K. Ingrid Durenberger
A woman with the right attitude, patience, and perseverance can do it all. The story of K. Ingrid Durenberger’s success is an example of how to move forward in spite of hardships, unknowns, and adverse conditions. She has done it all - made hard decisions about changing career paths, choosing to raise a family over working outside the home and then getting back into her career after a 10-year gap. She defies status-quo at every step of her career and is an inspiration to many of us at Women In Bio (WIB). Previously the Communications Chair for WIB-Seattle while working as a Data Manager at Fred Hutch, she is now a Senior Clinical Data Manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Co-Chair of Mentors-Advisor-Peers-Sponsors (MAPS) and the chapter’s Sponsorship committee social media specialist.
Beginning of the Journey
Ingrid was always interested in science as a child. She had a microscope in elementary school, which spiked her interest in microbiology. Soon after getting a degree from Seattle University in biology, she landed a job at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in an immunology research lab. Her reminiscence of that place brought a smile to her face - “One of the inspiring people I met there was Carl June. He was working as a fellow and was at the beginning of his immunology career who later went on to be the main contributors in inventing CAR-T technology, which is really very exciting”. She then decided to go to graduate school and got her masters in molecular toxicology and started working as an applied toxicologist at Boeing for several years. In her own words “It was mainly related to workers health and safety issues, so I worked with industrial hygienists and it was both interesting and frustrating at the same time.” She continued, “the frustration was mainly due to lack of conclusive toxicology data, so we could not give a worker much information on what might have been causing a toxic reaction. Applied toxicology area was very thin those days, and I hope it's a lot better now”.
Change is good
Life changed rapidly for Ingrid after that. In 2001, the aftermath of the 9/11 attack was felt in the airline industry, which impacted Boeing. As a result of that, she lost her job. She started working part-time and focused on raising her family for the next several years. In the meantime, her husband got a job in Toronto, Canada and they had to move. She was searching for a job in toxicology and although she had a work permit, nobody was hiring at that time. In spite of going through that challenging time, she was constantly pursuing a path forward, and thinking about doing some training which might get her into a new job. “I met a medical writer through networking, and learned a lot about clinical research. I decided to do a certificate program in clinical research, where I learned drug development process and regulatory affairs. This got me an internship where I worked on clinical trials of a drug and its effects on mental health”. Soon after that she and her husband came back to the United States and she had to leave her internship early. Even without completing the internship, the amount of exposure she got while being there helped her get a job at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in clinical research. This was a whole new career path and she decided to switch her career trajectory from toxicology towards clinical research. She wanted to see the effect of the work she was doing and move closer to the process where people are benefitting from the drug trials. While doing so she also got a closer look at the process of a drug getting into the market. She started working as a clinical coordinator and then stepped up as a clinical data manager at Fred Hutch. In her own words, “My sponsor was UW, my second employer was UW, it was just like a homecoming, a full circle”.
Adapt, Change and Grow
At Fred Hutch, where she worked as a data manager, Ingrid worked mostly with HIV drugs and HIV/AIDS activists. She was deeply involved in clinical trials and always got to see the trial results first hand, which she found very impressive and said it gave her so much perspective. She learned a lot about academic clinical trials and later decided to join biopharmaceutical clinical trials. She went on saying, “The intensity of doing clinical trials for pharma companies and doing research in academia are so different and again a hard transition. I decided to join Juno Therapeutics 8 months back, and it was a very intense 8 months. I have learned a ton the time I have been here. Not only witnessing clinical trials leading to submission but also patients getting cured, is equally inspiring”.
WIB, Friends and Career
On being asked what her biggest career blocker she experienced was, her answer resonates with many of the women in WIB: The gap of 10 years to care for her family. That did not stop her from adapting to new situations and keeping on learning. She was in her fifties when she decided to get into the clinical research job. It was not easy and she had to deal with many rejections. It was her step-brother who got cured from metastatic melanoma with one of the experimental drugs in clinical trials- that gave her a boost to stick with clinical research. She got in touch with his doctor and joined the amazing research group. That was inspiring as well as a motivating factor for her not to give up and keep on fighting for something she believed heavily in.
Nuggets of Wisdom
On asking what would be her advice to the new members of WIB – she insisted on two things, “Come to every event possible. Plan ahead as it's once a month and you want to have meaningful interactions with as many people as you can,” and “Do not worry about people judging you. Just be yourself.”