7 Commonalities among Successful Industry Scientists

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I love stories, people’s stories. As a trained scientist, I especially enjoy reading stories about other scientists. When reading their stories, I am interested to find out how they got into the field, how they managed to get where they are today, and the key factors that have contributed to their success.

Recently I had a chance to interview and write profile articles on dozens of well-established scientists working in the chemical industry, and I found out that they share the following commonalities.

1. An early inspiration/a role model. Most of my profile subjects started to show interest in science at an early age. When asked about their early inspirations, many of them mentioned their high school teachers. Some of them still clearly remembered how their teachers made science and chemistry fun, and how they encouraged them to pursue their interests.

A few of the subjects, however, were inspired by family members. Steven Isaacman, the Entrepreneurial PhD Who Is Set to Address Unmet Medical Needs, was inspired by his uncle, who was a successful cosmetic chemist and entrepreneur. Isaacman wanted to be just like his uncle, so much so that he followed his footsteps to become a successful chemist and to build a business of his own.

2. A helpful mentor/advisor. Many of the subjects also attributed their successes to their advisors who helped them to get a solid start in their chosen fields, or mentors who provided valuable advice over the years, or both. Wendy Young, vice president of discovery chemistry at Genentech thanked her undergraduate research advisor, professor Huw Davies, for exposing her to organic chemistry, and for helping her build a solid foundation in chemical research.

3. A strong drive. Despite their diverse upbringings, all of the subjects have a strong drive. They want to succeed in what they do, and they strive to make a difference to the world. Their ultimate goals may be different, but their determination to reach their goals appears to be the same.

4. A positive attitude. A positive attitude goes a long way. We all face challenges from day to day. A positive attitude can help us overcome the challenges. Marta Piñeiro-Núñez, the Open Innovation Leader Who Strives to Add Value, chose to be an optimist early on. The positive attitude, along with her adaptability to changes and strong desire to learn everything new, has led her to a rewarding career.

5. Perseverance. Success does not come over night. To succeed in any profession, perseverance is a must. Almost all of the scientists I interviewed have faced obstacles one way or another, but their willingness to get up after being knocked down ultimately made a difference to their careers.

6. A clear goal. A goal is like a lighthouse. It leads the way. My profile subjects’ career goals are different – some want to build successful businesses, others prefer following more traditional career paths — but they all clearly know what they want.

7. Ability to stay focused. A clear goal and the ability to stay focused go hand in hand. A clear goal can help us to stay focused, and staying focused in return can help us achieve our goal. Wendy Young says it beautifully, “don’t get distracted by sideline activities because it takes away time and energy from things that will really matter.”

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