker or coach to ensure you stay on track and deliver to the goals. This may sound obvious, but for someone coming out of a 5-10 year stretch of academic training, this is a critical adjustment for success.

What advice do you have for mid-career industry chemists who want to maximize their value to their employers? 

By the time one arrives mid-career in industry, companies are expecting a depth and breadth of knowledge about the company priorities that lead to major strategic, innovative and transformative contributions. Industry chemists will have been working more independently, leading projects or programs. Companies are expecting these employees to be able to continue a high level of “today’s” delivery, while being able to “look over the horizon” and lead the company into future innovations and success.

How did your parents influence your leadership style?

My father was an immigrant to the United States after WWII, and my mother was first-generation. They both had incredible, high work ethics, and a strong commitment to family, country, and education. 

My father rose through the ranks of the Ford Motor Company, and in 37 years he went from sweeping floors to running one of the largest car plants that Ford had. He taught his children about the importance of having goals, working hard, and most importantly, taking care of the people for whom you are responsible. As hard a driver as he was, he was always talking with people about how to advance themselves or their careers. When he retired, 3,000 people showed up for the party. That was the kind of leader he was.

For those of us not in the pharma industry, just how difficult is the challenge of developing and manufacturing a vaccine - in one year - to protect humanity against COVID-19?   

One cannot understate the enormity of the task to bring a vaccine to the commercial market place in one year. Traditional vaccine (or medicine) development is normally a linear, sequentially-organized 6-10 year activity. In order to accomplish it in one year, the development process needs to be revolutionized to a massive parallel processing of activities, with significant investment decisions being made at risk. 

There are critical clinical testing questions that need to be answered regarding the safety, efficacy, and sustainability of the vaccine’s effect. Normally these attributes are established through multi-year trials. Many companies are now working on the assumption that they will find these answers in a very short period of time. These are just some of the strategies and risks that make this a very challenging undertaking for the vaccine developers of the world.

On which one of the following would you like to see undergraduate chemistry programs focus more attention: Sustainability? Safety? Communicating one’s science? Careers in industry? Something else?

Undergraduate chemistry programs have the important purpose of turning out knowledgeable, well-trained, self-sufficient scientists, who over four years have gained a strong enough grasp of chemistry that they are able to head to a graduate program or a first job in industry or government and be successful. The most important areas are a series of chemistry courses and labs of increasing advanced content, communicating in science (writing, speaking), and appropriate knowledge of practices to keep oneself (and those around you) safe in the lab.

For over 15 years, you have actively supported the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. How did you come to have an interest in that organization?

I was fortunate enough to begin playing the piano when I was seven years old, and that began my life in music. During my teenage years, I went to summer music camps and played in many competitions. I continued playing recitals during undergrad and graduate school, and when I came to Indianapolis, the first thing I did was buy a second-hand upright piano (all I could afford!) and tickets to the Symphony. In 2004, I was asked to join the Board, and have been a member ever since.

 While pursuing your undergraduate degree at Kalamazoo College, you were a member of the varsity swimming team and the varsity tennis team. Which of the two sports stuck with you the longest after you left school? 

I really loved both these sports. I played tennis all through graduate school and joined an Indianapolis city tennis league when I moved here, and played for about 10 years. I had always been a runner, and following the tennis stint, a girlfriend and I started doing triathlons. We competed together for about 15 years, so I did a LOT of swimming over those years. Right now, between work, family and community responsibilities, I just do those occasionally for fun.

You earned your undergraduate degree at Kalamazoo College, and your PhD from Princeton, both of whom prominently feature the color orange in their logos. Coincidence? Or do you have an affinity for orange?

You are not going to believe this, but my high school colors were orange and black, and my junior high colors were orange and white. Just one of life’s very weird coincidences! 

Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, AViDD, Stanford University School of Medicine
Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, AViDD, Stanford University School of Medicine

Chris has a proven record of accomplishment delivering results to pharmaceutical and scientific organizations, including 33 years of management experience at Eli Lilly and Company, within Lilly Research Laboratories (LRL), 3.5 years in a global leadership role at IQVIA, and now as Deputy Director and COO of a significant NIH/NIAID research grant at Stanford University Medical School.

Over the years, Chris has served as a leader of multiple global teams in drug development and R&D Operations, representing her organizations in multiple external settings, including scientific, academic, drug development and R&D Operations forums.

In, December 2017, Chris retired from Lilly as Sr. Director, External Sourcing, leading an enterprise-wide R&D operations group that partnered with LRL functions to assess, on-board, and govern third party organizations across the entire drug development value chain, from pre-clinical, through clinical, regulatory, safety, health outcomes, product and device development, and diagnostics. The division consolidated both corporate and external requirements to deliver high-quality, risk-based, third party governance, oversight and alliance management for the LRL Development organization.

In February 2019, Chris joined IQVIA as the Vice-President of Strategy & Operations for DSSR, and subsequently moved in the role of Vice-President, Global Regulatory Affairs.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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