Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Katie Williams, a mathematical evangelist by day, is equally passionate about moving the needle for greater gender parity in the industry in her volunteer role as president and chair of Women in Bio (WIB), a nonprofit organization that aims to lift up women at all stages of their careers in the life sciences.
A self-proclaimed “nature girl,” Katie Williams has been curious about how the world works since the day she plucked a giant bullfrog from a water barrel for a local frog jumping contest.
“From a very early age I was picking up worms and I was planting seeds in the sandbox and watching the plants grow,” she says. “I really loved being outside and thinking about how the world around us has shaped us.”
Her affinity for science is matched by her life-long love of math — two disciplines tied to the ever-growing STEM movement and a successful career — as well as her current role as senior director of business development of Applied BioMath, which was founded in 2014 to be the nexus of mathematics, engineering, computer science, biology, immunology, drug discovery and development.
An expert in mathematical modeling, Williams is intent on adding value across discovery and development from the very early stages to identify which targets to go after, how differential expression impacts their feasibility and understanding complex dosing and toxicity challenges.
“We’re a service and software provider that helps biotech and pharma accelerate their timelines and bring better therapeutics to patients faster using mathematical modeling,” she says. “I’m an applied mathematician by training so for me it was really exciting to join this young company and work on really complex therapeutics to try to help inform critical decisions.”
Williams’s dedication to adding value doesn’t stop at her day job — as the 2022 president and chair of WIB, she has laid out a bold leadership plan to expand the organization’s footprint.
“My agenda has three points to it. The first comes from where we are right now as a nation and as a world coming out of a pandemic, and focusing on inclusivity,” she says. “The second goal is to look at our inclusivity practices and integrate more DE&I into our programs. The last goal is to expand our engagement and support for women entrepreneurs and investors.”
In this edition of the Woman of the Week podcast, Williams shares how one phone call changed her life, the keys to developing a sustainable network and how she is widening the path for other women.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVOICE powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, Editor and Chief Emeritus at PharmaVOICE, meets with Katie Williams, Senior Director of Business Development, Applied BioMath, and President and Chair Women in Bio.
Taren: Katie, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Katie: Thank you for having me. Exciting to be with you today.
Taren: Katie, you actually have two jobs. Let’s start with your day job as a senior director of business development at Applied BioMath. Tell me about the company and your role.
Katie: Applied BioMath is a really cool company. We were founded in 2014 and we really are at the nexus of mathematics, engineering, computer science, biology, immunology, drug discovery and development. We’re a service and software provider that helps biotech and pharma accelerate their timelines and bring better therapeutics to patients faster using mathematical modeling. We have these interdisciplinary teams on our services side work with a client to address one of their key questions at hand. One of the examples I like to use is say you’re taking a cancer drug into the clinic; you need to decide what the first dose to give the first patient is. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to dose too high. These therapeutics are really potent, it could be toxic. But you really don’t want to dose too low either because the patient then is unlikely to get any benefit and there are ethical concerns with that. So how do you use the data you have in preclinical animals or in Petri dishes to figure out what dose to give that first patient.
And on top of there being dosing challenges and reasons on the science side to get the dose right, on the business side you are trying to get your therapeutic to approval. You have a certain patent lifetime on that therapeutic. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to get that dose right. What Applied BioMath does is look at the mechanism of action of your therapeutic. They look at the data that you have collected thus far. They look at information in the literature about that disease area or about that pathway that your drug is targeting, and they bring all of that information together to simulate how the drug functions in the human body. And they use that information to help you make a more robust prediction so that you can have a more exact dose that’s safe but also more likely to be efficacious, that you can move through that clinical trial faster and hopefully have the right patients and the right doses for those patients so that in the long term you’re getting better therapeutics to the patients that need them faster.
Taren: It’s fascinating. I think that when we look at drug development, I think this is a piece of it that is really…not misunderstood, but not nearly as much in the limelight as it probably should be because it’s such a critical piece of getting that drug into the first patient.
