David survived a brain tumour, but has reduced vision and motor control; he found his employer’s support invaluable in his rehabilitation.
Love of the lab
David's curiosity for chemistry led him to study at the University of Nottingham for his undergraduate degree. He then undertook a PhD focusing on chiral transition metal complexes.
“University was the classic challenge of growing up and balancing all the exciting things in life, with getting course work completed. It was also an early realisation of how much talent there is in chemistry and that trying to ‘compete’ all the time is a waste of energy.”
After university, David moved to the US where he started working for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, initially in anti-infectives. Progressing throughout his career, David has worked in allergy and respiratory fields and has been senior director within cardiovascular, metabolic and endocrine diseases since 2007. In addition, David is a member of steering committees on close collaborations with academics and other companies.
In a role where David sees variety every day, he enjoys working with people, science and business. Part of his role is lecturing to both undergraduates and graduates. He says, “the single thing I enjoy most is meeting the next generation of chemists at colleges and universities and hopefully encouraging them to stay in the science.”
Training yourself to ‘look outwards’ is tough
David describes the biggest challenge to any chemist as not necessarily the science, but learning to reach out. He explains, “By definition, chemistry and lab work can be an ‘individual’ pastime. To be the best possible scientist, collaboration and collegiate behaviours are essential.”
Personally, David has experienced huge challenges. In 2009, whilst on a training course, he suffered a seizure and collapsed. Waking up in hospital after having MRI and CAT scans, David found out that he had a large tumour on the right side of his brain. He recalls the support he received, “Pfizer really kicked in for me. They flew my wife down to North Carolina to bring me back and organised consultants at Massachusetts General Hospital.” After surgery, a year of chemotherapy and ten weeks of radiotherapy, David is now well on the road to recovery:
“I have reduced vision and flexibility on my left side. My motor control is not as fine as I would like and walking was tough initially. I am left-handed and writing is still difficult; I get nervous if I have to write on boards or draw structures in front of an audience. This is frustrating and I am still learning coping mechanisms. Pfizer could not have done any more. They offered flexible working as well as help to find consultants and accommodation if I needed it. My direct line managers have been there for me in spades. Pfizer was extraordinary in the help it gave me and without my colleagues, now close friends, I would have been lost.”
Getting comfortable with change
David agrees that his role models in life are “people who quietly overcome obstacles and demonstrate tenacity within science." He expands, "I love the work of Paul Janssen and Sir James Black. They appeared to keep it all logical and ‘simple’, yet made a profound impact and left an incredble legacy.”
With science changing, David questions where the next 20 years will take chemistry. “You can either be worried about this or come along for the ride. Personally, I plan for the latter.”
Be a giver not a taker
Overcoming his battles with sheer determination and support from his friends, family and company, David does recognise that for some, it is more difficult to get into the chemical sciences. “For me, the biggest barrier is seen in communities that have low expectations for their future.” He believes this arises for various reasons such as low income, lack of role models and little understanding of the impact chemistry has in the world. David agrees we should “focus on giving people higher expectations for their future.” Together with government strategy, education boards and university and college faculties, David reiterates that “groups working together is the only way forward.”
“My only advice is to enjoy the science and your passion and positive energy will carry you through. Sheer enthusiasm goes such a long way in life. I see so much talent and energy in my colleagues and broader chemistry community that I have no doubt things will work out.”
Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of David Price
Published November 2014