Associate 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.
- DePaul University, MS Chemistry 2012
- Northern Michigan University, BS Biochemistry 2010
- Senior Associate, Global Regulatory Affairs at Hospira, a Pfizer company
- 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.