Katie: Absolutely. And mathematical modeling is becoming more and more prevalent. The FDA is really encouraging modeling as justification for different dosing regimens and dosing levels and cohorts. What we’ve seen is that mathematical modeling adds value across discovery in development and even from very early stages trying to identify which targets to go after, how differential expression impacts their developability. We have software that is able to help walk through those thought experiments to help prioritize candidates and develop your target product profile. We also work in species translation in later stage, clinical trial design. So the exciting thing about it is it’s really therapeutic area and modality agnostic. I’m an applied mathematician by training so for me it was really exciting to join this young company and be working on some of these really complex therapeutics to try to help them inform these really critical decisions.
Taren: It’s fascinating as somebody who is as far from being an applied mathematician as could possibly be. I’m always fascinated by people who have an affinity for math. So were you always interested in math and biology?
Katie: I was. As a child, I was a nature girl. My mom tells this story about taking me to a frog jumping contest in the park one time. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. I at the time was only wearing dresses. I refused to wear anything but little kind of frilly dresses, and I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. And she took me to this park and they had this…this was the late ‘80s. So they had just a big bucket of bull frogs I think that some of the dads pulled out of a nearby pond. And she brought me over and said, “Well, you can reach in there and get your frog” I guess. And the way she tells it, she turned her back and turned again and there I was standing there clutching this bullfrog to my chest. And its legs were just about as long as I was tall, and it’s just water and pond juice all over my dress and was ready to go for the bullfrog jumping contest.
I think from a very early age I was picking up worms. I was planting seeds in the sandbox and watching the plants grow. I really loved being outside and thinking about how the world around us has shaped. I also loved math. I’m kind of competitive by nature. I loved the times tables that you’re racing to get filled out on your sheet in elementary school and the puzzles, that long division really are the patterns and kind of how to sort out this puzzle in front of you – what solved for X.
And when I got to college, I had decided to be pre-med like I think so many people who are strong in science from an early age assume that that’s the direction that makes the most sense. But I always wanted to leave the door open in case I wanted to take a different path. And, fortunately, at the University of Michigan they have a major within the applied math department called mathematical biology. And it overlapped well with all of the pre-med requirements and my interest of calculus and linear algebra and abstract algebra and computational biology and the like. So I had a really exciting undergrad education where I got to study math and biology in parallel, but also in integrated courses as well so from a very early age loved math and biology.
Taren: So what a great marriage between your two affinities. I don’t know, do other universities offer that kind of a major or was that why you applied to that college?
Katie: That’s a great question. I applied to the University of Michigan because I was a competitive long distance runner in high school and was looking for a university where there were really strong academics and really strong athletics.
So I settled on the University of Michigan. I wanted a big school, I wanted big sports, and I wanted to have a lot of opportunities to pursue different academic interests. I will say though that for as big as University of Michigan is, and I think it’s something like 24,000 undergraduates, there were 16 people who graduated my year with my major. So it was kind of an up and coming program.
And from the University of Michigan, I went to the Ohio State University to do a master’s in mathematics with a focus in mathematical biology. And the year that I went which was 2009 was the very first year that they were doing that master’s program. Ohio State is even bigger than University of Michigan and that program only had six students in it. So it is a department and an area that’s growing. At the time, I think it was kind of niche.
Taren: Now, let me ask you, that seems like it’s a big collegial inter-rivalry so I don’t know, was Big Blue mad that you went to the Buckeyes? Just kidding. But I do have to ask, in those classes was it evenly distributed in terms of gender? Were you one of the only women in those programs?
Katie: So at the University of Michigan, most of the faculty that I interacted with were women which I didn’t realize was as novel and exciting as it was. One of the professors that really impacted my career trajectory was a woman named Victoria Booth. She was teaching a class in the fall that I had signed up for, computational neuroscience, and I was around Ann Arbor for the summer because I was training for cross-country season. And I reached out to her to just ask what the reading list was for her course in the fall and I said, “I’m around so if we could have coffee sometime or maybe you could let me know how to prepare for this course because I think it’s going to be really hard but it’s going to be really exciting;” and she said, “Well, are you interested in applying for research funding to do an RU?” – a research experience for undergraduates program this summer.
So I got all my materials together. I applied, I ended up getting placed, and that was one of the moments. There have been a couple of them along the way that really changed the course of my career because in that program over the summer I developed a mathematical model for orexin neurons which had been kind of recently discovered at the time and they’re involved in the sleep-wake cycle. But it was the first time I really contributed to research that intersected mathematics and biology. The mathematical model was intended to understand the players in the neurons function. So how potassium and sodium and calcium gradients and signaling and dynamics impacted the orexin neurons’ functionality in the body. So she was the first of several women who’ve really helped guide my career trajectory.
