I Am Research. Progress. Hope.

The Scientists Speak.

05.15.13 By Michelle Seng 

As part of our effort to inspire younger generations to get interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, PhRMA launched a new effort called "I Am Research. Progress. Hope." This initiative gives biopharmaceutical company scientists a platform to tell their own stories of what inspired them to get into science and what advice they have for students as they make decisions about their future career path.  Today, we are featuring a blog post from Michelle Seng, an “I Am Research. Progress. Hope.” scientist from EMD Serono.  Enjoy!

I voraciously eyed the juicy little kiwi hidden in the cornucopia of fruit atop the dinner table. After a few minutes of thorough cleaning, peeling, and dicing, the kiwi was safely stored in my gut. My taste buds were satisfied and my mind at ease with a low calorie snack. All was well….or was it?

After a few minutes, my lips started to swell and itch. Swallowing became difficult, as if my throat was lined with fuzzy follicles and started closing in. How could a kiwi taste so good, but feel so wrong?! 

“Your immune system is producing large amounts of immunoglobulin E in response to a food allergen, releasing histamine and other mediators that cause an allergic reaction,” said my allergist.

“Whaaat?” was my mental reaction to his explanation. The jargon and discomfort nagged at me, so I took an immunology course. The puzzle pieces started to fit together. I learned to manage my allergies now that I had a grasp on the immune system. Though allergies can be dangerous if left untreated, most sufferers can live a fairly normal life thanks to the understanding and plethora of therapies behind immune research. Anti-histamines are easily accessible as well as inhalers, immunotherapy, and other remedies.

What about conditions that aren’t well understood though? These are unmet medical needs, and they are one of the many reasons why I decided to focus on a career in science.

My interest in science bloomed at a young age. Dad is a physicist and engineer, and Mum is a biochemist. My big sister is an artist and video game designer - I don’t know where she went south but she’s still ridiculously cool. In any case, science was part of my childhood. I had, and still have, a keen interest in the natural world (both current and prehistoric), but things became really exciting when my first biology class introduced us to the primordial soup and the origins of life. Chemistry, anatomy, physiology, oceanography, physics, and other classes started to meld together and tell a coherent story. However, there are still gaps beyond the plot.

Why are patients still suffering from cancer? It’s not fair that a loved one’s mind is deteriorating from neurological disorders. The diagnosis of autism has spiked in recent years. Even beyond the scope of humans, how do I explain to my friend why her beloved canine companion is suffering a seizure? There are still so many unanswered questions, and questions continue to arise with each discovery. However, the reward is that the discoveries you make will improve the quality of life for patients and their families. The pharmaceutical, academic, and healthcare industries are driven by science. Without it, there would be far fewer cures and far more needless suffering from debilitating diseases. This is why a future in STEM careers is so critical for the future of not just humanity but the natural world in general.

During your exciting journey towards a STEM career, you will probably hear some misconceptions about scientists. Do not let this deter you! You are just as likely to find a scientist in Fenway Park as you are to find one enjoying the afternoon at Barnes & Noble. At one time in my life, I was senior class president and “Best Dressed” for high school superlatives (so I probably wasn’t that socially awkward…).  I recently participated in a PhRMA campaign called, “I Am Research. Progress. Hope.,” focusing on the life scientists have outside of the lab. One of the things you’ll quickly learn as a scientist is that balance is crucial. It is important to focus intensely on the task at hand and accomplish it with 110% effort, but de-stressing is key or else you will burn out. For me, I have many hobbies outside of work that help me focus. To name a few, I’ve been a martial artist for 20 years, a pianist for 22 years, an artist/painter for at least 14 years, and a harpist for 1 year, and I’m still in my 20’s.

If you love science or anything in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field, I suggest you take it and run. I see no end to the long and winding road filled with challenges and many rewards. Some things are certain though: you’re bound to meet some of the most intelligent, diverse, and wonderful people along the way; you’ll be pushed to your mental limits; and you will make contributions to the field of science. You may even save a life along the way. The way I see it, we’re a bunch of superheroes in disguise behind lab goggles. Who ever said science was boring?

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