Product Development: 65 Million Reasons to Think Non-Linearly

The LabJourney’s blog had a wonderful opportunity to interview Dr. John A Ferguson. At one point in his career, he managed 52 labs over 13 time zones and during his tenure as Director of Innovations for Bath and Body Works, his team developed the Wallflower Electric Air Freshener which resulted in over $65 million year one incremental sales. Quite the accomplishment! With over 30 years of experience in the management of research, development and engineering of personal care, OTC, home care, and institutional products, the insight he can provide is priceless.

It was readily apparent during our conversation that Dr. Ferguson was full of wonderful advice. Below are a few quotes that were too good to keep to just myself.

On product quality: “You cannot inspect quality into the product.”

On becoming a manager: “I entered as a square and became a circle.”

General advice (credits for this quote go to a fellow graduate student at UNC):

“The only thing of value you have is that which can be used by a friend.”

Without further ado, I invite you to meet Dr. John A. Ferguson.


Every parent knows a child develops their personality at an early age; i.e. 6 to 9 months.  Instilled in that personality is a learning model heavily dependent upon scientific principles: experiment (touch/look/cry/push chair); analyze results (what happened?); add knowledge (result is good/bad/fun) conduct higher order experiments (what else can I do?).  Thus a child learns to interact with their world. Unfortunately many adults forget that learning experiences are largely based on scientific principles.  The general public shuns “science” and imagines a career in science or engineering makes you introspective and anti social.

Over 30 years ago David Kolb published his Experimental Learning Theory.  His thesis is learning and thinking are mirror images.  How we learn determines how we approach/solve problems.  Personally I became a scientist because I liked the discipline science provided to gather knowledge and solve problems.  It also explains why I dislike political interactions because it lacks structure and rational.

As a manager of scientists and engineers I tried to reduce their administrative work so they could focus on creativity.  Above all I wanted them to try bold approaches so the little girl or little boy trapped within would burst out into the world again.

Early years. I remember I had a fascination with books containing tables of numbers.  I wanted to know what the numbers meant and how to use them.  I liked to construct things with Tinker Toys and Erector Sets.

Interest in Science?  I was in the 7th grade when the Russians launched Sputnik.  Overnight science was given new emphasis and placed on the same scale as medicine for desirable professions.  It was patriotic to be a scientist or engineer.  I felt I had to become a scientist.  I remember I was enamored with plain geometry.  Once you learned the theorems you could construct things and prove shapes were identical.  I liked the order and discipline of that thought process.

When do I feel comfortable with myself? Planning and executing research programs is difficult because you have to coordinate timing and resources with other departments.  Once that is accomplished, you have to develop a cost effective prototype and scale up the process so it can be mass produced.  I feel satisfaction when my team has reached critical mass and a defined path to commercialization has been established.

What do I bring to the development? I think non-linearly.  I make connections between different technologies and products.  This helps my teams come up with unique solutions.

Product Development

Dr. John Ferguson – Shares his career advice about being creative, thinking non-linearly, and product development.

Current and Past Positions

Home and Personal Care R&D Consultant (present)

Managing Director, Botaneco

Research Director, J & J Baby and Wound Care

Director of Innovations, Bath & Body Works

Regional Technical Director Asia Pacific & Latin America, S C Johnson Wax

Research Director New Business Development, Drackett Company

Group Leader/Section Head, Clairol

Sr. Research Chemist, Drackett Company

1st Lt US Army Chemical Corps, Administrative Contracting Officer

Typical Day as a Research Director.

Tract program status                                                  10%

Attend meetings                                                            30%

Teach subordinates                                                        5%

Prepare for executive meetings                                 10%

Approve/modify staff recommendations               20%

Long range planning                                                   15%

Review consumer research                                        10%

Maintain internal/external network                        10%

What I don’t like to do? Resolve conflict. Reprimand/fire employees.  Attend poorly planned meetings.

What is most rewarding? Launching a successful new product. Developing laboratory methods that predict consumer response. Promoting staff. Translating consumer research into new product ideas

Most challenging? Dealing with politically motivated people. Dealing with people who feel they must grab the largest piece of the resource pie.  They don’t see that a bigger pie means more for everyone.

Scientific Role Model? My research advisor:  He taught me not to be afraid of new things. As a side note, I was the first graduate student for Professor Tom Meyer (UNC Chapel Hill). My graduate work focused on using activated carbon for electrolysis. For security reasons, I did not find out that the sample of carbon fiber I actually obtained was also being tested for stealth fighters.

Advise for students who may wish to be a scientist?

Decide first what you like to do and then determine the best study course to achieve your goal consistent with an economically marketable career.

Science, engineering and mathematics provide a defined process to solve problems.  As noted in the prelude, this learning process mirrors the problem solving process.  Indeed, we are “wired” to approach things in a certain way.  A logical thought process is a basic prerequisite for any occupation.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor; when you cease to grow you start to degrade.  When I managed the analytical group as a young director I told them “To stay the same is to fall behind.”  I required them to team with the business groups and learn how their data was used to develop new products.  They became much better scientists.

