Alumni Profile: Erin Wierzbicki, née Gallagher

Erin (Gallagher) Wierzbicki DePaul Chemistry AlumniAssociate Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Lihua Jin recently had the opportunity to talk with Erin Wierzbicki, née Gallagher, who graduated from DePaul in 2012 with a MS in Chemistry. Erin reflects back on her academic career at Depaul, discusses how it has prepared her for her career, and shares advice to current students on how to be a successful student of chemistry.


Accomplished:

  • DePaul University, MS Chemistry 2012
  • Northern Michigan University, BS Biochemistry 2010

Current:

  • Senior Associate, Global Regulatory Affairs at Hospira, a Pfizer company

Previous:

  • Biophysical Scientist II at Therapeutic Proteins International
  • Analytical Chemist II at NOW Health Group

Jin: How did your degree prepare you for your non-traditional career path, and how has your education at DePaul prepared you for what you are currently doing?

Wierzbicki: I earned my BS in Biochemistry in 2010 from Northern Michigan University and my MS in Chemistry in 2012 from DePaul University.

While I was in college and graduate school I always assumed that when you get a degree in chemistry you have two choices; you can go to medical school or work in a lab. I found that as I was looking for a job having a MS was a huge advantage since I did not have any industry experience. After 3 months of searching, I got a job working as an analytical chemist and later as a biophysical scientist, where I worked for about 2 years. I used many of the laboratory skills I had learned and found much of my educational experience being directly applied. However, over those two years I found that being a chemist in the “real world” just wasn’t what I thought it would be and I had never thought I would want to do anything else besides work in a lab. Quite frankly, I didn’t know there were other options.

Enter Regulatory Affairs.

I discovered Regulatory Affairs as a profession while working as a biophysical scientist. In this role, I was constantly being bombarded by regulatory professionals who were using my lab results in their submissions. I was instantly intrigued by the notion of working with the FDA and other global regulatory agencies. When I began looking further into regulatory affairs as a career path I was surprised to find that a life science degree was part of the job requirement. Who knew that med school and being a chemist in the lab were not the only job options! After several months of searching, I received a job offer from a large generic pharmaceutical company as a regulatory affairs associate. This job, unlike the lab, was not a direct application of what I had learned while earning my degree. Specifically, I found that it used the broader skills that aren’t just applicable to science, namely problem solving, critical thinking, and program management. All of those skills were ones I learned while I was working towards completing my MS thesis and are heavily used in the life sciences. I found that the days were constantly different and regulatory has a certain diversity that the lab did not provide me.

Overall, I feel that having a MS opened more career opportunities to me than just having a BS. While I do not directly use the scientific knowledge I gained during my schooling, I find that technical problems do arise and having that background does become extremely helpful. Additionally, the way I approach issues and assess problems is a skill that I directly attribute to my time conducting my thesis experiments.

I find that what I gained from DePaul has proven invaluable in my career.

Jin: Looking back at my graduate studies, what advice would I give current students to be successful?

Wierzbicki:  My biggest piece of advice, especially for those planning on entering industry – would be to not only get a MS but to choose the thesis option. I have found that the experience of designing/performing experiments, troubleshooting issues, and writing a coherent summary of your results and findings has proven invaluable to me in my career thus far. I am constantly writing reports or assessing changes and I fee very strongly that I would not be able to perform these everyday job functions as well as I can without having gone through the process of writing a thesis. Additionally, the experience of defending my thesis was great practice for the occasional presentations I have to give in front of my regulatory counterparts.

Thanks to Erin for taking the time to talk with us about her experiences as a graduate student at DePaul and how they have helped her in her career path. We wish Erin all the best.

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