In terms of the other students, I would say it was under half. I don’t remember too many women in some of my upper level classes. In my master’s program at Ohio State, actually four of the six students were women. I think Ohio State was already being intentional about including women in this master’s program and a couple of their impactful professors there were women. But I do see in general that applied mathematics is trying to work to counter the lack of representation of women at the faculty level as well as at the graduate student level.
Taren: Thank you. I asked that question because obviously you’re very interested in STEM and looking at the future of the sciences for women, so I was just curious. And I loved that story about reaching out to the professor and – look, one phone call really was quite instrumental for you and it just shows what the power of raising your hand does, right?
Taren: Knocked on that reach out, and obviously you earned the internship and you earned that research grant. What a nice way to combine both of your loves of math and biology and doing something really substantial. Congratulations, that’s quite something.
Katie: Thank you.
Taren: Let’s move on a little bit and turn to your passion job as president and chair of Women in Bio. So tell me what the mission of the association is for those who are unfamiliar with the group, if you don’t mind.
Katie: Absolutely. So Women in Bio aims to support and lift up women in all stages of their careers in the life sciences. We have programs and membership opportunities for women as early in their careers as grade school. We have programs and mentorship for women in undergraduate and graduate school. We have events and mentorship and programming for women who are in early career, mid-career, returning to their career after an absence, and then for women in the later stages of their career as executives.
When I say “women too”, I want to make a note of we’re welcoming to all members, all individuals who support our mission. Our mission is to support in particular those who identify as women; however, we are welcoming too those who don’t identify as women as well. So I’m using women here as an indication of our particular goals which are around gender parity, but I want to make it very clear that we’re welcoming to everyone. And in particular, our mission is around gender though we recognize that there are many voices that haven’t been heard that really should be heard in life sciences and that women traditionally have a very particular connotation around sex, but for us it’s anyone who identifies as a woman is who we’re advocating for in the life sciences.
Taren: Thank you. I know that’s a tricky definition right now and certainly I know that you are encouraging of men as well because we know we need men allies to move the needle on gender parody. And it’s not just for women or individuals who identify as women who are attached to bio, correct? You don’t have to work for a biotechnology company to join.
Katie: Absolutely. I mean we are primarily looking at the life sciences industry, which honestly is even bigger than pharma and biotech. Many, if not most of our members, are in pharma or biotech or academia; but those in agriculture, those who are healthcare workers, we are inclusive of everyone. And most of our programming really is industry agnostic. We look at how do you advocate for yourself, how do you develop a resume for the jobs that you’re looking for, how do you move from the bench to more business type roles in business development or medical writing or other business oriented roles that are science adjacent.
So I would encourage people to look at the programming and make a decision in that way. I mean, myself, as I said I’m a mathematician, I’m not a biologist, never been a biologist. So I think of it as a group that is far reaching and has support for career advancement for those who are working in the stem type fields whether you’re an attorney or in sales or in marketing or you’re at the bench.
Taren: Fantastic. Thank you for clarifying that. As president and chair this year, what is your agenda?
Katie: My agenda has three points to it. The first comes out of where we are right now as a nation and as a world coming out of a pandemic, focusing on inclusivity. We are looking to bring in more members and people to the table, both as allies and as women who are hoping to advance in their careers. After two years of isolation, two years of time working from home, reconsidering your career trajectory, looking for community, it’s an exciting time to come out into the community and connect with people who will help you figure out what the next step is for you professionally. So we are looking at all of our processes and our events and our chapters and the way we’re approaching membership and trying to draw more people to Women in Bio.
Taren: It’s exciting. Those are big goals though. And as you said, as we’re looking at what they call the “Big Exodus”, how do we encourage women to not leave their jobs after coming out of the pandemic and how do we manage that re-entry back into the workforce after working from home? These are big changes.
