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Research Portfolio Director

Janet White

I oversee a large pharmaceutical company's cancer research projects.

00:05 My name’s Janet White and I work in Pfizer Pharmaceuticals

00:09 at the Research and Development Centre in La Jolla, California, in the United States.

00:15 Pfizer is a global healthcare company,

00:17 with R and D centres across America, Europe and Asia.

00:24 Pfizer La Jolla is one of Pfizer’s major R and D centres.

00:28 We have other centres across Europe, Asia and the Americas,

00:32 including one in Sandwich in Kent in the UK.

00:35 At Pfizer La Jolla we have over a thousand research scientists and other staff

00:40 who are working to discover our new therapeutic drugs.

00:44 We work primarily in three disease areas.

00:47 First of all, in discovery and development of new treatments for cancer,

00:52 secondly, in the development of ophthalmic drugs, drugs to treat eye diseases,

00:57 and thirdly, arming innovative vaccines for cancer and diseases of the central nervous system.

01:03 My role is Research Portfolio Director for cancer.

01:08 I provide strategic insight across Pfizer’s portfolio of cancer research projects.

01:13 I track the progress of the projects,

01:16 and I also track various attributes on the programmes.

01:21 I’m also in charge of our research project management function,

01:24 I have a project manager who reports to me.

01:28 One of the things I love about my job is the variety, no two days are ever the same.

01:32 But in a typical week I might attend a number of project team meetings.

01:38 A drug discovery research project usually consists of about 10-12 scientists from different disciplines.

01:44 There can be biochemists, cell biologists, pharmacologists, medicinal chemists of course,

01:50 toxicologists and pharmaceutical scientists who will deal with the manufacturing and formulation of new drugs.  

01:57 Generally, big companies like Pfizer are very flexible about working hours,

02:01 and as long as the work gets done it’s not really an issue whether you’re working from your office,

02:07 working from home, or if you’re travelling, working on the road.

02:10 US scientist salaries tend to be a little bit higher than they are in the UK,

02:14 but on the flip side, we tend to get less vacation.

02:17 So only 10-15 days of holiday time per year is fairly typical for an American company.

02:24 In addition, most big American companies like Pfizer provide private healthcare insurance,

02:29 and this is very important when you work in America,

02:32 because healthcare is very expensive,

02:34 and at the moment there isn’t really an equivalent to the national health system for people who are in their working years.

02:41 I started out as a chemist working in pharmaceutical R and D at Beecham Pharmaceuticals.

02:47 I always enjoyed chemistry at school, it was my favourite subject,

02:50 and I liked the colours and the smells I got from reactions,

02:54 so when I went to university I studied natural sciences,

02:58 majoring in chemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge.

03:01 I particularly enjoy the intellectual challenges of organic synthesis

03:05 and working out synthetic roots,

03:08 as well as the theoretical challenges of quantum mechanics,

03:11 and so I managed to combine both of those in my first job,

03:14 which was an NMR or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopist,

03:19 working on solving the structures of new drugs, new antibiotic drugs.

03:24 I realised after a few years though that

03:27 it’s difficult to get into a management position in the pharmaceutical research and development if you don’t have a PhD.

03:33 But rather than going back to university to take a PhD, I opted instead to study for an MBA

03:40 with the Open University part-time while continuing to work in the lab.

03:45 When I got my MBA I left the lab and I went into management consulting,

03:50 working in the London office of big consulting firm Arthur D. Little

03:54 and I applied my industry knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry as well as my MBA

04:00 skills and qualifications to developing strategies for pharmaceutical and chemical company clients.

04:07 I really enjoyed my time as a management consultant, I got to travel widely across Europe,

04:12 the Middle East and the United States.

04:15 I worked in a great variety of client companies both large and small,

04:19 and on a variety of projects in different kinds of functional areas.

04:24 In 2001 I moved to the United States with a start-up consulting firm that I helped to found in London.

04:31 Shortly after that in 2002 I joined Pfizer for the first time.

04:36 My first position at Pfizer was working as a strategy consultant but in-house,

04:41 and as part of the research and development division.

04:45 And then a few years later I moved from there to another role in Pfizer in the clinical development group,

04:50 where I worked for the clinical site head in business operations.

04:55 Since then I’ve spent several years working in other La Jolla bio-tech companies

05:01 in a business development and licensing function.

05:04 I also got to travel a lot in those positions which I enjoyed very much,

05:09 and I came back to Pfizer earlier this year in my current role.

05:16 The drug discovery and drug development, these have been invaluable for me as I’ve gone on from one opportunity to another,

05:23 and I’ve really taken those advantages to learn and to apply those learnings to my next position.

05:30 Another thing that has helped me very much in my career is building a strong network

05:35 of other professionals in the bio-tech and pharmaceutical industries.

05:38 I’m a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, of the American Chemical Society,

05:43 and the Association for Women in Science,

05:46 and I’ve found those contacts and connections have been very helpful to me in my career

05:50 in finding opportunities and learning more about the industry.

“Generally big companies like Pfizer are very flexible about working hours, and as long as the work gets done it's not really an issue whether you're working from your office, working from home or if you're travelling & working on the road. ”

How did I get started?

Chemistry was my favourite subject at school so I went on to study natural sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Career progression

My first job was understanding the molecular makeup of new antibiotics. I realised it would be difficult to get into a management position without a PhD, but rather than going back to university I chose to study for an MBA with the Open University part-time, while continuing to work in the lab.

Skills used

Communication, Management, Team Worker, IT and Technology

“I really enjoyed my time as a management consultant, I got to travel widely across Europe, the Middle East and the United States.”