Women In Bio (WIB) held their first annual HERStory Gala at VisArts Rockville on December 13, 2018, with over 130 guests in attendance. The event honored pioneering women in the life sciences who have made an impact in the capital region.
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The event started with registration at 7:00 p.m. followed by networking until 8:00 p.m. There were appetizers and drinks and lots of networking. At 8:00 p.m., attendees proceeded to the seating area where dinner was served and presentations began.
Kayla Valdes, Ph.D., the current president of the WIB Capital Region chapter, gave opening remarks for the event highlighting the Capital Region’s achievements and successes in the past year. Some of which include:
1. Mentors, Advisors, Peers, and Sponsorship (MAPS) is a mentoring program offered by WIB that has engaged over 100 women in the region for the year 2018.
2. Young Women In Bio (YWIB) had collaborated with University of Maryland and National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conducting events for middle and high school students on STEM careers.
Following the president’s talk, keynote speakers were introduced by Dr. Zahra Motahari, the Chair of HERStory Gala and Allison Hu, a YWIB representative.
Dr. Sachiko Kuno is the co-founder and Chair of Halcyon, an organization dedicated to the power of human creativity and innovation. Her talk was titled “Be a visionary; be a doer”, and she spoke about her career transition into the business world. Dr. Kuno is a first-generation immigrant to the US, having founded her first company in Japan. She spoke about the challenges she overcame in starting her second company once she had moved to the US, which initially was run out of a two-bedroom condo. Her third company, VLP Therapeutics, was founded in 2013 with a mission to develop innovative treatments and affordable medicine for unmet medical needs.
When considering her path to achieving access, she said that having concrete goals and company missions were a large factor. Strengthening self-efficacy, facilitating serendipity, providing cross-pollination circumstances and having an open and diverse ecosystem are few key learning points from her success.
Dr. Karen Nelson is the President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). Her talk was titled “My menagerie and career aspirations”. Dr. Nelson grew up in Jamaica, surrounded and inspired by nature. She earned her Ph.D. in Ithaca, New York and did post-doc work with Dr. Craig Venter. Throughout her career, Dr. Nelson has led several genomic and metagenomics efforts and led the first human microbiome study. When she recollects her experience, she said that Dr. Venter was an amazing mentor who helped to shape her career. She spoke about the value of good mentors, friends, family, and colleagues all along her various paths.
As a person who saw the advent of several fields and their continued growth, she said it is critical to take responsibility and take or lead initiatives to move forward in a career. She believes in giving back to the community, especially to young women. She added that “the future belongs to the next generation of scientists, and they can advance their field if they are trained effectively and critically”. She is fiercely passionate about mentoring and speaking to young women.
Margot Connor is the Chief Executive Officer of RoosterBio Inc. She gave a brief overview of RoosterBio and spoke about her experiences from technical sales specialist to CEO. Ms. Connor has a Bachelor’s degree in textile chemistry/marketing. Straight out of college, her aim was to get a job to work in a lab and “create something.” In her first job interview, she felt comfortable about the position and was certain that she would be hired for the position. While the hiring manager wasn’t able to offer her the initial position, she felt that she would be a great role for a technical sales position. As a person who is not used to failure, this was hard on Ms. Connor, but she accepted the offer after having discussed with her mentors. She fondly recalled how the hiring manager invested a great deal of time in nurturing and shaping her skill set. She recollects an international experience she had in Switzerland as “priceless”. Adaptability and courage are two attributes that she thinks it is critical for success in an international environment. She also emphasized it is essential to surround yourself with supportive people and family.
Ms. Connor also believes in giving back to the community, especially mentoring women. She gave advice on good mentoring and how to seek out mentors. She added that her mentors helped to see beyond her own concepts, encouraged her to be open-minded and to seek opportunities to explore different things.
She concluded her talk by recalling the qualities she learned from her various mentors: trust, collaborative spirit, integrity, transparency, open-mindedness, respect and giving back. She is dedicated to injecting these qualities to the work environment at RoosterBio as its CEO.
A common quality observed across all keynote speakers was the value of mentors in their careers and the gratitude towards their mentors, which is in line with WIB’s theme for this year “Lift while you climb.”
The event concluded with award presentations by Lindsay D’Ambrosio, the Vice-President of the WIB Capital Region Chapter. This year, Women In Bio’s Rising Star Award was given to Dr. Kelly Warfield from Emergent Biosolutions for making a significant contribution in the life sciences industry and in the region. Dr. Jaíra Vasconcellos also won a National WIB professional development scholarship, one of only three women across the country to receive one of these awards, which was sponsored by Emergent Biosolutions.
The event was sponsored by Emergent Biosolutions, Macrogenics, KAI Research, and Qiagen.