I studied chemistry at the university level for 8 years.  When I joined industry I wanted to be the best scientist ever.  I slowly learned interactions outside science often did not fit a defined process.  So I adapted and used scientific principles to develop a foundation/home base to assimilate qualitative information.

I reached the height of my commercial success at Bath & Body Works (BBW) when my teams launched over two billion dollars in new products.  I came to BBW like a square.  The reasoning was clear, sharp and defensible.  After 7 years I became a circle; I had assimilated aesthetics into formulas to create product experiences.  The products performed (quantitative) and they created unique perceptions (qualitative).

In this complex world you must have an appreciation for science.  You may elect to start an initial study regiment in science and then complete your professional career in another field.

What sage advice would I give my youthful self?

I wonder if I should have studied chemical engineering instead of chemistry.  My 2nd son has a BS in chemical engineering and a PhD in chemistry.  Perhaps that would have been a better path for me.

Had I taken that path, I would not have met another chemistry major who has been my bride for 47 wonderful years.  There is always time to study engineering but there may never be an opportunity to make a personal, lifelong difference.

Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.

Sequencing a Career in Biomedical Sciences

Today’s post features Dr. Dara Missan, a biomedical scientist, who loves to sequence DNA and currently is employed as a clinical laboratory research scientist. How to choose the right school, program, and research advisor are major decisions for any graduate student. What happens if does not work out?

It is not uncommon for students to switch their research adviser but switching schools is in its own entirety.  Dara was kind enough to share her experience about realizing she was on a bumpy road to a PhD and how packing her bags for another school, although scary at the time, was one of her best life decisions. Dara’s story is another great example that one should always push to learn and expect success. Here are ten up, ten down with Dr. Missan.

What is your current position? How long have you been at this position?

I am currently a clinical laboratory research scientist at Fry Laboratories, L.L.C. I have been working here for a year and a half.

What early influences help cultivate your interest in science?

Since I can remember I have always been interested in science. Growing up I was really into rock collecting and I just found it fascinating. My parents were always supportive of my love of science and encouraged me to pursue it. I loved doing science fair projects and loved looking at the stars through the telescope. When I was older my focus shifted to other sciences. I decided earth science wasn’t something I wanted to pursue and biology was more interesting.

Dara strikes a pose and shows a scientist can have fun outside of the lab.

Dara strikes a pose and shows a scientist can have fun outside of the lab.

How has your upbringing shaped you?

My upbringing has completely shaped who I am. My parents were incredibly supportive but strict, and education was always most important in my family. I wasn’t allowed to do anything until my homework was done and my parents never accepted anything less than my best. However, my parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be as long as I could support myself.  If I wanted to be a dancer, or even a plumber, they were completely supportive as long as I was the best one I could be.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised on Long Island, in Commack, NY

What challenges did you experience during your graduate work? What advice would you give when selecting an advisor?

I actually had a rough graduate school beginning. I started off pursuing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, without having an engineering undergraduate background. My program that accepted me funded my first year; however, I didn’t realize this program was a poor fit until I got there. I didn’t get the support I felt I needed and was pretty much forced into a laboratory that wasn’t right for me. I also didn’t get along well with my advisor and I felt constantly like a failure. It was a hard decision for me, because I felt like I was quitting on myself. I instead decided to finish with a Masters in that program and pursue my PhD at a different school in Biomedical Sciences. Little did I know, it was the best decision I could have ever made. I had learned so much from my first graduate school experience about what I wanted in a PI and mentor, so it was incredibly easy to figure out what I was looking for. I also learned that your project isn’t half as important as having a good mentor. I realized that your mentor is way more important  than your project and I was lucky enough to be in a laboratory where I loved both. My advice would be to pick your mentor based on your needs to help you finish your degree. If you need a more hands on mentor, or a completely hands off mentor, you need to find one of those, because that is what is going to help you finish your degree and get you through the hard times. As for struggles, once I was in my new PhD program, I had the typical struggles of every graduate student; experiments not working, the stress of each milestone we were required to hit to move on in the program, committee meeting drama (though to be honest my committee was actually amazing and helped incredibly), the frustrations of your project not coming together as fast as others, where you feel like you are spinning your wheels and things are just not going to form the paper you need to graduate etc. The aspect I loved the most was that I had a mentor to support me during those times and help me through. He was an optimist when I was a pessimist and it was a great relationship.

How did you find your current job? What are some of the challenges you face when deciding to move cross-country?

