Interview with Dr. Abou Gharbia, Sr. VP at Wyeth – Part 2

October 8, 2008

Advancing your Career in Pharma:  Part II

This is a continuation of our discussion with Dr. Abou Gharbia, a recent guest speaker of the ACS Careers Industry Forum.  For a full bio please go to our blog.

Part I provided an overview of Pharma R&D operations and entry-level opportunities at Wyeth.  We will continue talking about key ingredients to advancing your career in pharma.

After a few years, some chemists may want to consider a career change, moving off the bench gaining experience in other functions and moving into management.  Dr. Abou Gharbia pointed out that there are many opportunities in other parts of the company for chemists to explore.  After 5-6 years, employees that become familiar with the business, could be considered for work in other parts of the organization.

“Some of these functions may depend on their writing skills.  If you have strong writing skills you may consider becoming a clinical writer, or [if you have strong] coordinating [and] multitasking [skills consider a role in] project management, or [you may enjoy working in] regulatory affairs.”

Management positions such as director, senior director, and even vice president are available as per departmental needs; however, organizations generally promote from within for these high-level positions.

“… advancement will depend on you: your performance, the quality of work you’re doing, inventive contributions, communication skills, interpersonal skills, which are really important.  You could be a rocket scientist, but nobody [will] want to work with you [in the absence of key interpersonal skills.]”

Dr. Abou Gharbia mentioned that in the beginning of his career as bench chemist, he worked without any technical assistance.  His rise through the ranks took time and effort.  It also took passion.  Dr. Abou Gharbia believes that the reason he excelled in his job, is that he really loves doing chemistry with a purpose.  He goes on to say that he really believes that everyone can excel in their job.if they worked hard on the tasks at hand.

He also points out that some time your most creative chemists are not necessarily your best team players and we need to create the right environment to bring the best out of every one. Transitioning from the lab into management requires you to interact with multiple individuals in various departments.

“interpersonal skills are really important, and to manage and move the program forward [requires] working with not just your chemists, but also biologists, patent attorneys, and multiple organizations within the company.  So it’s important for individuals who wanted to progress into the management ladder [to be able to contribute to working in a multidisciplinary team.]”

When asked about globalization, Dr. Abou Gharbia stressed the opportunities for chemists in the US and abroad.  He cited his experience with outsourcing 150 chemists in India, but stated that this outsourcing initiative did not result in any job losses in US operations—only expanded capacity.  The expansion of operations into India also resulted in opportunities for US chemists to work in India through a rotation program.  These interactions broke down cultural barriers between operational sites and allowed for efficient IP transfer.

To listen to the complete conversation with Dr. Abou Gharbia or to read the interview transcript from the interview, please the ACS Careers Industry Forum page.

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A Far Cry from CSI

August 25, 2008

Forensic scientists love to laugh at the pseudoscientific methods used on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. A favorite target is the scene in which a “scientist” used a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer to analyze DNA. Yet there’s one aspect of a forensic scientist’s life that the actors get dead right—their passion for work.

 “Every once in a while, you see your work making a difference,” says Jason Schaff, a chemist at the FBI lab in Quantico, VA. “That’s really very rewarding.”

 

Schaff tells of a case he investigated not long after joining the FBI in 1999. A U.S. attorney had asked the bureau to dig into an arsenic poisoning. Police knew the victim’s neighbor had a motive, but they couldn’t figure out where he might have gotten the poison. Schaff spent two weeks digging up sources of arsenic and in the process discovered that the victim had accidentally poisoned himself. The man had been working on wood treated with copper chromium arsenate, a preservative. Arsenic was in the sawdust he inhaled. “Because you do your job right,” Schaff says, “someone who’s innocent didn’t get charged with a crime.”

 

Forensic-science supervisor Susan Gross of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension discusses that same sense of satisfaction, this time in helping send a killer to prison. The killer’s wife’s body had been found in a shallow grave two months after she disappeared. Gross scrutinized the skeleton but found no sign of trauma. When she turned her attention toward the victim’s clothes, she found two small holes made with a sharp object. She realized stab wounds at those points could have killed the woman without touching any bones. Confronted with Gross’s evidence, the victim’s husband confessed.

 

For anyone who shares this passion for using science in the search for truth, opportunities abound. U.S. News & World Report in 2005 counted forensic scientist among the hottest jobs. The American Academic of Forensic Sciences’ website typically lists close to 100 job openings ranging from forensic evidence technician to forensic analytical chemistry professor. Forensic chemists at major labs often specialize either in toxicology—identifying drugs used in crimes—or trace evidence analysis—examining paint, soil particles, hair, gunshot residue, and the like.

 

Anyone considering a career in forensic chemistry should focus on chemistry, which happens to be the undergraduate degree most common among forensic chemists. Surprisingly, many crime-lab investigators see no value in bachelor’s degrees in forensic chemistry. Such programs may emphasize criminal sociology at the expense of science.

 

“Go to the best university you can afford and get a chemistry degree,” advises Walter Rowe, a forensic-sciences professor at George Washington University. “Then get on-the-job training or a master’s in forensic science.”

Another benefit of an undergraduate degree in chemistry is that it can lead to a variety of jobs. “Chances are, you won’t get a [forensics] job right out of college,” says forensic-science supervisor Susan Gross of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Gross says that she worked in an environmental lab and a health department for more than three years before landing a job at the Minnesota forensic-science lab.

Gross urges aspiring forensic scientists to seek out crime-lab internships. “You get to know people and get your foot in the door,” she says.

A rare quality without which no forensic scientist would last is the ability to face the darkest side of humanity, and then go home and sleep at night. Some who go into the field find that they can’t, and they burn out in a couple years. “You’re dealing with an aspect of society that’s not always pleasant,” says Max Houck, director of the Forensic Science Initiative at West Virginia University. “You have to desensitize.”

 This article was written by Cynthia Washam, a Florida-based freelance writer who shares the forensic scientists’ passion for their careers, but is thankful hers doesn’t involve corpses.

Please Join Us for the:  ACS Careers Industry Forum

Monthly Teleconferences featuring Luminaries in the Chemical Sciences.

We are working hard to keep you up to date on cutting edge industrial issues affecting your current and future employment needs.  Make informed decisions about your career and take control of your career path.

Please join us on September 11th from 2 to 3pm EST to discuss economic and employment trends with top industry executives in the chemical sciences.  The Industry Forum will take place the 2nd Thursday of each month. 

     

    

   

  

 

Guest Speaker:   Our first industry speaker will be the prestigious Dr. Abou-Gharbia, Senior Vice President & Head of Chemical & Screening Sciences, for Wyeth Drug Discovery and Development.  In this position, he has built a strong multi-disciplinary Chemical & Screening Sciences (CSS) organization.  During his tenure he has fostered a highly creative environment based on modern drug discovery technologies and enhanced chemistry skills and capabilities via the recruitment of high caliber scientists. In his current role he oversees Wyeth’s Chemistry and Screening.

 

 

 

 

Go to register now.  This is a free service via conference call. 

 

 

 

 


Wanted in Europe: U.S.-Trained Chemists

June 2, 2008

Face it, for many Americans, globalization is a four letter word, and while the U.S. research enterprise has largely been immune to the adverse impacts of globalization, there are growing concerns that science jobs may soon follow the path of information technology jobs.

I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. As in, join the flow of jobs overseas and grab one for yourself, especially if you’re at all interested in a biotech job.

European biotechnology companies are actively recruiting U.S. Ph.Ds to join what has become a fast-growing industry. Although the United States is still the unquestioned world leader in biotechnology, the past decade or so has seen Europe develop a nascent biotechnology industry.

However, the one thing that almost everyone involved in European biotech agrees is restraining the continent’s growth is a serious shortage entrepreneurially-minded scientists – and they see the U.S. as providing the solution to that problem.

Wolfgang Renner, chief executive officer and founder of the Zurich-based biotech firm, Cytos, told me that entrepreneurism seems to be ingrained in the minds of our American counterparts in a way that’s missing from students trained in Europe.

“Some people, like myself, go to the States for graduate school or do a postdoc in large part to get exposed to that culture, but we need to have more American-trained Ph.D.s here. It’s essential,” Renner said.

European industry leaders and governments alike have recognized the dearth of entrepreneurs and they are starting to take action to promote the development of home-grown talent. For example, universities across the continent are following America’s lead by setting up offices to foster the movement of research discoveries into startup biotechnology firms. Nevertheless, the effect has been less than startling. Herbert Reutimann, managing director of Unitectra, the technology transfer arm of the Universities of Berne and Zurich, told me, “Culturally, we’re fighting an uphill battle. Entrepreneur is still a dirty word among many professors in the chemical and biochemical sciences. Europe is still a couple decades behind the U.S. in that regard.”

The result, say many who are close to the industry, is that investors remain reluctant to provide budding entrepreneurs with the necessary capital to get their young companies off the ground. This tight-fistedness is a major reason why opportunity exists for U.S.-trained chemists. As one venture capitalist told me recently, “When you think of entrepreneurs, you think American.”

This article was written by Joe Alper, a freelance science writer and technology analyst in Louisville, CO, who writes frequently for the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.