Smashing Stereotypes – “I keep waiting for someone to say ‘you don’t belong here’ “

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Often when you think about the directors and C-suite of a scientific company you imagine a room of older men and women. Director of DMPK, Laie Abello, reflects on her experience of becoming a leader and mother at the same time.

Becoming a DMPK Scientist

Growing up I never enjoyed literature or any of the humanities, but I did enjoy chemistry, biochemistry, and biology ultimately specialising in human biology for my degree. It was during the last year of my degree that I was assigned a placement in a DMPK department, having no prior knowledge of DMPK. It was at this placement where I found out that DMPK is a mix of chemistry and biology, which was perfect for me. I stayed at the company for a further two years, building up my knowledge of DMPK. 

I enjoy working in science as every day is different, not all assays are the same and there is always a different challenge to overcome or problem to solve. This means that you are continuously learning and developing. 

The psychology of leadership is something else I have really enjoyed learning since becoming a manager. Being able to get the best out of people in different situations, helping them develop to become better is proving to be highly motivating. 

Becoming Director of DMPK

When I was first interviewed for the director position at Charnwood Discovery I didn’t think I would get it. I have previously applied for senior roles at other companies, believing I wasn’t qualified, just to let companies know that I was available. Initially, this application was just a way of telling the people at Charnwood Discovery that DMPK scientists were available in the area. 

I had actually accepted and started another job before Kev (Charnwood Discovery’s Talent Manger) came back to me and asked me to do a second interview. It was a huge opportunity, giving me the chance to start a department from scratch, building my own team, taking learnings from other companies I previously worked at and developing the assays the way I like. We now have a full suite of in vitro ADME/DMPK assays available as well as bioanalysis and metabolite identification services. 

All of this has been achieved alongside being pregnant and taking 10 months’ maternity leave, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the great team at Charnwood Discovery. I want to prove that it is possible to have a family and be successful in science. I have a very full schedule as the Director of DMPK, working four days a week, but working part time is really important to me as it provides me with a good work-life balance. It means that I have four really full-on days at work and looking after my family in the evening, but then I have three days for family time. I wanted to showcase that you don’t have to work 100 hours a week to have a position in leadership. 

Imposter syndrome is something that many people in the science and technology world face, I guess that I’m no different.  If you had told me two years ago, where I’d be now, I wouldn’t have believed you. I think I was lucky to be in the right place in the right moment and I keep waiting for someone to say that “you don’t belong here!”. But I have found the best way to get over that little voice is to push myself to learn more. I have enjoyed learning more about the aspects of drug discovery, helping projects move forward, and also, learning about how best to manage people within different situations to get the best outcome.