BMS’s Mary Collins discusses how she developed her career in biopharma, highlighting a key factor when it comes to strengthening the pipeline of women in the life sciences industry.
The biopharma industry is booming, especially in Ireland, and that means there are plenty of jobs available for those who want a career in that sector. So, how can the biopharma industry strengthen its pipeline? Encouraging more women to join would be a good place to start.
Mary Collins is an executive director of quality for external manufacturing at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). She spoke to Sililconrepublic.com about her career journey and what led her down the science path.
“From an early age I was always interested in science,” she said. “When I was in secondary school I had two inspirational teachers – both women – who made science very exciting subjects and were themselves highly passionate about it.”
Collins added that, while she attended a convent all-girls secondary school, the principal was very passionate about making sure girls got the opportunity to study STEM subjects. This early encouragement led Collins to study chemistry at third level and complete a PhD before starting her biopharma career.
Collins first worked as a chemist supporting active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing. “From there I got the opportunity to work on developing new products and loved the challenge and experience of taking chemistry from the laboratory and scaling it up in the plant. My experience led me to taking on more senior roles in site operations, including time as manufacturing, science and technology API leader responsible for the technical transfer and scale-up of new molecules.”
Collins spoke about the importance of mentors in her life, not just while she was in school, but also at the early stages of her career. “I have been very fortunate to have had excellent mentors, both male and female, throughout my career. In the early years of my career, my mentors and advisers were all male and were highly supportive and encouraging.”
She said these mentors encouraged her to take on senior roles and develop her management skills through courses and further education.
“I definitely think things are changing for women in the sci-tech industry. Today, I see many more women in leadership roles than when I started out in my career, and that is great as we all know the power and benefit that a diverse workforce can bring to a company.”
Collins believes that leaders within the sci-tech industry need to continue to encourage women in the development of their careers as well as giving them the support they need to juggle their career with family commitments or other passions. “As a leader within BMS, I try to provide guidance, encouragement and flexibility to those on my team the same way my mentors did for me,” she said.
Collins also said that she wishes she knew earlier in her career that there were opportunities everywhere, even those that look like challenges. “You have to be prepared to take them and work hard,” she said. “I also believe that it is vital to be able to embrace change. When BMS expanded into the biopharma sector, it was a big change for us as a company but gave us an opportunity to learn about a new, growing industry.”
When it comes to staying productive, Collins said that to-do lists are vital for her. “I also believe that time off to rest is essential, and planning and scheduling it is important – it allows you to come back refreshed and will ultimately help your productivity.”