Recap: Celebrating Women’s History Month

By Dr. Karen Ring, Big3Bio Events Correspondent

The San Francisco Women in Bio (WIB) chapter celebrated Women’s History Month with an event titled “Finding the Path to Your Own Career History”. The first half of the event was hosted at UCSF’s mission bay campus and featured three panels that discussed various operational roles and alternative careers in the life sciences as well as how to pick the right work environment. The panels featured prominent women in science who discussed their pathways to success and gave advice to aspiring women on creating successful histories of their own.

The first panel titled “Making It All Work: Operational Roles in the Life Sciences” was moderated by Gail Maderis, President & CEO of BayBio, and featured Christine Haller, Senior Group Medical Director at Biomarin, Melina Cimler, VP of Global Quality at Illumina, Heidi Hoffmann, Senior Director of Manufacturing at Sutro Biopharma, and Karen Gutenkunst, VP of Diagnostic Development at Illumina.

The panelists discussed different operational roles in quality control, regulatory affairs, and manufacturing, and emphasized that many entry-level positions for PhDs and postdocs are available. Panelists also gave advice on how to transition from academia into industry and stressed that before interviewing, women should think about how to answer questions like “Why should I hire you for this job?” and “How are you qualified for this position?”

WIB-SF March Celebration
“Making it All Work: Operational Roles in the Life Sciences” Panel featuring Christine Haller, Melina Cimler, Heidi Hoffmann, and Karen Gutekunst. Moderated by Gail Maderis. Photograph courtesy of FangFang Yin.

The second panel titled “Off the Bench: Alternative Careers for Life Scientists” took an in depth look at life science careers away from the bench. The panel was moderated Toby Freedman, President of Synapsis Search, and featured Sue Siegel, CEO of healthymagination, Nancy Burns, Senior Director of Global Product Strategy Oncology at Nektar, and Antoinette Konski, Partner at Foley & Lardner.

Alternative careers discussed included patent law, marketing, sales, consulting, business development, and venture capital. The panelists also described their career path and were very open and admitted that their success could be attributed to a combination of luck and determination. Their take home messages included: “You only have one reputation”, “Never burn a bridge”, “Take risks”, and lastly, “Believe in yourself”.

The final panel of the afternoon titled “Workplace cultures and Environments: Which is right for you?” was moderated by Amy Gelfand, MD and Assistant Professor at the UCSF Departments of Neurology and Pediatrics, and featured Lorry Weaver Huffman, Senior Director at Myraqa Inc., Mhel Kavanaugh-Lynch, Director of the California Breast Cancer Research Program, and Laura Brege, President and CEO of Nodality Inc. The panelists emphasized the important of loving the work that you do and your work environment. They also pointed out the importance of mentorship and how that can make or break a successful career.

“Off the Bench: Alternative Careers for Life Scientist” Panel featuring Sue Siegel, Antoinette Konski, and Nancy Burns. Photograph courtesy of FangFang Yin.

The second half of the event involved a networking happy hour and dinner hosted at Dog Patch Wine Works in San Francisco. The keynote speaker was Dr. Karen Antman, an internationally renowned cancer researcher. Dr. Antman is dean of the Boston University School of Medicine and provost at the Boston University Medical Campus.

During dinner, Dr. Antman highlighted published studies concerning the success and perception of women in science.  She pointed out the disparity between men and women with regards to salary, getting jobs, receiving credit for success, and holding high-level positions. She also noted in particular that because of current gender assumptions, women are cheated out of success.

Dr. Antman said the solution to this problem is that women need to support each other and claim their own success by taking credit for their accomplishments. Additionally, she stressed that perception of women in science needs to change and that more women should be on advisory boards and in top-level positions.

Women In Bio is an organization of professionals committed to promoting careers, leadership and entrepreneurship for women in the life sciences. Check out the WIB website for future events!