I was lucky to find my current job –it was one of those in the right place at the right time. My boss is actually my cousin’s neighbor. He was over her house for a party for her son, and my proud parents as usual, were talking normal conversation with him and when they found out what he did for a living, had to brag about me. When he heard about my background as a clinical laboratory scientist and that I was finishing my PhD, he told them to tell me to send a resume. Since I didn’t really want to do a traditional post-doc, I sent it right away. I actually didn’t hear back from him right away and when my parents ran into him again at another function, he told them he never got it and to send it again. So I did. Everything from there happened pretty quickly. They flew me out to interview and I was offered the job. After thinking about it, I decided I really wanted to move closer to my parents and I always knew I didn’t want to stay in NY. I originally wanted to live in California, but Arizona is beautiful and family is important to me. I will say financially, moving across the country was a huge struggle and I am still working my way out of that debt, but I love living here, and enjoy my job so I know it was worth the sacrifice.

Dara is also a certified Beach Body Trainer! Here she is flexing some muscle.

Dara is also a certified Beach Body Trainer! Here she is flexing some muscle.

What aspects of your job do you not like to do? What are the most rewarding?

As with any job there are things you do not like. For instance, I am not a fan of writing grants but I do write them quite a bit. Additionally, because we are a small business, I do some technologist work that really only requires my bachelor’s training. However, I am a team player and I help out any way I can. Plus I do like that I can keep my clinical laboratory technologist skills up to date. I do enjoy when I get to play around with some experiments while designing new lab tests or when I get to perform molecular DNA sequencing, since it is something I was always interested in learning how to do. I am very excited when I do DNA sequencing! I also really enjoy going to conferences. I get to travel a lot and see what is going on in the clinical world.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

For me, its grant writing. Partially because I dislike writing them, and partially because you put in all this time and effort and then don’t get the grant anyway, or they don’t even review it. It is definitely frustrating.

Who is your role model and why?

My role model has always been my mother. She was always such a hard worker and always believed in me and made me believe in myself. She was always independent and strong and really showed me that women can do anything they set their minds to. She had to work really hard to have to achieve things in life for nothing was handed to her growing up. I really respect the hard work she put in to better her own life, as well as the life of both me and my sister.

What advice would you give a young student deciding whether or not to embark in a career in the sciences?

If you are passionate about science and interested in learning, then science is the best career option. For me, I have always loved science. Though the area of science I am passionate about has changed over the years, I do not regret deciding to pursue my career in science. Those days when you discover something amazing, even something small is worth all the hard work and struggle of things not working. Those are the days that scientists live for. When something clicks and a failure turns into a success!

Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.

Spring Your Scientific Career into Full Bloom

Today, the LabJourneys blog was able to sit down with Mrs. Adams. Mrs. Adams, who has had numerous job titles while working for one of the world’s largest chemical company, was kind enough to share her career story and advice. Here are ten up, ten down with Mrs. Adams.

What is your current position of employment? How long have you been at this position? How did your career start?

I have had various job titles throughout the course of my career. My newest job title, which is only several months old, is Senior Client Support Leader.  My primary job function is to lead improvement projects.

My career began conducting research in biochemistry at a small teaching hospital.  I found the job posting in a newspaper classified section. Today, this may seem hard to believe, but before the internet, most people would find jobs scanning the classified section. I still think finding a job is just as competitive as it was then as it is now.  During my interview, I still can vividly remember being shown a stack of 200 to 300 resumes. I had great grades and took a variety of biology courses in college which definitely help distinguish myself from other candidates. I felt extremely fortunate to be offered the job even though the pay was not great.

About the same time I applied to graduate school and began working on my Master’s degree. I got to know many of the scientists who worked in the labs. Through one of these connections landed my second job (with double the salary) at a mid-size specialty chemical company.  It was easy for me to make this change given the increase salary and a sense that an academic career in research was not the right fit for me.  During the next 4 years was a busy time in my life.  I worked full time and completed my Master’s Degree program at night and on the weekends.  An added benefit working for my new employer – the company paid for my degree.

My favorite job was in Environmental, Health and Safety. In that role, I got to focus on the ‘H’ for worker’s health and outside contractors and help implement product safety.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Philadelphia.

What early influences help cultivate your interest in science?

While I was in grade school and high school, both math and science appealed to me. Two of my teachers offered a lot of help and, with time, we became good friends. My parents also valued education – my father was a lawyer and my mother had a college degree in English literature so going to college was always the plan. As a researcher, I enjoyed the science, but I found I really enjoyed interacting with people and applying the science to help people and improve working conditions.

Having worked for a world leading chemical company, what have been the pros of working at such a large entity?  

A benefit for working at a large company is it can provide many opportunities for you to grow your career. At times, working at a large firm can be very political and is highly structured with multiple bosses. Communication skills are pertinent since different groups can be working on the same project and getting everybody on the same page can be bit of a challenge. Compared to smaller companies, a benefit of a large firm is it does provide you with the resources and support to solve problems. At any instance, I might be working on 4 or 5 projects. The opportunity to work 12 hours a day is always available. Another reality with working for a large firm is the potential that you might have to move your family.  Luckily, I never had to move. The firm does try to accommodate more established workers with deeper roots from moving their families but it is not necessarily a given.

What aspects of your job do you like the most?

