BABE #56: MARIA PERRY,
Process Development Associate @ Amgen
My (digital) friendship with Maria is another product of my Tumblr days, when I had a circle of online Babes supporting me and my art from around the world (at the time, Maria lived in Belgium!) Now almost 10 years later, it's insane that we're both out of college, in the workforce and still collaborating on a blog of my own. I've always admired Maria for her intelligence, kind personality, and ability to stay well-rounded: she's a Science Babe; a Biology graduate from MIT and a beautiful dancer, writer, and all-around artist. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Maria. You're a babe.
Hometown: Always a more complicated question for me than it should be; I’m a Navy brat, so I grew up moving around all the time (born in England, graduated from high school in Belgium) but I usually tell people I’m from northern Virginia to keep it simple.
Current city: Boston, MA
Alma mater: MIT
Degree: Biology (“Course 7” as we say at MIT, because we love numbers.)
Hustle: Process Development Associate @ Amgen
Babe you admire and why?
My mom - is that too cheesy? She is so smart and motivated and has always been so supportive of my dad’s career and giving us kids the best opportunities to succeed. She also has literally no tendency for procrastination - when she has something to do she gets it done immediately, which I’m really jealous of!
How do you spend your free time?
Dancing, baking, shopping, and reading. It’s way too cold to think about exploring outside right now, but when the weather is nicer I do love walking around Boston and trying new restaurants and places to visit.
Favorite app, website or blog?
Peach! I think it was one of those apps that went viral and then died within a single weekend, but for whatever reason, my friends and I never got sick of it. It’s just really cute and a nice way to stay in touch with people.
Go-to coffee order?
Latte with whole milk or a mocha. I’m such a kid when it comes to coffee, so the more milk and sugar the better!
Favorite beauty item?
Moisturizer. I have the driest skin ever and I love the Clinique Moisture Surge - it feels so decadent!
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Probably mac n cheese.
Biggest pet peeve?
People being flaky with plans.
Favorite social media account to follow?
I love the @cloudandvictory IG account. They’re a dancewear company and have such pretty things and also make really silly ballet memes. I’ve also been following along with the Love Taza Blog + Instagram for ages. It’s a really precious mommy blog about a family in NYC. I remember when their first baby was born and now she’s in kindergarten and has 2 little brothers! Their whole family just seems so sweet and they have a really adorable apartment and clothes and everything.
What game/reality show would you win?
Jeopardy! I’m a big trivia nerd. (Shoutout to Lilly Chin from MIT for just winning the Jeopardy College Championship and basically living out my life dream.)
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
History. That was never one of my strong subjects in school, so I used to kind of ignore it, but I feel like it’s so important to understand what’s going on in the world.
Tell us about your hustle:
I work at Amgen, a big biotech company, in the Process Development department. My job involves developing and characterizing the manufacturing process for large molecule drugs to make sure the product that is getting to patients is as pure and safe as possible, and that it’s made in an efficient and robust way. It's a lot more engineering-based than the kind of work I did in school, but it's really cool to be so close to the actual product that goes out to patients, and to be working on things that could be actual medicines on the market a little down the road.
What does your typical workday look like?
I usually get into the office a little before 9am and check emails so I know what I should be working on and whether or not I have any meetings throughout the day. My schedule is pretty variable - some days I’ll be in the lab all day running experiments, other days I’ll be analyzing data and catching up on my lab notebook and other administrative things. I usually have lunch with coworkers around noon and head out between 5 and 6 in the evening. After work, I usually go straight to dance or work out at home and then cook dinner with my roommate.
Did you always know you’d go into the sciences? What internships/professional experiences brought you to where you are now?
I’ve definitely always loved math and science in school. I actually went into college wanting to be a physics major, but during my freshman year, I found myself loving my biology classes and all the research opportunities. MIT has a big focus on cancer research and I think learning about cancer and how it works and all the ways people are trying to go about curing it was a big reason I got into biology. As an undergrad I worked first in a lab studying the parasite that causes malaria, and then moved to a cancer-focused lab and did my senior capstone project on ways to detect off-target effects from RNA therapeutics using mouse models. In the summer after my sophomore year, I got to do research abroad in Santiago, Chile studying protein trafficking in melanoma cells (and exploring Chile, which was incredible despite the fact that it was winter there); and in January of my junior year I did a short but still really cool internship at a hospital in New York doing data analysis for a clinical study on pain crises in sickle cell anemia, which I ended up continuing to work on during the semester and actually got a published paper out of it. I had a lot of experience in an academic research setting but wanted to get a taste of the biotech industry, so I ended up applying for my current role at Amgen right after graduating from undergrad.