Katie: Absolutely. That in itself is a big goal; I actually have two others. The second goal is really to be looking at our inclusivity practices and integrating more DE&I work knowledge insight into the operations and the embodiment in the culture of Women in Bio. So we’re looking at trainings for our volunteers and for our members. We’re bringing in additional voices. We’re evaluating whether we’re welcoming to people with different abilities, whether we are creating an environment where it’s clear that people are welcome, where are we hosting events and making sure that our event locations are not building barriers for people to join.
Taren: That’s awesome.
Katie: Thank you. Yeah, it’s important work. And really, as I mentioned, even though we’re focused on gender, there are so many barriers for individuals and there are so many groups that have voices that contribute to the excellence of science and the life sciences. And we want to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
The last goal is expanding our engagement and support for women entrepreneurs and investors. We are an organization that was originally founded 20 years ago with a number of entrepreneurs engaged. And today we have the entrepreneur center and our founder’s forum and several showcases a year, individual pitch competitions at the chapter level where entrepreneurs can practice their pitch. They can pitch in front of potential investors. They have a small group mentoring sessions where speakers come in and talk about a whole range of topics, and we’re looking to really connect these different initiatives together. Right now, we’re working with founders and other entrepreneurs with investors and trying to get a sense for where the needs are and where the unique skill set of Women in Bio can fill in those needs. So these three initiatives for the year have been exciting to be pulling through over the last six months and I’m looking forward to how the rest of the year will shape up with Women in Bio.
Taren: That’s exciting stuff that you got going on there. I love that entrepreneur initiative. You also have another great initiative, one of which is prepping women for board positions. I talked to a lot of women in the industry and so many of them have been through your program. Can you tell us what that’s about?
Katie: Thank you. Yes, so we have our boardroom-ready program. We’ve had five cohorts so far, each cohort has about 25 women or so in it. This program was started with the goal of enabling more women to serve on boards, kind of a combination of how do we connect the women that are ready to serve on boards, able and capable good candidates for boards to the boards that need them. And then secondly, how do we prepare women who are in the right stage of their career to start taking on this board role so that when a position comes by, they’re ready to step in.
So we’ve been fortunate to have developed this relationship with women and sponsors over time to bring in, as I said, 25 or 30 women per year to a series of workshops and get-togethers that both equip them with the skills that they need across marketing and finance and operations, et cetera, in order to have a broad kind of understanding of different components of a successful company and then to introduce them to one another and potential companies that need board members so that they are in the right position to take on those opportunities. And in five years, we’ve seen over a hundred board placements out of our boardroom-ready alumni.
Taren: Congratulations. I was going to ask you what is your success rate and that is pretty good. That’s awesome.
Katie: Thank you.
Taren: So is there any thought on expanding that initiative so that it’s more frequent or is it just at the right cadence now?
Katie: So, as I mentioned, we’ve done it for five years and we’re always thinking about how to best serve this community with the goals that we have. Right now, we are focusing on this cohort that we just announced and we’re looking ahead to the late summer and fall when the initiatives will start for them. And right now we don’t have any concrete plans for expansion beyond what we’re currently doing.
Taren: Gotcha. You can only do so much in a day.
Katie: That’s right.
Taren: You talked about that network before and I know that you are a big believer in having a network. What are some of the keys in your estimation to building a strong network?
Katie: That’s a great question. For me, there are three components to a strong network. I think the first one is having a natural and easy connection with people. For me, I go to events that I see both that Women in Bio are hosting or other organizations in the area are hosting. I live now in Boston which is a huge biotech and life science hub. I used to live in the Raleigh Durham area, that also those smaller cities have a number of organizations, both for women and just for the life sciences in general that have networking events that have speakers. And going to something like that, meeting people and following up so that you met in person…I also am involved with the alumni association for all the universities that I’ve attended. I also like to run so I’m involved with running clubs. So part of building your network is finding mutual interest and getting to know one another through those commonalities.
I think the second thing is following up with your network. It’s easy to meet somebody one time, connect with them on LinkedIn, lose their business card, and then five years later you have some reason to reach out to them and you’re trying to decide whether they would still remember you. I think the answer is to go ahead and reach out to them anyway, five years later, but you would feel more comfortable doing that if you had occasionally, at least on an annual basis or so, just dropped them a note, “Hey, I noticed this and I thought of you” or “I saw that you got a promotion” or “I saw your company in the news, congratulations” and updating them on what you’re up to, kind of how your job has evolved.