I enjoy getting to talk to the people, solving problems, and the new challenges. My thirst for new challenges is probably the reason I have changed my job role about every 4 years.

As your life has evolved, how have your career goals changed?  When my kids were young, I was able to manage since my firm understood I had a family. However, depending on a company’s culture, you might be expected to do more than 8 hours a day and with a large company everything takes more time to complete.

I have found I still have the opportunity to do research and present at conferences papers, which I enjoy.

How do you balance your work versus home life?

There is no question that raising a family is very difficult. Balancing your personal and home life can be difficult, as well. My partner was very supportive and helped share the responsibilities. I had to teach my husband how to cook— luckily he was fast learner.

Who is your role model, and why?

My teachers in biology and organic chemistry were role models for me. My parents were also always very supportive. I always admired my First Supervisor who also was a working Mom, teaching, conducting research, and publishing her work. She had two kids and over a million dollar research grant.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Try to find your passion and learn to move on when you haven’t found it.

Anything else you would like to share?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. When I was young, I used to worry a lot. If you need to leave early, don’t worry about it. Work will always be there. Do not assume you know what another person might be thinking. Learn to trust your feelings and act on them.


Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.

Teaching Secondary Science: Meet Ms. Allison Stern

If learning was as simple as opening a book and reading it, what would be the role of a teacher? Students learn in a variety of ways and teachers must find ways to connect with all types of students. In this post, the LabJourneys blog talks with Ms. Allison Stern, who has over 23 years of experience teaching secondary science, about the challenges of teaching science at the secondary school level. Although comical to her now, during our interview Ms. Stern talked about her frustration over not being able to grasp the concept of the normal force until college. It was not until one of her college geology teachers explained the concept in a way she could understand. The light bulb went on and she got it. I thought it was great story illustrating some of the intricacies teachers face when communicating to students.

Teaching at the secondary level is quite different from the collegiate ranks, where professors primarily focus on writing grants and guiding research.  Teaching at the lower level requires incredible patience and the ability to disseminate lessons on topics such as balancing redox equations. This is a difficult job for any science teacher and even harder when only a few kids might be engaged. However, most of us have walked into at least one classroom in which the teacher was highly creative and passionate about teaching science.  As students slowly become of age during grade and high-school, teachers like Ms. Stern play a vital role in fostering and inspiring our future scientists. Here is ten up and ten down with Ms. Stern.

Currently what is your position of employment? How long have you been at this position? For the last 14 years, I have been a science teacher at the Council Rock North High School (Bucks County, PA). The prior 9 years were spent teaching at Newtown Junior High School (Newtown, PA).

Where did you grow up? What early influences help cultivate your interest in science? I grew up in Richboro, PA. My father had a PhD in mathematics and when I was young he would torture me with questions I had no idea how to answer. Once my father realized I could do math, we had more to talk about. He told me once that the moon was constantly falling to the earth, so on nights when the moon would appear bigger, I would always freak out.  He’d conveniently left out the part about inertia.

In general, teaching can be quite challenging, teaching science is even harder? What compelled you to teach sciences? Yes, teaching science is hard. I think the main challenge is teaching kids to think in ways they have never been asked to do. It is not that the students can’t; it is just that they had never been asked to do so.

When I entered college, I started as a civil engineer, then after deciding between business and geology, I settled upon geology. My parents suggested that I look into education. My 19 year old self cringed and immediately said, “No!” In 1992, which was not a good time for finding a job, Princeton Review was offering $14 per hour to prep kids for the SAT. That is how I got into teaching and I really enjoyed helping kids to do better. It was a great experience because I found out that I was innately good at teaching.

What aspects of your job do you like the most? I love teaching the hard stuff.  The concepts that are difficult for a young teen to grasp. Teaching ionic bonding and all sorts of concepts like balancing chemical equations. I like seeing the proverbial ‘light bulb’ click on. When that happens, it is extremely rewarding. Students, who do not get it, drive me crazy because I want to help them to learn. I really enjoy it when my classroom is full of eager kids.

What are the challenges in attracting young minds to pursue a career in the sciences? Nowadays, kids seem to avoid the challenges associated with science, so attracting to it is hard. I try to teach balancing chemical equations by getting students to understand principles of mathematics. I figure if students can learn how to balance a math equation, then they can apply those concepts to chemistry.

As an educator, how do you think we can attract our brightest minds to the sciences? At what age do you think kids are the most impressionable? Middle school, but it is really difficult to engage those students. Middle school kids are too social and have too many hormones. It is hard for kids to look past the challenges in science.  They want immediate gratification and rarely value the rewards of working hard to achieve something.  My kids need to understand that what they see is not everything. If you don’t get an A on a test, it is ok. Grade school science is not the apex of anybody’s career.

How do you balance your work vs. home life? I don’t, but I don’t bring work home with me anymore. The first couple of years were grueling. It was tough to determine how much time to dedicate to a lesson plan. I would spend a lot of time scripting lessons and I would even plan what I would say. Developing lesson plans were difficult.

