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#RisingStars - Deborah Ojutalayo

Please introduce yourself; what you do and how long you have been in your role

My name is Deborah & I’m a 22 year old born and raised in East London, originally from a Nigerian/Ugandan background. I’ve spent the last 4 months working full time as a Graduate Research Associate at a startup Biotech company called AviadoBio. I work within a team of Research Scientists to develop new assays and tools to aid understanding towards gene therapy vector safety and efficacy for neurodegenerative disorders such as Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I’m a true geek and science lover at heart, I always have been! One of my favourite things about my role is the intellectual stimulation that I get. I love that my mind is constantly challenged which helps to avoid being in autopilot with the work that I do. There is an unmet need for therapies of rare diseases and I am fortunate enough to be working in an industry that has the ability to develop therapies that save and improve the quality of life of those who are affected; it’s highly rewarding! There are many institutions and scientists who are currently conducting research on various things, but what I love most about the research that I do is the tangible end goal. The variety involved within the pharma industry as a whole gives gateways for long-term career development and I never feel limited or placed into one box with respect to where my skill set can be applied. Most importantly, I get to work with like-minded passionate individuals; I absolutely love the work that I do!

What was your route into industry from education?

After I completed my GCSEs, I took my A-levels in Chemistry, Biology & Psychology where I went on to complete my degree in Biomedical science. I decided to keep the momentum going and obtained my Masters in Immunology immediately after. During my time as a student I worked various part time roles such as tutoring, administrative and hospitality roles to help get me through my studies. It wasn’t until the second half of my Master's degree that I gained my first relevant experience as a Research Assistant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) within their infection Biology department.

Did you always aspire to work in pharma?

To be truthful, the pharma industry was never something that I had considered, nor was it something I was knowledgeable about. As a student, I had a very fixed mindset and often limited myself to one specific type of role and was unaware of how widely spread I could use my degree. I knew I loved science, and I knew I wanted to use my knowledge to contribute to something impactful. I wanted to work with other scientists and professionals who had a sincere passion and drive for what they did and the pharma industry was the perfect blend.

Has your experience in pharma been what you expected or has it been different?

A bit of both! I suppose I knew the overall goal of pharmaceutical companies but when I would think of the pharmaceutical industry I had quite a funny image in my head. I’d imagine people dressed in white boiler suits and covered head to toe just to paint the picture for you. I definitely expected a lot of automation with minimal human input however, my role is very much the opposite and hands on. I don’t quite wear a white boiler suit, but I think a white lab coat is close enough.

What are your future aspirations with your career in pharma?

I’m at a stage where I’m literally ready to soak up everything and anything like a sponge, and intend for it to remain that way. For the time being I would like to continue and develop my skill set as a scientist here at my company and eventually lead and manage my own group of passionate scientists. I would also love to be involved in outreach work for other young people who aspire to enter the pharmaceutical industry. In the future, I look forward to collaborating with other well respected researchers and medical professionals within the field.

What tips would you give a new starter interested in getting into pharma?

One of the things I wish I had done from early was to not be afraid to speak to others. As a student I completely avoided all conversations that related to career or job prospects after graduation, as it was an area of my life that made me anxious. I would encourage you to expose yourself to as many people as possible within the field, to gain a better understanding of your options and put you in close contact with those who are able to guide or even inspire you. One thing that I would do was use LinkedIn to search for keywords such as “Scientist” and “Biomedical science” etc to see the types of pathways and roles that people took to get to where they were and reached out to them for career guidance or proof reading of CVs and cover letters. It was actually through LinkedIn via Black Pharma that I saw a role being advertised and gained my current role.I would also recommend seeking as much laboratory-related experience as you can, but do not be alarmed if you are limited in this area. Regardless of your experience, pick out and highlight the transferable skills from that role that would demonstrate your competency as a scientist. Remember, there are also many applicable skills that you would have learnt as a student which is also an advantage! Many, many rejections (trust me) will come, but the right door will surely open. My dad always says you only fail when you stop trying so keep putting yourself out there. As with many industries, the pharmaceutical industry consists of many talented & highly qualified professionals, but come with your own sauce and personality, whatever that may look like to you.


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