By Samantha Truex, CEO of QuenchBio, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC
I have been privileged to read and write for this LifeSciVC blog for a handful of years now. One of my favorite editions is Leave a Ladder Down from Ros Deegan in 2019, both because I was amazed by her knowledge of the Khumbu Icefall in Nepal and because I like the image of leaving a ladder down to help others up as we navigate the inevitable career ladder.
As I commented at the time of that blog, I have benefitted from many people who took time to show me career paths, to mentor me and to advocate for me during my career. The CEO of Cayman Chemical gave me my first job in the life sciences, an internship in 1990; Alan Walts, Mark Enyedy, and Mara Aspinall believed in me to meet high expectations at Genzyme; Mark Wiggins, Susan Alexander, Matt Ottmer, Glenn Pierce and Steve Holtzman each gave me opportunity to grow and shine at Biogen. Mike Gilman and Bruce Booth then set me on the ladder to leadership in the start-up world. And that’s just to name a few.
For my part, I have tried to “leave a ladder down” many times over the years. I have always prioritized making time for students and those interested in my view of potential career paths or changes in those paths. Recalling how little I understood in college of possible careers launched from a biology or engineering degree, I have answered the request for time to chat from countless students and many industry contacts.
I have often described a career as more of a set of options to navigate than a straight path on a single ladder. When I have thought of the “ladder,” I have generally thought more of a grid, where one can move across, or down and across or diagonally in addition to climbing straight up.
In recent months, as we have all stared racial inequality in the eye, I have thought more than ever about the concept of leaving a ladder down. While many left a ladder down for me, it was frankly pretty straightforward to do so since I had every privilege of education, contacts and role models that one could desire. I have wondered recently how we can get more people from different backgrounds to make their way onto the life sciences career grid.
Here’s what I now think: I don’t think it’s enough to just leave a ladder down. I think we need to challenge ourselves to take the time to go back down the ladder and find the people milling about at the bottom who don’t even know the ladder is there or how to step onto it.
We need to fill the pipeline of life sciences careers with candidates who might not pursue this educational path, let alone this career path, without role models to show them how exciting and fulfilling it is. We need to think of more ways to get people on this industry grid and make sure they are better escorted to see the full view of the grid, to grab on to the grid and to be welcomed at every rung as they climb it.
It can be daunting to think of the amazing, inspirational leaders who have dedicated enormous time and effort to guiding people onto the life sciences career grid. Rob Perez, founder of Life Science Cares, and Jo Viney, board member of WEST (Women in the Enterprise of Science & Technology), seem to have boundless time and energy for mentoring others. Yet all of us at all levels of industry can find time and motivation to make at least a small difference, even a difference in the life of just one person.
So I put this challenge to you:
- How will you help at least one person make her or his way onto and up the life sciences career grid this year?
- How will you go beyond leaving ladders down to ensure that someone different from you is motivated to grab on and climb?
I’m on it. I hope you will be, too. Happy navigating!