And then I think the third thing is really finding ways that you are helping your network in addition to them helping you whether that’s making introductions, whether that’s taking on mentees, whether just providing news articles or information of particular interest. Again, a network is really a relationship that you’re building with people over similar interests on a regular basis over time. And the lens through which you’re looking, it’s really a community of support that you’re building with other people who have similar goals and needs.
Taren: I think those are three great tips and I think it’s so important to remember that the network is a living breathing thing and that you do have to work at it and you need to put in the time into it to get out anything of it. And that you need a network before you need a network, right? You need to build your network first which I think is really challenging a lot of times for women who have demanding careers, they’ve got family, they’ve got other priorities, but they need to incorporate that as part of their career plan as well.
Taren: So obviously you are a champion of women in the industry. So tell me how you are personally widening the path for the next generation of women leaders.
Katie: That’s a great question too. I would say personally it’s a combination of trying to have an open door policy with my network. It’s funny to say open door policy when we’re really not in person primarily with our networks, but if somebody reaches out to me and wants to grab a virtual coffee, I almost always say yes. I mean, if I’m crazy busy I may say, “Please reach out again in a month.” But being available for really anyone who is looking to move forward in their career if there’s some way they think I can help.
The second thing I think that comes to mind is sharing my learnings. I tend to be pretty open about things that have gone well and things that I’m learning from experiences that I would do differently next time. And I think that that’s really important when you’re looking to move your career forward is to both see what’s gone well and to learn from experiences that maybe weren’t so successful. And so I try to encourage others to do the same so that we’re all growing and learning from each other’s experience.
And then lastly, I really try to take opportunities to share my journey with others. Just as one example of how you can get from graduate school to a scientific contributor role, to business development, to leadership. So I regularly present to graduate students in the applied math program in Arizona. I sit in on panels and events with various volunteer organizations and have one-to-one conversations with individuals. I think right now I really think about how can I make myself available for those who are looking for advice or looking for support or guidance.
And then within my company kind of on a more systemic level and through Women in Bio really thinking about how do we more broadly remove barriers for women. So how do we look at our hiring practices and our interviewing practices, how do we look at the language we use and the way that we approach discussions; and how do we read, make sure that we’re reading up on the latest literature and research from people who know a lot more about gender equity than we do to make sure that we’re bringing in people who are more representative of our community and we’re not letting unconscious bias or other more structural barriers get in the way of us being equitable in bringing our talent forward.
Those two time scales are very different, right? There are needs of individuals today looking to try to figure out what to do in their careers and how to advocate for themselves today; and then there’s more systemically over the next 10, 15, 20 years. How do we help our industry get to a place where we have more women in leadership when we have so many women in the more entry level roles within our companies.
Taren: It’s a big challenge still, for sure. I neglected to ask you how you first got involved with the Women in Bio. What was your first entry point there?
Katie: I was living in the Raleigh Durham area and my husband was a postdoc at the time, and he received an email that had gone out to a postdoc listserv that the chapter was looking for a new chair. I hadn’t been previously involved with Women in Bio, but I was working remotely for my company and I was in a city where I didn’t really know anybody and my husband was working all the time. So I was looking for a way to get involved with some group and build some community so I applied. There were a couple of essays and a couple of interviews and they ended up selecting me to be the chapter chair. So I joined with a slate of excellent volunteers and a chapter that was excited to go through a growth phase and figure out what was next, how do they fit into the community and serve their members.
So it was not a common way I think for people to join Women in Bio, but I had a lot of bandwidth to offer and was able to really get engaged with the women who knew the chapter and the community better than I did and who really led me to help develop key performance indicators and other metrics of success to really focus on what is needed to help us grow, where are the places that we are doing really well and we want to kind of continue, and what are things that we want to change. And so it was exciting to see the chapter grow and to be there supporting them from the leadership position. And from there, I moved back to Boston and so took on a role with the national organization. And then in 2020 ran for national president, so 2021 I was the president elect and I’m president for this calendar year.
Taren: Well, congratulations. And I would say what a great way to flex your business development skills too in helping the chapter meet its goals. What a nice intersection for you.
