Amgen’s Karen Breen discusses the aspects of her career that got her to where she is today.
Starting out on your biotech career and wondering what it could take to get to a senior position?
Karen Breen, director of quality control in Amgen, tells us about the lessons she has learned and the pivotal moments in her career path.
‘I always said yes to opportunities when they came my way’
– KAREN BREEN
What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?
I loved science since secondary school, working on experiments and understanding how the world worked really interested me. I understood that biotechnology was a really important area and it was an aspiration of mine to be a part of that industry and to make a positive impact to people.
What education and/or other jobs led you to the role you now have?
A degree in science was an essential start in my career. I worked my way up from an entry-level role as a graduate at a time when it was hard to get good experience, starting with sample management, which was followed with a laboratory role where I gained most of my analytical skills and knowledge.
From there I began to supervise and manage many different types of laboratories working with lots of talented people along the way.
While most of my career has been primarily based within the quality control department, I have worked in many areas, learning about microbiology, bioassays, immunoassays, separation science techniques and transfer of methods, which transpired into understanding how this data is used for manufacture of product, filing applications and providing insight to our processes.
I always said yes to opportunities when they came my way and that has helped me to achieve many insights and has provided lots of exposure to many areas of our organisation.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
I never cease to be amazed by the talent and brilliance of some of our Amgen employees discovering new drugs and bringing innovative medicine to patients.
The most important revelation that I uncovered on my career path, as a leader of teams and a function, was the importance of communication skills and understanding that everyone hears a message very differently. As a leader it is up to you to ensure people understand the mission, to make it real for them and motivate them to achieve all our goals.
We need our people working together as one team to achieve these goals and meet the high standards we set ourselves at Amgen.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
I have had the privilege of working with many fantastic colleagues and managers through my career and I have learned a lot from each of them, I have adopted many elements of leadership into my own approach to work and management.
The people who were most influential were those who took the time to share their knowledge and expertise with me, whether it be how to run the perfect assay on a HPLC, to navigating the politics of a meeting or just getting through a tough day.
It is important as you develop your career to understand who to look to as a coach or mentor in the various roles you may hold as you climb the ladder and build your knowledge.
What do you enjoy about your job?
At Amgen our mission is to serve patients, it has been inspiring to hear patient stories and be able to connect what I do every day to ensuring people can live longer and healthier when they are faced with a grievous illness.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
I would say that I have strong organisational skills and relate well to people. These two personality traits have stood to me over the years and ensured success in delivering results and goals within the teams that I work with every day.
How did your Amgen support you on your career path?
Working with Amgen has provided me with so many fantastic opportunities to develop my career. There are many different training approaches – on the job, courses, conferences and workshops.
I have worked on exciting projects, products and programmes meeting with brilliant people who are experts in their areas.
I have had the opportunity to rotate through many different roles gaining invaluable experience and interacting with colleagues across the globe and learning from different sites within Amgen.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
There are no shortcuts or fast tracks, you must be prepared to work hard and there’s no substitute for a great attitude. Be yourself from the very start, let your personality shine through.
Say yes to opportunities – you never know where it will lead to. You might be privileged to find yourself mastering the art of science and bring pioneering medicine to people with serious life-interrupting diseases.