Who is your role model, and why? Anybody who is doing a better job than me! For me, it is not one person. Somebody once told me in teaching, ‘If you are not stealing ideas from someone else, you are not doing it right’ but you have to make it work for you.

What was the best advice you ever received? I would tell any new teacher this one piece of advice and it allowed me to teach without being completely petrified. My advisor from Temple, who was my advisor for secondary education said, “Just go in there and go with it.” When I was 22, I was nervous as hell, but I just went with it.

Anything else you would like to share? There is a lot of mutual respect between teachers at the elementary and secondary levels. Teachers who teach young kids do not do high school and vice versa.  Another piece of advice for any future teachers, even though you might be out sick, you are still responsible for everything that goes on in the classroom; there is no such thing as a last minute sick day.  Oh, and you’re never going out for lunch on a school day ever again.


Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.

Becoming a Process Engineer: Meet Zach Kelly

In this post, Zach Kelly, a process engineer for Ahlstrom Filtration, shares his story with LabJourneys about his current job as a process engineer and his aspirations to become a production manager. Zach is constantly pushing himself to his limits in order to reach his goals.  After meeting Zach, you can instantly tell he is energetic and his positive attitude is highly contagious. Zach’s attitude sparked me to wonder what could a group of highly positive workers accomplish? Unfortunately, it often only takes one ‘Negative Nancy’ to pull down a group of highly positive people, especially if that person is the boss.  Lastly, if you ever get a chance to meet him, be sure to ask him for a sample of his homemade deer jerky. It is delicious! Here is ten up and ten down with Mr. Kelly.

What is your current position? How long have you been at this position?                           

For the last year and half I have been employed as a process engineer with Ahlstrom Filtration.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up about 30 minutes northwest of Gettysburg, PA in small town called Aspers.

How has your upbringing shape you?

I grew up dirt poor and my parents constantly reminded me that I needed to do better. Therefore, my upbringing has shaped me to strive for the highest level of excellence and motivated me to be as successful as I possibly can. At work, I aim to put more effort than what I am compensated.

What early influences help cultivate your interest in science?

From an early age, I became interested in science by the mere fact that science was the only field that challenged me. Call it foolishness or outright stubbornness, but I shy away from taking the easy route. Personally, I enjoy pushing myself and gravitated toward science because of the challenges it presented.

What was your experience like trying gain employment into the industry after college?

The time immediately following college was extremely difficult to gain employment.  The battle with recruiters, the constant spam in your inbox from suspect offers, and the overwhelming competition made me actually consider joining the army. I just felt like giving up.  After I humbled myself and realized because you have a degree does not mean you are ready to start out on top. After searching for 6 months I finally landed my first job. Then when I decided to leave my first employer I couldn’t find a job for almost 7 to 8 months.  It was almost a disaster. My account was near empty and my school loans were kicking in.  I had to work extra hard to find employment.

Kelly_Hunting Picture

When Zack is not busy working on solving problems at the plant he spends a lot of his free time bow hunting.

What does a typical day entail?

To be honest, each day is different and I don’t have a typical routine.  I’m working my dream job.  Every day is new, exciting, and full of infinite situations with varying degrees of problems needing attention. I would describe a normal day consisting with a meeting or two in the morning, followed by some database updates, and onto the chaos of paper machine problem solving. All this takes place while I am trying to work with my production folks to help them keep up with their demands of the day.



What are some aspects of your job you do not like to do? Most rewarding?

I don’t like having my time wasted by others trying to abuse my time and skills.  That’s about the only aspect of my job I don’t like.

I love that I get to problem solve.  I work with a variety of engineers such as mechanical, industrial, chemical, and even software engineers, as well as other scientists. I have to coordinate with them about different process changes or enhancements.  I find it to be extremely rewarding fixing problems every day.  I’m the guy you come to when you need answers.  My job commands that I know a lot of technical knowledge and make big decisions on the floor that can potentially cost the company thousands of dollars or save them thousands of dollars. For example, I caught a defect in our product which would have cost a lot to fix.  It’s an incredible feeling when I have been handed a supposedly ‘impossible task’ and I accomplish it.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

I’m currently being shaped and molded into something I’m not right now.  It’s a growing process which brings along a lot frustration.  My boss is developing me what I’m aspiring to become.  What is challenging is being pushed past all limits I know about myself, and being wrong all the time! In this regard, my boss is a fabulous mentor.

Who is your role model, and why?

Currently my role model is…(don’t laugh)… Arnold Schwarzenegger.   He has this rule to success that I can’t get out of my head —‘Trust yourself’.  He is my role model because he paved the way for an entirely different way of body building and then launched it into a successful acting career.  Everyone told him he couldn’t do it yet the man trusted himself and became a legend in body building and Hollywood.

What advice would you give to a young student deciding whether or not to embark in a career in the sciences?

