Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the July

4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Managing R&D Scientists: Watch for Tribal Concerns

Laymen may think lab scientists are pretty much alike

— white coats, serious demeanor, distracted expression,

familiarity

with test tubes. Janet White, former research chemist and

co-founder

of pharmaceutical consulting firm Phizz Rx, paints a very different

picture. "You act differently depending upon whether you are a

biologist or a chemist," she says. "They don’t understand

each other. It’s very tribal, really."

White speaks on "Managing Scientists in R&D," on Wednesday,

July 11, at 6 p.m. at a free meeting of the Association for Women

in Science, Central Jersey Chapter, at Wyeth Research in Monmouth

Junction.

After spending nine years doing antibiotics research at SmithKline,

White, who completed her chemistry studies at Cambridge in 1987,

"got

a little frustrated." She enjoyed the work, but realized she would

not progress further without a Ph.D. Deciding she was interested in

management as well as science, she spent three years in a distance

learning program at the Open Business School in the United Kingdom,

where she earned an MBA.

Working as a consultant at Arthur D. Little, White "got

international

experience, worked at a higher level," and had a chance to visit

exotic places, including Translyvania. "I saw Count Dracula’s

Castle," she says. The count’s castle, however indirectly, led

her to her new offices on Independence Way.

During her three years at Arthur D. Little, she met Robert Thong

and Stuart Pazelin. The trio saw their colleagues

enthusiastically

selling "big computers" to clients, fitting them out for the

brave new world of E-commerce. "We weren’t convinced E-commerce

was here to stay," says White, speaking some 15 months after

traders

inverted the curves of nearly every Internet stock, sending a good

number to the cellar — or below.

White, Thong, and Pazelin decided to go out on their own, and to focus

on "consulting on top level, big issues, and on the general

direction

of the company." They named their company Phizz Rx. The

"Ph"

is for pharmaceutical, White, whose title is principal, explains.

The "izz" is for business, and the "Rx" refers to

the consultants’ healing role. Thong is the managing director, and

Pazelin’s title is partner. The firm, founded in early-1999, has 16

employees worldwide, and is headquartered in London.

Six months ago, the pharmaceutical strategy consulting firm opened

its Princeton-area office. White says this is how she chose the

Independence

Way location: "I drew a big map, got sticky dots, found out where

all the pharmaceutical companies were, and put a dot on each. Then

I went for the middle." And there was Princeton.

Most of Phizz Rx’s clients are top 10 pharmaceutical firms, although

the firm does consult to second tier companies, and to the occasional

fledgling biotech as well. Many assignments come after mergers or

acquisitions, events that have become so common in the industry that

"you read about one every week," observes White. These

pharma-marriages

can create chaos. "Think of the R&D groups," says White.

"They

double in size. There’s quite a mess left behind."

Phizz Rx comes in and sorts out which company was in the midst of

what drug development project, and whether there is any duplication.

It helps the new unit define roles and job titles. "We work with

the management team," says White. "We find out what are their

priorities, and who is responsible for what. We help them clarify

their goals." Once her firm helps the newly-merged company

"sort

it all out," it works with them on formulating procedures that

will ease the next reorganization. And, far more often than not, there

indeed will be another shuffle. "It takes a couple of years to

sort it all out," says White. "And once you sort it out, they

make another acquisition."

White, whose husband, Jonathan, an IT professional, recently joined

her on this side of the Atlantic, has observed differences in the

way American and European pharmaceuticals do business. "In the

states, a lot of people are completely `meetinged’ out," she says.

"The whole of the business day is taken up with them. And there

are 200 E-mails a day, and the voice mail is full." Employees,

she has seen, have to go home to think or get any work done. In

Europe,

she says, "there is not such an emphasis on meetings." Another

difference is that Europeans behave decently where the phone is

concerned.

"I keep getting telesale calls in the evening," she says.

"That just doesn’t happen in Europe."

There are similarities in how scientists behave in the two countries,

though, White says. Here are her observations, and some ideas for

breaking down "tribal" barriers:

It all starts with education. "Scientists go through

rigorous training at university," says White. "All of this

sets up barriers between different kinds of scientists. You act

differently

depending on whether you are a chemist or a biologist."

Different experiments mean different schedules. It might

take a chemist one hour to set up an experiment and another four or

five hours to complete it. A biologist, on the other hand, needs some

three hours for set up, and he won’t get his result for another 12

hours. "Biologists are dealing with living systems," explains

White. "Chemists are dealing with chemicals." This disparity

is important because it tends to put the two kinds of scientists on

different schedules. The life scientist might get in at 7 a.m., set

everything up, and be off on an extended break at just about the time

the chemist is getting to work. Pursuing different time lines, the

two types of scientists might never meet to exchange observations.

Even the protective gear is different. It sounds like

a small thing, says White, but even the pre-work safety routine is

differs from science to science. "Viruses are different from

chemicals,"

she points out. So, a biologist might have to go through a clean room

and don protective garb from head to toe. Chemists, watching this,

have been known to exclaim "`Gosh, that’s weird,’" she says.

This is another way in which the groups, educated separately, and

working apart from one another, move deeper into a sense of otherness.

"It becomes `us’ and `them,’" says White.

Why it matters. Research has demonstrated that

breakthroughs

are most likely to occur when scientists practicing different

disciplines

share insights, says White. Breaking down the barriers, and getting

the groups to stop dismissing each other as "`Oh, that lot;

they’re

the chemists…or, they’re the biologists,’" aids — and speeds

— research.

Throw away one coffee pot. Chemists and biologists

generally

have separate water coolers and break rooms, says White. Reconfiguring

a lab by getting rid of one water cooler and one break room, and

moving

those that remain to a central location could do a lot to get the

two groups talking.

Cash for cooperation. Mingling can be encouraged by such

social engineering, or, says White, lab managers can up the ante and

hardwire rewards for collaboration into scientists’ compensation.

While scientists now often receive bonuses for publishing results

of their experiments, White suggests that paying an extra bonus for

any article arising from a cross-science collaboration could do

wonders

to get a dialogue going.

White suggests none of this will be easy when she tells the

story of an anthropologist who spent an entire year studying the

habits

of a group of immunologists. So close do they become to one another

that a whole group of shared ways of doing things arise. While this

creates cohesion among immunologists — or biologists or chemists

— it tends to isolate the scientists from one another. "Just

like any other tribes," says White.


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