Katie: Absolutely. I think that volunteering for an organization like Women in Bio really gives you a complimentary opportunity to learn and develop professionally. And for me, I was a scientist and individual scientific contributor when I became the chapter chair. But what I realized was how much I loved thinking about these more business-centric questions – how do we integrate communications into our practices as a chapter to draw in more members; how do we work with the companies in the area and fundraise, it’s sales; and what do they get and what do we get, and how can we highlight their interests and their products and at the same time they’re helping us with our mission; how do we plan events that people are going to attend; what is the impact of the location, the cost of a ticket; what is the impact of the speaker and the topic on who’s going to come and how do we measure all of that.
I’d been in that role for six months when I moved over to business development at my company, and since then I’ve really seen my role professionally evolve as my role with Women in Bio is evolving. And now, I’m talking to our board and liaising between our board and the national team and the staff and the national leaders and the chapter leaders and looking at the strategic directions of the organization – what are our priorities; who do we want to be; how do we fit in; how do we partner; what sponsors make the most sense for us to pursue; what are their interests and how do they overlap with ours; what programming makes the most sense for us as an organization; where do we stand in the community and in the environment right now; and what is the role of Women in Bio for women in different stages of their careers.
All of these are really key questions that are important to answer and that we need the skills of many people to help us make the best decisions. And that’s the same in a small company; and now I’m building a team on the sales side, I’m building an inside sales team and a sales account manager team, and turning to the growth and expansion of my company and being part of these kinds of conversations on that side as well.
Taren: What a success story and sharing how being a volunteer can lead to professional growth and vice versa, so thank you for sharing that. I think that’s so important because sometimes people think being a volunteer is just stuffing envelopes, but it’s so much more. It gives you, as you said, complimentary experiences. It also helps you grow skills in other areas that can be complimentary to your current role or future role. So thank you so much for sharing that. Katie, you obviously are a role model. How does that mantle of responsibility set with you?
Katie: Role model is a funny term. I guess I don’t always see myself as a role model, so it’s still kind of funny to hear you say it that way because when I think of a role model, I think of somebody who you are trying to emulate. And it’s not just that they are the best at something, right? I often think of role models as movie stars or leaders at big impactful Fortune 100 companies, and they always seem to be people that are really far away. They’re people who are at the top of their game professionally. They also have integrity; their personality is such that you would be happy to have your loved ones want to be like them when they grow up. And I don’t think of myself…and I hope that I don’t display this kind of image of somebody who’s very far away. I think of myself more as your sister, not a friend because you’re not always honest with your friends, right? But almost a family member that is on the same journey and just maybe is a little bit farther along the road than some, but certainly not as far along the road as others. There are still people that I look up to as mentors or I guess maybe as role models. I think we need a term that’s like a role model but somebody who’s more accessible.
Taren: I would call that Katie Williams so that’s …
Katie: Oh, come on. I think that what’s important to me is that for all of us we’re on this journey that has so many variables and there’s so much we can’t control and timing is everything and so it can get really overwhelming sometimes. And I think some of the lessons that I’ve learned are that it’s about building your network like we talked about, it’s about showing up like I think we also talked about, and I think of Victoria who I mentioned earlier. I think of this other woman who I…
Long story short, I needed to find a speaker when I was in graduate school at Arizona to speak to the students at this student-led seminar series that I was the chair of, and I found this woman and she flew out from Chicago and she talked to us about math modeling and drug discovery and development and I had never thought about that before. She was maybe a second year graduate PhD student in applied math. I had lunch with her and she gave me her card, and she said, “If you’re interested in this, contact me” and I did. And she introduced me to an old colleague of hers who’s looking for an intern and I applied to that internship program. The rest was kind of history there in terms of getting into drug discovery and development.
So, again, it was a woman who absolutely did not need to take the time to speak at this event; didn’t need to fly out there and she did; didn’t need to have lunch with me, she did; didn’t need to give me her business card; didn’t need to follow up with me when I emailed her; didn’t need to introduce me to this person, and she did. And the professor at Michigan didn’t need to tell me about this internship or this research program, but she did. And I think all of us have influence in some way, and I think as the person who is a little bit farther ahead maybe than some others, you are the one with that influence. And for those of us who are behind maybe where we want to be or at earlier stage…so I wouldn’t say maybe, it’s not really behind, behind implies that we’re somehow not meeting expectations; so some of us who are just earlier stage, we can get ahead with that influence. So not being afraid to show up, not being afraid to reach out, all of these relationships are kind of how we can move forward.
