WIB-Capital Region: Member Spotlight with Jessica Smith

Thursday, September 10, 2020
Authored by: Meenu Pillai

Tell us about your background (both educational and professional).

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science from West Virginia University. Initially, I was in broadcast media and then moved into government contracting focused on Life Sciences. Within the SAIC Life Sciences organization, I started out as a Conference Coordinator, then moved on to a Scientific Program Analyst role during the transition to Leidos, and then from a Project Manager to Program Manager. Currently, I am the Operations Manager of the Explorations in Global Health (ExGloH) division of Leidos. I manage the operations and finances of a six-person team. My role nicely complements the scientific aspects of the division. The role is like a “gatekeeper” that manages all of the financial, strategic, and legal logistics, like the glue that holds everything together. My function includes tracking spending, budgeting, and timelines, thereby complementing the scientific teams’ function. This allows the scientific Principal Investigators to focus on scientific planning and innovation.

What are your top three tips for women who are just starting their careers?

My tips for anyone who is just starting their career is to have an open mind, be agile and adaptable, and always keep moving forward.

What are some of the biggest challenges women still face in the life sciences?

One of the biggest challenges women still face is to break through the glass ceiling, to showcase their capabilities, and to just have the same opportunities as men. There appears to be a “good old boy structure” across the field. I have found it is relatively easier for women to grow within a larger organization. 

What is the most exciting and personally fulfilling part of your work right now?

Currently, we are focused on the commercialization of Leidos-owned IP focusing on the development of cancer immunotherapies and infectious disease vaccines. Our R&D is internally-funded like an incubator, allowing us to direct the science and determine critical path research. This approach is a pivot from the standard government-contracting model. Being an integral part of this strategic pivot and development of the ExGloH division was a critical point for the advancement of my career.

What is the best leadership advice you ever received and from whom?

The best leadership advice I received was from my current VP: treat every meeting like an interview – and I live to that every day! Every meeting is an interview; how your behavior is during that can influence the next step of your career!

What role did mentorship play in helping you to achieve your career goals?

Currently, I have two different mentors, and they are always supporting and providing me guidance and encouragement. They help me to let go of imposter syndrome and focus on advancing through the company to management. They encourage me to showcase my capabilities and pivot them into new opportunities.

What does success mean to you?

Success, to me, means being proud of the work I am doing and being able to have a sense of fulfillment within the work I am doing. Being able to encourage and make a difference in the field. Creating a change and being part of the solution!
8. How did you find the career path that you are on right now?
I had to hustle a lot in the beginning, but I was always seeking to learn more and grow more in the organization; I try to always take a chance with an open mind. It is really important to show how your capabilities can be translated into different roles. It is also important to be agile and never pass up on an opportunity.

Tell us how you got involved with Women In Bio, what you do for the organization, and what being a part of WIB means to you.

My involvement with WIB began in late 2019, through a colleague, who suggested I volunteer in the Capital Region Chapter. I have been able to apply my background in volunteering and strategic planning to the chapter, and I am currently the Frederick Programs co-chair. I really enjoy this position because I get to meet other women in the biology and science field and expand my network, which gives me the opportunity to grow more in the biotech space. I am excited to be able to have an open dialogue with other women and cultivate the biotech community in Frederick. 

See the original article here.

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