I would say to embark in a career in sciences if you feel a passion for it.  Make sure it’s something you want to do every day and wake up in the morning excited to do.  You should embark on a career that allows you to be you and provides the opportunity to make use of your talents and aspirations. I would also like to add that a great way into get into the science industry would be to find an entry-level quality control position. It allows you to get your feet wet and has the potential to serve as a spring board to move around within the company.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I would like to share one of my favorite quotes from Bruce Lee, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put water in the bottle, it becomes the bottle.  You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Now water can flow or it can crash.  Be water my friend.” I really enjoy this quote because it emphasizes about being flexible. If you are really adaptive, it does not matter what situation you find yourself in.



Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists. Follow us at #labjourneys.

Discovering a Career in Clinical Research – Finding a Cure for Yourself!

Ask anyone within the pharmaceutical industry about drug development and you will find it to be arduous. Heck, calling drug development arduous might even be an understatement but the benefits of potential life saving drug research far outweigh the risks and costs. Within the many facets of the pharmaceutical industry is clinical research which functions to simply determine the safety and efficacy of a potential drug candidate through phases of human trials. If the trials go right and satisfy the FDA’s requirements, voilà the next blockbuster drug is born (well, maybe). Thorough clinical research is vital for any pharmaceutical company and without proper testing of the drug in people; there is no drug to manufacture, no drug to sell, and no cure.

In this career spot, Labjourneys talks with Dr. Dan Rossignol and his experience in trying to guide drug targets through the rigors of clinical research, as well as meeting his own life goals. When I first met Dr. Rossignol you could instantly tell he was highly passionate and engaged with his work. At this particular time, the staff including him was hopeful that a new drug candidate was well on its way to becoming approved. Insert a few years later when I had a chance to reconnect with Dan, I was stunned to find out that the drug candidate failed and he was abruptly let go from his job. Dan’s story is a great example of turning failure into fortune and how no one should ever give up in pursuing their interests. Dan is currently rediscovering and redefining himself (and enjoying himself) as a consultant and kindly offers sage career advice about performing clinical research within the pharmaceutical industry.

Currently what is your position? What other positions have you held?

I am currently consulting and managing a project (clinical study) for the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation. A task that I find enormously satisfying. Clinical research is the ultimate in delayed gratification, but I am now working on a study that treats a dire unmet medical need, is based on some hard science, and has clear achievable endpoints.

Over the years, I also studied insect neurobiology (pesticide research), immunology at a pharmaceutical company, and clinical research (drug development) doing human clinical studies in a wide variety of disease areas. Shifting from one disease area to another has proven difficult at times; however, I like to think that working in all these fields has allowed me to bring perspectives from different fields to bear when difficult decisions need to be made.

Where did you grow up? What early influences help cultivate your interest in science?

I grew up in the northeast, part of a family deeply involved in the trades.   But my mother wanted me to be a doctor. Even though I loved science, I wanted to build houses. In order to keep peace in the family, I applied to one college, got in, and realized that science really was the place to be. I kept the building and remodeling as a hobby.

When did you realize your scientific calling?

When I was in elementary school I used to check out books on chemistry from the library. I remember drafting a periodic chart of the elements on an old window shade (is that the definition of nerd or what), but it was so cool how the rows and columns just made sense. And there was nothing mechanical in the house that got thrown out until I first took it apart to figure out how it worked. I do not know how many fuses I blew tinkering in the basement. Maybe it is an anomaly that I am still here to discuss this. Some of the stuff I did back then would probably have me in counseling if I tried to do it these days.

What challenges did you encounter when you were let go? How did you go about finding new employment?

I worked for one company for 23 years, developing a drug from discovery through clinical development. I knew that the drug worked, I just needed to find the disease that it could treat. Surprisingly, after the first Phase 3 pivotal trial failed, the company decided to close up shop on my department. It was a huge disappointment. Not so much that I was out of work, but that the drug I spent 23 years developing was no longer being pursued.

Once I was out the doubt started as to what would happen next. Did I do the right thing by staying with one project for so long?

Interviewing was very educational, as were the people who worked in “outplacement”. One headhunter told me “while you think that you cannot find the right job, companies are saying- why can’t we find someone who can do this job?” Another advisor said “go at that interview like you are the guy to solve all of their problems”. Those things help. But what I really needed to do was understand my value and where I belonged, and move on.

What aspects of your job to you like the most? During your course of your career what aspects did you like the most?

The science. Whenever possible I used scientific reasoning to back decisions that enabled me to stay above the politics. I also had the support of a boss that was also a scientist and mentor- who always had my back. Political and emotional objections generally failed in the face of these two levels of support. It might seem trite to say this, but the importance of having a boss you respect cannot be understated.

Dr. Rossignol gets a free consultation with President Lincoln.

Dr. Rossignol gets a free consultation with President Lincoln.

As humans we have become really good at treating a variety of illnesses where did you see the future of pharmaceuticals? What are the next challenges or concerns?  

