Headshot of Erin Vu

5 Questions with Erin Vu, Ph.D., Learning & Organizational Development Program Manager at Novavax

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated.

This week we welcome Erin Vu, Ph.D., Learning & Organizational Development Program Manager at Novavax, a biotechnology company that promotes improved health globally through the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative vaccines to prevent serious infectious diseases. Novavax was recently named the Employer of the Year in the 2021 BioBuzz Awards.

Prior to joining Novavax, Dr. Vu worked in Human Resources roles for companies in several industries, including higher education, legal, and manufacturing. Dr. Vu received a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Walden University, an M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from East Carolina University, and a B.S. in Psychology from Virginia Tech.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

When I was an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, I was double majoring in Psychology and Business. An advisor introduced me to Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which is the science of human behavior as it pertains to work. After learning more about this field, I knew it was the perfect way to marry my interests in psychology and business. I decided to get my Master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and worked in the applied side of the field for four years before going back to school to get my Ph.D. I continued to work full-time and graduated with my Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in August of this year. You might be surprised to hear that life has been a bit calmer the past few months!

I have worked in several different industries, and Novavax is the first biotechnology company I have worked for. One thing I have learned throughout my career is that working for a mission-driven company is extremely important to me. Novavax is working to fight infectious diseases, including COVID-19 and influenza, and that mission inspires me to work hard and deliver results every day.

2) You’ve been at Novavax for about a year now – what has been the most exciting part about this new role, and what do you hope to achieve in the next year?

This is an extremely exciting time to work at Novavax. In early 2020, Novavax had 160 employees. Now we have over 1,300 employees, and we’re still growing! When I joined Novavax in November 2020, our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trials were just getting underway. Now, the vaccine has been approved for emergency use in Indonesia and the Philippines and we expect it will be authorized in many more countries soon.

The work our Novavax HR team is doing is also exciting. HR truly has a seat at the table at Novavax, which isn’t the case in all organizations. This shows how much Novavax values its employees. We refer to our employees as ‘SuperNovas’ because we only hire the best and brightest people! One thing we have at Novavax that sets us apart from most other organizations is a coaching program. We offer all our SuperNovas the opportunity to work with an executive coach, which is something that most organizations only offer employees at the executive level.

I am part of the Learning & Organizational Development team, which is a team of five superstars who were all hired to join Novavax in 2020 and 2021. In 2021 alone, we designed and implemented leadership development programs, launched a Learning Management System, revamped the onboarding process, and much, much more. I look forward to all we’ll accomplish in 2022!

3) One aspect of your role is related to employee engagement. What is Novavax doing to engage employees while growing so quickly?

As we continue to experience rapid growth, we engage SuperNovas by making sure everyone is connected to Novavax’s mission and culture. For example, we have global forums every quarter where leaders provide updates on the work being done in their functions or department and answer questions directly from employees.

4) You recently obtained your Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology – can you tell us a bit about how you envision this degree helping you in your career path?

Employees are the most valuable asset to any organization. The focus of Industrial and Organizational Psychology is to apply the scientific principles of psychology to the workplace. When people are engaged at work, both the individual and the organization benefit. The knowledge I gained through obtaining my Ph.D. in this field has helped me to better understand the issues people face in the workplace and to work with organizations to address those issues.

One important piece of advice I received from a former professor is that learning doesn’t stop on graduation day. As an expert in this field, it’s my responsibility to remain up to date on the research and best practices related to Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

5) As the world gradually starts to open back up, what is one place that you’re hoping to travel to in the near future, and why?

Like most people, I have hardly left my house since March 2020. My travel wish list is very long! Now that it’s becoming safer to travel, I hope to travel outside of the U.S. to Vietnam. My husband’s parents are from Vietnam, and he has fond memories of his time spent there. I want to experience all the great food, beaches, and cities Vietnam has to offer.

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Sarah Ellinwood

Managing Editor at BioBuzz | Workforce Genetics
Sarah Ellinwood is BioBuzz's Managing Editor. A scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, Sarah specializes in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. She received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology with a focus in infectious disease immunology from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things related to scicomm, peer mentorship, and women in STEM.