|Fostering a Diverse New Generation of Biotech's Best and Brightest|
Elisabeth Freeman knows that the right mentor can be the catalyst that transforms a new scientist into an industry leader, and she’s counting on companies like Amgen to foster a diverse new generation of biotech’s best and brightest.
On Feb. 14, Elisabeth shared her story with Amgen staff with a presentation called Musings of a Perpetual Premed: A Journey of Passion, Introspection and Mentoring. Her talk was sponsored by Amgen’s Diversity & Inclusion and in it she described how mentors have shaped her success.
As president of the International Center for Professional Development (ICPD), Elisabeth founded the Science Mentoring and Diversity Program (SMDP) to encourage workforce diversity in the biotech industry. The SMDP helps graduate and postdoctoral students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups receive the guidance, training and networking they need to excel. A key aspect of the program is the mentoring relationships that students form with staff from leading companies.
Elisabeth has benefited first hand from such experience, serving on both sides of the mentoring equation at Amgen. As a student, she was accepted into a formal mentoring program sponsored by the company and completed several internships working for Amgen scientists. She soon thereafter joined Amgen’s Pharmaceutics Department and also was assigned to the company’s Analytical and Formulation Sciences group, working on stability studies for protein therapeutics. Elisabeth also carried out protein crystallization studies with a focus on developing alternative formulations for Amgen’s existing and pipeline products. She later transitioned to a consulting career as a senior advisor for the Biotechnology Institute’s Minority Fellows program before launching the International Center for Professional Development.
Scholars Receive Personal Guidance
SMDP participants are paired with mentors in science-related fields who support them during the year-long program with one-on-one coaching.
“I felt so lucky when I was accepted into the mentoring program at Amgen,” said Elisabeth. “I had someone who would spend a whole year learning about my career goals and helping me clarify what I wanted to do and how to go about it.”
“I was exposed to the different ways you could pursue a career in biotech and introduced to people who could open doors to so many research opportunities,” she added. “Now, through the SMDP, we have successful alumni who’ve been able to learn about career opportunities as I did - to benefit from one-on-one mentoring and to interact with companies that are specifically interested in a diverse workforce.”
Along with personal mentoring, the students accepted into the SMDP will receive career training and access to exclusive online tools and support. They also will attend the BIO International Convention in June with their mentors. Amgen is the lead sponsor of the SMDP for 2012 and has been involved with this mentoring initiative since 2000. More than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers have been personally mentored by Amgen staff, and many of them have gone on to become mentors themselves.
Pursuing her passion
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Elisabeth learned important lessons from her very first mentors, her parents. The daughter of a black woman and a white man, she marveled at her parents’ “extreme ambition” and was inspired by their service to their community, although she notes that her childhood was unconventional in many ways, partly because of her parents’ bi-racial marriage.
“We couldn’t go out and eat together in restaurants,” she explains. “We couldn’t just go anywhere we wanted as a family.”
Over the years, she witnessed the devastating effects of poverty, lack of education and a poor public health system in Zimbabwe. As a young adult living in the United States, she watched as her homeland faced a generalized AIDS/HIV epidemic, and was stunned by her mother’s frequent phone calls about attending weekly funerals for relatives or friends. The stories of Zimbabwe spurred Elisabeth to take action, and while raising two young children with a military husband who traveled frequently, she entered California State University Channel Islands with the goal of becoming a doctor and finding a better treatment for AIDS.
“During that time, I found my passion,” Elisabeth explained. “Zimbabwe had become a nation of orphans, and those children had no voice. It consumed me.”
A surprising revelation during her academic career began to change Elisabeth’s path. “I learned that there were thousands of people like me trying to tackle health challenges around the world - not just HIV but many others. And the factors that impacted world health went far beyond coming up with a cure for a condition.”
When she was selected by the university to enter a formal mentoring program at Amgen, Elisabeth’s focus broadened even further. She was introduced to the world of biotechnology and the lab of Dr. Timothy Osslund, principal scientist, Drug Product Development.
“I was overwhelmed by the research that was taking place and the resources they had,” she admitted. “It was far beyond anything I could have imagined.”
Today, Elisabeth still counts Tim Osslund as one of the mentors who has most influenced her career. The guidance she received at Amgen in both formal and informal mentoring relationships sparked her desire to help other students pursue scientific studies – especially those in underrepresented ethnic groups.
“Although each of us is only one individual, we each can help enable a large number of people to do the things they aspire to do,” Elisabeth adds, noting that more than 300 students have participated in the SMDP and the Minority Fellows Program combined.
“The exchange of knowledge goes both ways,” Elisabeth says. “These students learn so much, but they also really inspire their mentors, and most of them stay connected over time. The mentoring experience benefits everyone involved.”
For more information about SMDP opportunities, visit the International Center for Professional Programs at www.icpdprograms.org or watch the here SMDP video at www.youtube.com/icpdprograms
The International Center for Professional Development (ICPD) is a non-profit organization that offers continuing education programs for students and professionals using personalized face-to-face experiential training and ongoing web-based support. ICPD programs advance professional careers by demystifying complex aspects of career development and enhancing relevant skills for emerging industries. For more information, visit www.icpdprogramsorg.OTHER STORIES»