I see health care moving to a prophylaxis paradigm (finally). The health care reimbursement system will logically move to a system where we must prevent disease rather than only treat disease, and if we eventually move to a single payer system, there will be strong incentives put in place to stay healthy or become healthy. We cannot let diseases due to lifestyle become so great a drag on the system that we will not be able to treat unpreventable catastrophic diseases.

The challenges of recouping costs of drug development will become greater, maybe insurmountable. Companies have gone to orphan diseases because the low-hanging fruit of easy-to-treat major diseases has been “picked”. But recovering the cost for development of a treatment for orphan diseases means charging each individual a lot. While this has been acceptable for some orphan diseases up to now, as the number of diseases being treated with expensive individualized treatments, costs will continue to increase. And experts have already predicted that the burden on the health care system will increase to the breaking point. We already see this for treatments of hepatitis and certain cancers. When the “pushback” from the healthcare providers gains enough traction then costs will be contained and it will be even more difficult to recoup development costs.

Who is your role model, and why?

I have been fortunate to have a number of remarkable mentors, my graduate school advisor, Dr. Vary, taught me the rigors of scientific training and how things need to be controlled to be studied. My post-doctoral advisor, Dr. Lennarz was patient, and let me fly off on a number of tangents, some of which actually bore fruit. I still see new citations of papers I published while in his lab. In clinical research, Dr. Lynn was a true role model. He never failed to acknowledge an achievement on his team, and never spent time blaming people for mistakes that were made. He lived by the mantra of watch one, do one, teach one. If you were not ready for that you had to stand aside.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Can I quote two?

“You like doing carpentry, but you have only done it in the summer. You have never had to shovel the snow off of a roof to put the roofing on.” That statement helped me decide to go to college.

Clinical: “would you have your grandmother participate in this clinical trial?”. No explanation needed.

What message would you tell a young person today who is interested in the pharmaceutical industry?

Look carefully at the direction that things are going. Stay flexible in what you think you can do, and be ready to pivot as directions change. And, despite what they tell you, management may not have all the answers. As you study and move forward, you can be more of a thought leader than you think you might be, so don’t be afraid to speak up (respectfully). Your expertise and potentially novel approach make it possible that you are more than some small voice in the flood of ideas that management should consider. But you have to keep the evidence on your side. You might even be responsible for changing the direction of a company.

Anything else you would like to share? 

Maybe two things.

Look around you and see how many people are truly evidence-based thinkers. You might be surprised. A very bright person once said that logic will never change the mind of someone who did not make their conclusions logically. Scientists (likely most of the people reading this) have a difficult time using things other than logic to change someone’s mind. But a different approach to convincing this mindset needs to be used. Scientists need learn how to educate and persuade without lecturing. Frankly, I have a hard time with that myself- I love to quote sources which drives people nuts.

When I started my first job I had the fleeting thought- maybe I can slow down now, maybe I am done publishing, maybe this will be my last job (people in the company I started with routinely worked there 30 years and retired from this company). LOL. Don’t fool yourself, even if it turns out to be your one-and-only job and you retire from that company, stay competitive, or there is no way that job will ever be your last job.


All the best!


Dr. Blog

 Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.

Teaching at Gettysburg College – Meet Professor Grzybowski

Having taught countless students for over 36 years, Professor Joseph Grzybowski imparts the LabJourneys blog at with some advice before his upcoming retirement in the spring of ’16. Professor Grzybowski currently resides as the G. Bowers and Louise Hook Mansdorfer Professor of Chemistry at Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA). He graciously shares a small snippet of his story and career advice about teaching at a small liberal arts college.

What is your current title and how long have you had this position? I am a Professor of Chemistry at Gettysburg College.  I have been teaching at Gettysburg College  since the fall of 1979.

Where did you grow up? What early influences help cultivate your interest in science? I grew up in Wilkes-Barre, PA during the early days of the space race. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut or if that didn’t work out, then a scientist. I was always interested in chemistry but my parents would never let me have a chemistry set because they viewed it as dangerous. Now I’ve got a really big chemistry set. Guess I had the last laugh on that one.

In regards to the space program and your generation how much of an impact do you think it had with influencing young kids towards studying science? I think the space race had a tremendous influence on young kids going into science. The first manned space flights caused everything to come to a halt. Everyone watched the broadcasts. I remember our teacher in grade school rolling a small TV into the classroom so that we could watch history being made. It was very exciting. Everyone wanted to be an astronaut or, when reality kicked in, be someone involved in this science stuff.

One of the many summer research group pictures through of the years. Picture courtesy of Professor G

One of the many summer research group pictures throughout the years. Picture courtesy of Professor G.

How did you know teaching at a small college was for you? I attended a small college in my hometown and really liked the small classes and faculty-student interactions. Teaching at Gettysburg has been a perfect blend of teaching and research for me.

For you what is the most rewarding aspect of teaching? What is the most challenging? The most rewarding aspect is interacting with the students in lab. Having them see the lecture concepts being applied in a real laboratory setting. This is especially true when they do research and make a compound that no one has ever made before…the world’s supply is right there in that vial.

