Live Event: November 30, 2017 at 1:00pm Eastern (US)
Janet Buhlmann is Senior Principal Scientist for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. She works with scientists at Pfizer and their academic partners to create new medicines.
What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?
Sports-watching and playing, exercising, reading, gardening, hanging out with friends, volunteering
Do you play any sports or do any athletic activities?
I play softball, do CrossFit and pilates, occasionally kayak and try to work out 4-5 times a week
What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?
I don’t know that I have a favorite book, but I love international (spy) thrillers and mystery novels. James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club Series is definitely a favorite. Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King is also a favorite because 2004 was such an unbelievable season for the Red Sox (I am a diehard fan of over 40 years)
Who do you look up to and admire?
My mom for sure. For more famous people, I don’t know that I’ve ever consciously looked up to anyone, although in the current political climate of this country I am admiring President Obama more and more.
Highest degree attained
Ph.D. in Biochemistry, B.A. (Biochemistry)
Dartmouth College (Ph.D.), Mount Holyoke College (B.A.)
Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college
I don’t know that I had favorite classes in elementary school (or I don’t remember what they were), middle school I think it was social studies because of my teacher, high school biology (again because of my teacher) and history. In college, organic chemistry-labs were fun, especially making esters because it was the only one that smelled good. Although my all-time favorite college class was about the Vietnam War, again because of the professor as he was a member of the state department and then deputy to Henry Kissinger so he was a part of it all (and to this day I do not know his personal feelings regarding the war and America’s involvement in it).
What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’ve never really thought about it. Academics came naturally to me (I liked school) and high school I knew I wanted to get a PhD in something (because it would mean that I got to stay in school), so I think of my educational accomplishments as just being me.
What kinds of challenges did you overcome during your education?
I think I faced the same challenges as most students, working a campus job to help pay for college and trying to balance that with the demands of my classwork.
Senior Principal Scientist
Years in this organization/position
6 years in the organization, 2 years in my current position
What does your organization do?
We are a pharmaceutical company and make medicines
What is your role in the organization?
I am a scientist and help create new medicines
Describe your work environment
I work in an office and direct the science that goes into making new medicines. I work with scientists across multiple groups at my company along with our academic partners.
What tools and/or techniques do you use in your job?
Sadly, I am no longer in the lab at the bench doing experiments but when I was, I did a lot of cell culture and flow cytometry.
Describe a typical day in your job
Most of my day is spent at a computer, replying to e-mails and coordinating project activities. Some days I also get to read scientific papers.
Describe an atypical day in your job
A notable day for me was when I was able to visit one of my company’s clinical research units to see how clinical trials are actually conducted.
How is the work you do important to society?
On a daily basis, I and my coworkers work to make new medicines for people who have no good therapy options. Hopefully, one day one of the medicines I’ve helped to create will improve someone’s life.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your current role?
Last year a project that I helped develop from the beginning (5 years ago) started its phase I clinical safety trial and later this year will start its first patient trial.
What projects or goals are you currently pursuing?
I am working on 2 projects that are potentially new therapies for lupus patients, one of which will hopefully declare the therapeutic candidate molecule next year (last pre-clinical stage of drug discovery).
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Convincing the people who control the company’s portfolio that projects are worth continuing as development proceeds.
What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?
One of the best days was discovering an antibody specific to our target molecule and not a related protein that has 99% homology. We weren’t sure that it was possible.
Previous employers and positions that have lead to your current role
1989-1991 Beth Israel Hospital, research technician
1997-2003 Brigham and Women’s Hospital, post-doctoral fellow
2003-2008 Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, instructor
2009-2011 Scientific Director, EpiVax Inc.
2010 Editor, provided editorial reviews for non-English speaking authors
2011 Grant writing consultant
2011 Adjunct Professor University of Rhode Island (co-taught an introductory Immunology course)
Best job you’ve ever had and why
Grad student. My advisor was amazing, smart supportive and genuinely loved science. He created a great environment in which people could pursue their interests. He challenged us but never made anyone feel stupid and we had fun on a daily basis. I worked at the bench and there was no better feeling than when an experiment I had thought up worked.
Worst job you’ve ever had and why
I had one bad job where I did not respect my boss. She was verbally abusive to employees and was very passive aggressive when she was angry with someone. She would intentionally put people into situations so that they would fail and she even tried to do that to me. It was the point where I knew I could no longer work there and I quit without having another job lined up. It was the scariest but ultimately the best thing that I ever did.
What were you like as a kid?
Slightly nerdy since I liked school but I also loved sports so I was somewhat of a hybrid being a brainy jock.
What were your favorite books/shows/movies when you were a kid?
Wide World of Sports and Mutual of Ohama’s Wild Kingdom (shows that most kids have probably never heard of today)
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?
12 – no idea, not sure I ever thought about it
15 – a lifelong student
18 – a scientist of some sort, maybe geneticist
When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?
Freshman year biology class, my teacher was doing a class on DNA and genes. It was awesome and part of the class was like solving a puzzle. I was 100% hooked and all in.
Who inspired you on this path?
Mr. Kozlowski, the high school biology teacher I mentioned above. I selected my senior year classes so that I could have him for AP biology. He also suggested the college I attended because of their excellent science programs.
What did you believe about this career before entering into it that proved to be different once you were in?
That there wasn’t a lot of writing in science (I hated to do it in high school and college)….I was TOTALLY wrong.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what other career(s) might you have pursued?
I originally thought I’d be a college professor after earning my degree.
What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?
Find where your passion lies and find a job that lets you live your passion on a daily basis.
What advice would you give students in general?
You don’t have to know all the answers all the time and failing is okay. Sometimes unexpected forks in the road you thought you were on can bring you to the best places.
I forgot to apply to grad school the summer before my senior year in college. Totally stupid mistake, but one of the best ones I’ve ever made. I had to get a job after college, that job introduced me to the field of immunology and changed my life forever. I discovered my scientific passion and love what I do.
What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?
Austria, France, Switzerland, Germany (for work) and the Caribbean and Mexico for fun.