So having now a career of meeting individuals along the way and opportunities unfolding as a result of showing up, reaching out, working hard to build that resume that then you can hand over to somebody when an opportunity comes along, those are the things that kind of get us along the way and those experiences have taught me how important it is to continue being that presence for others and sharing this is one way to come across opportunities to help you get to where you want to go in your career.
Taren: That’s excellent examples of women reaching back to sending the elevator back down for them.
Katie: Absolutely, yeah.
Taren: Thank you for sharing those two great stories. We’re getting close to the end of our time, but I do want to ask you, what’s the best piece of leadership advice you ever received?
Katie: The piece of advice that comes to mind is that there are rarely circumstances, very, very rarely circumstances where you need to make a decision in this moment that it’s easy to get kind of caught up in in a person, a conversation, an opportunity that it feels like you need to hurry up and decide right now. But it sometimes makes sense to just stop, say “Thank you, I need to think about it. Let me get back to you. That’s a great question; I will have to get back to you and pause and think about it” whether you’re taking a few hours or a couple of days or a week. There have been jobs I’ve applied for. There have been other kinds of questions and opportunities and discussions where I felt like if I don’t make this decision right now, I don’t jump on this opportunity, then I’m going to regret it. And it’s rare that if you don’t jump on it right this minute, it will pass you by; and if it does, then there are likely to be other opportunities.
So I think one thing that’s helped me is to stop, take a breath. If there’s an important especially impactful decision in your life that’s going to change your trajectory, then it’s worth talking to your network, talking to your loved ones and community, and looking at where you want to go, what are the next stages beyond this particular decision, and how does this decision relate to your ultimate goals and to really get all of the information together and then make a decision.
Taren: That’s a great piece of advice. It is so important to, yes, sometimes you just have to hit that pause button and think it all the way through. Thank you for sharing that. You’ve given us two great WoW moments already. Is there one though that even stands out beyond the two that you’ve shared with us that either changed the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you?
Katie: One of the more recent ones is moving into business development and I think I really agonized over that decision as a scientist and mathematician because I thought if I moved into sales or business development, I could never go back to science and I would never really be taken seriously as a scientist again. So I was focusing on what I was losing. And at the time, just as I said earlier, the advice, I took a week I think to make the decision, maybe two weeks. I talked to my network. I talked to coworkers. I went to a networking event that week, I remember, and I happened to talk to a few people who had been scientists but were in business development, who I didn’t know, I happened to meet at this event. I was talking to them about this decision and I ended up thinking this is something that is a new opportunity, I will learn something. Very few things are actually irreversible so that’s just another kind of piece of advice for people out there who are nervous about making a change. Almost nothing is irreversible in terms of decision making in your career. And I’m so glad I took that step because what I didn’t realize was that in my new role, I’m really an evangelist for mathematical modeling and I get to meet people all the time and hear about their science.
Previously, I was a modeler so I worked on two or three projects at once, but now I’m talking about four or five different projects every week with potential people that either we’re engaging with now or we may engage with in the future and I’m going to conferences and I’m hearing about all this exciting innovation, and I’m helping us think about where the company is going and it opened this door to all these other careers that I could pursue someday that I hadn’t thought about before. So I think going into mathematical modeling instead of med school, that was one big shift; going into pharma biotech from PhD in applied math, that was another big shift; and then leaving the sort of scientist individual contributor slash manager trajectory into business development was the third big shift. And I think every step along the way, it’s been so exciting to see what’s new and what’s possible and I think that that’s been so much fun and I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.
Taren: Katie, what a mic drop moment. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I love that you’re an evangelist for mathematics. We need more of you out there like this. So thank you so much. I want to wish you continued great success in your own career as well as what you’re doing to move the needle on gender parody within Women in Bio. Thank you so much for being with us today and it’s been great to speak with you.
Katie: Thank you so much for having me. I love this podcast and I look forward to hearing from the women that are continued to be slated for the rest of the year.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmaVOICE.com.