The most challenging aspect of teaching is making a class a good experience for all of the students regardless of their background or interest in chemistry.

Our research informs us you have a knack for telling chemistry jokes? Can you share us one?

Your research is flawed!

Two atoms are walking down the street. One atom says to the other,”Hey! I think I lost an electron!” The other says, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m positive!”

Professor Grzybowksi wishes another newly minted graduate down the pathway of success. Picture courtesy of Professor G.

Professor Grzybowksi wishes another newly minted graduate down the pathway of success. Picture courtesy of Professor G.

What is the best advice that you ever received? Life is easy if you have the right tools.

Who were your role models? All of my teachers and mentors. If I had to choose one, I’d choose my post-doctoral advisor, Daryle Busch, who really helped me grow as a chemist. Interacting with him and his research group was a very exciting time for me as a scientist.

With retirement in the near horizon, what are the new challenges you plan to tackle? I would like to get something published in the New York Times….a Sunday crossword puzzle.



Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.

Diffracting a Career as a X-ray Crystallographer

Today, we had a chance to catch up with Dr. Glenn P.A. Yap where he serves as staff crystallographer for the University of Delaware’s department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. With over 638 published papers, Dr. Glenn P.A. Yap currently resides as the 3rd most published crystallographer.

What is your current position? How long have you been at this position?
I am the crystallographer for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of the University of Delaware since 2003. I was also appointed Assistant Professor on 2011.


Dr. Yap looks on as students dabble in crystallography. In this picture you can see an eager student looking for a single crystal using the microscope. The amber colored crystals can be seen on the monitor to the right.

What does a typical day entail?  There is a great variety from day to day but I suppose there are common elements. I usually check my email correspondence when I come in to see if there are items that I need to reply or act on, or to supply information. I routinely check the X-ray laboratory to see if the diffractometer is doing fine, if liquid nitrogen is sufficient, and if new samples arrived. I would set up an experiment and solve the previous day’s data collected. I check if students in the various synthetic laboratories, especially those that ran experiments the previous day and those scheduled to run experiments currently, need any assistance in structure solving or data collection. If I’m teaching that term, I’d have to review and update my lecture notes and conduct classes. If I have pending papers that I am editing for Acta Crystallographica C, I’ll have to read and evaluate submissions and invite reviewers. If I am submitting a paper, I have to review the structures, check for similar compounds and write an analysis. I might have a meeting with the university radiation safety committee or the department technical services committee. Students and faculty would often stop by my office to discuss crystallography and chemistry.

When did you realize your scientific calling? I think I always wanted to do something in the sciences but it was the middle of my third year in high school that probably clinched that I wanted to be in chemistry. The crystallography was something of a happy accident since I needed to do some crystallography in graduate school. We had a diffractometer but nobody in-house to operate it.

What are some aspects of your job you do not like to do? Most gratifying? I think the most frustrating thing is when I am explaining some idea that I consider practically self-evident but I somehow fail to communicate. The most gratifying aspect would have to be when I see the proverbial light bulb turn on and the other person catches on. I also enjoy being surrounded by intelligent people that allows for informal scientific discourse every day.

What are the most challenging aspects of running a X-ray crystallography lab? The greatest challenge is maintaining the balance between being efficient while being true to the educational mission.

From a historical point of view, how has technology impacted your field? Well, the whole field of crystallography is technological, in my opinion. The underlying principles have not changed since they were discovered (after all, the Bragg law was first stated in 1913!) but we have had quantum jumps in instrumentation, crystallographic software and computer hardware. Just to illustrate, a sample that would have taken me a week to collect data on and solve when I was a student could now be completed in a few hours.

Where do you think future will hold for your field? Science altogether? As long as people need to visualize groups of atoms to understand, crystallography would remain a powerful and relevant analytical science. The scientific method is so engrained as a reliable method of inquiry that science should continue to flourish so long as humanity exists.

How has your upbringing shape you? I suppose being brought up with books on various topics, this was before the popularity of the Internet mind, encouraged a lot of thinking.

Who is your role model, and why? I suppose my role model would be a composite of science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and scientists like Michael Faraday. I suppose I would like to emulate Faraday’s excellence as an experimentalist and his ability to convey ideas quite simply. It might not be commonly known but Asimov who authored science fiction classics was also a biochemistry professor at Brown University. As a group, scientists instill logic while fiction writers allow us to dream.

What advice do you have for young student deciding whether or not to embark in a career in the sciences? As in any major life decisions, one must figure out what one values most at the core and select the path consistent. If you are the type of person that likes to think logically and imagine, I suspect science might be a good career choice. So find out as much as you can about the potential scientific field and see if this is something that would make you happy to explore. I suppose this is a long winded way to say “Follow your passion”.

For more information about Glenn and the X-ray crystallography department at the University of Delaware can be found at


Dr. Blog

 Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists.