Photo: Mandy Haltom

STEM Pros:

Mandy Haltom: Research Scientist

Please provide a summary of your job or research. What is an average day like? What are some duties performed?

I am working at a biotech company in the California Bay Area and my company is developing cancer immunotherapy drugs. My job is to design studies to test the drug candidates on mice. I spend most of my time communicating with other people to plan the studies. I talk to the “teams” in the company who are working on different aspects of the drug candidates to ask their opinions on the study design (what doses to use, how often to give the drug to the mice, how many mice to get, etc) since they know a lot about the candidate. We contract out a lot of our studies to be run at other companies because we have more studies than people to run them, so I spend a chunk of time communicating with those other companies. Ergo, at the moment, I spend a ton of time in meetings.

What is your educational background and what prompted you to go this direction?

I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Genetics and my PhD in Biomedical Science. After that, I did a five-year fellowship at an academic institution (university). My initial plan was to stay at the university to do research and run my own lab, but those jobs are scarce and highly competitive. There are tons of jobs for scientists in biotech that pay more and require less work, so I decided to go that route. I do not regret it at all–best decision I ever made!

What have you struggled with or overcome in your educational path or life path to get to this point?

The competition. In the highly competitive world of academics research, the standard for success is publishing papers. There is crushing pressure to produce data to publish (they call it “publish or perish”), and it can often push people to do unethical things. I struggled with that pressure–I did things slowly to ensure they were done correctly, but I was told to cut corners. It was difficult to handle, and I pushed back a lot, which led to a bad relationship with my boss. In biotech, success is a drug/product that WORKS. This was my goal all along, so this company culture is much more aligned with my own goals.

What is the best part of your job/research?

Knowing that I’m contributing to something huge and potentially making a drug that could save thousands of people!

What is the worst part?

Right now the most challenging part is keeping up with the work–I have so many studies going on, each with a different complex scientific background, so remembering the science and what is going on with each study is a little difficult. I have to be highly organized.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Knowing that I can change the lives or the life spans of people with cancer.

What has changed about your profession in the past ten years?

Ten years ago, cancer immunotherapy was not a thing or just becoming a thing! This field has evolved rapidly.

What do you think will change in the next ten?

I think we will discover new ways to improve cancer immunotherapy and cure more people with cancer.