Spotlight: Q&A with Dr. Jennifer Chadwick

July 20, 2020 4 min read

Dr. Jennifer Chadwick does a lot with her time. In addition to being Vice President of Biologic Development at BioAnalytix, she is also a visiting scientist and professor at Northeastern University and serves as a mentor to scientific entrepreneurs and a strategic advisor to MassBio, a not-for-profit organization that supports the life sciences industry in Massachusetts. “I enjoy engaging in a number of activities on a volunteer basis that helps me to keep my connection with the science,” Dr. Chadwick said. 

That isn’t to say that there isn’t science involved in her job: BioAnalytix performs analysis to generate data, specifically on biologically based drugs or “biologics” which is what the FDA classifies anything produced with a living component (such as an antibody, enzyme or gene therapy).

BIOTOC Connection spoke with Dr. Chadwick over Zoom to learn more about how she got into STEM, what roles mentors play in her professional life and her thoughts on beauty. 

BIOTOC Connection: Did you always want to pursue a career in STEM? I saw that you have a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Purdue University. So is that always where you saw yourself going? 

Jennifer Chadwick (JC): So that's a great question and a challenging one to answer. When I was going to college, nobody knew what STEM was because it wasn't really a thing yet. I was always good at math and science, but I found it relatively straightforward and as a teenager thinking about my future, not that engaging. My interests tended more toward being creative, and I liked interacting. And those were not typical traits of scientists, or so I thought. I actually started out as an international studies major in college, because I love debating politics, and culture and religion and all the things that you think of at the opposite end of the spectrum from STEM, and I didn't see myself in a STEM field at all.

In college, things changed when I got very sick. With being ill, I had to go through a lot of doctors trying to figure out what was ailing me, and the surprising thing was that none of them knew the cause nor could figure it out. That experience, coupled with a hard-headed drive to get well eventually led me into the world of research, thanks to a few key mentors. That's when I realized that I did want to go into a STEM field and that all those other traits, like creativity and communication skills, that I thought of as not being relevant to science, could be really valuable in these career paths.

I think it is really great to hear about different people’s paths and how they got into STEM. 

JC: Definitely. There’s a complete spectrum. I think we need people with unique experiences and complementary skills and talents in the STEM fields to diversify the thinking. 

Speaking about diversifying thinking: you are the Co-chair of Mentors, Advisors & Peers (MAPs) Program for the Women in Bio Boston chapter. So my first question is do you have a mentor or mentors? And also what makes a good mentor? 

JC: The first answer is a resounding “yes.” And it is many [mentors], and also a constantly evolving network of people. I think of mentoring in fairly broad and dynamic terms and believe that's been a very big benefit to me. There are certainly close relationships that stand out as go-to mentors but it helps to try not just to always look to one or two people for advice. It’s beneficial to listen and determine how people's experiences and the way that they think about the world are relevant to your situation, so you can ask appropriate kinds of questions. In my view, if people are telling you specifically what to do, that's probably not mentoring: that’s just straight forward advice. I think mentoring is about thinking for yourself in the context of good advice. Speaking as a mentor, listening often is a bigger component than speaking. And the focus should be on helping people to ask themselves the right questions and find the right answers. 

Finally, this question isn’t as related to STEM but what does “beauty” mean to you? And to bring it back to STEM does your background influence the choices you make with the products you buy? 

JC: It is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Something I've really liked about the more modern era is that I think people are looking at beauty more holistically than they used to as a culture [and] as a society. You can always see when somebody is glowing, and to me, that is a reflection of inner beauty coming out. Happiness is a big part of being beautiful. I see people as really beautiful when I see them being satisfied by their work and life and what they're doing and their accomplishments. 

With regards to things like actual beauty products, I love the chemistry, it's fascinating. The science that goes on behind cosmetics, and understanding, for example, skin and skin quality, skin elasticity, skin tone—all of those things have a scientific basis. And I think the products that work often can be quite expensive because there's so much learning and knowledge behind them. Looking at pictures of past generations, you can see how much younger we all look today. And I think that has to do with the quality [of what] we eat, and the quality of what we can do for our skin with good products as we've advanced our understanding.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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