What was the interview and application process like for your job?
I had a phone call with a recruiter who asked me about my general career goals and interests, and advised me to apply to my current position online. Then I had a phone interview with my current manager, then an in-person interview with him, and then a full day of interviews with other people in the department. I was super nervous for the interview day, but the people I talked to were just curious about my undergrad work and reassured me that they would teach me everything I needed to know. A few weeks later (while I was at home over spring break shopping for Senior Ball dresses with my mom,) I got a phone call from the recruiter saying I had an offer.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
Project timelines are always changing, so sometimes you have to stop working on something that you’ve spent a good amount of time on - it’s generally for a good reason, but it’s really hard to not get attached to a project! I think my favorite thing is just working with a lot of fun and smart people and getting the opportunity to learn so many new things and eventually create something that could improve people’s quality of life.
Would you say your gender/ethnicity has affected your job experience? Similarly, what about your involvement and education at MIT?
I don’t think I ever felt disadvantaged as a woman at MIT, but I definitely felt some type of impostor syndrome - like, did I only get in here because I was listed as a Hispanic woman on my application? It took a lot of reinforcement from friends and family to convince me that I deserved my spot at MIT and in my current job because of my own achievements.
I’ve always admired you for being so science-minded but also making time for art (dancing, writing, photography, music, etc.) Do you ever have trouble balancing the two?
I think art and science complement each other so well. There are so many things that I learned from growing up doing ballet -- discipline, attention to detail, being part of a cohesive group -- that have really been applicable to my academic and professional careers as well. And just from a stress relief point of view, it’s so important to have something else to think about. Almost everyone I know who has a technical career is also really involved in some sort of artistic endeavor, too. I think my artistic tendencies are also part of what drew me to biology -- it’s really common to personify biological entities (“the proteins are happy now”) and talk about how parts fit together in a holistic way rather than other fields that are more math-y.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
In science, you can spend so long trying to solve a particular problem or getting something to work, and it might never work out. It can get frustrating, so you just have to have a lot of patience and know when to keep trying and when to just switch gears.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I’m a dancer with Boston Community Dance Project, which is a contemporary/fusion dance company; we put on our own show each summer and then perform at college shows and charity events during the year. And I've started regularly going to ballet classes again... really coming full circle from my college days where I kind of dropped out of ballet for a while! I’ve also been getting more involved with my church community - they host a weekly supper for the homeless and I try to contribute baked goods to that when I can.
What are your ultimate goals in medicine/science?
Right now, one of my big goals is to contribute to a project that becomes a commercialized medicine. I think it would be so fulfilling to see people living longer and with a better quality of life and be able to say that I contributed to that. In general, there are so many amazing discoveries being made all the time in the science world, and I love seeing them come together from all different fields (biology, materials, computer science) to make an impact.
What would you say the gender ratio is in your office/industry? Do you see it evolving?
I think biotech is historically a male-dominated field, but I’m lucky that my direct work environment has a pretty even gender ratio. Interestingly I think there are more women from the biology side of things, and more men from engineering and chemistry.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
I’m still working on overcoming my biggest challenge at work, which is being assertive and having confidence in my work. Because I started working right out of undergrad and I’m the youngest person in my group, I sometimes feel like I need to prove that I know what I’m doing -- but I know that part of that is having the confidence to ask for help when I need it.
What advice would you give to a Babe who is trying to break into your industry?
Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore a part of the industry that’s outside your comfort zone. My experience in school would have been a more obvious fit for a more early research/discovery role, but working closer to the manufacturing process has taught me a lot about another side of the industry that I wouldn’t have been familiar with otherwise.
What motivates you every day?
There’s always work to be done, and I know that there are people relying on me to do my part. Being part of a team motivates me a lot.
What helps you wind down / how do you manage stress?
Dancing has always been the perfect outlet for me. A lot of times I’ll go to rehearsal or ballet class straight from work and I’ll be stressed or tired and it’s so good to be able to focus on movement and musicality and self-expression. I think exercise in general is also really helpful -- I’ve been doing an at-home workout program called PIIT28 with my roommate and we always definitely feel better after doing it every day. Also stress-baking! It’s always been calming for me to take my mind off of school/work/stress and just make a huge batch of cookies. I also try to spend time with family when possible - I go down to Virginia to see my parents pretty often, and in the summers I love going up to my grandparents’ lake cabin in Vermont. It’s so relaxing and such a good opportunity to unplug.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Take pride in your work, and don’t assume you’re the only one who doesn’t have all the answers.