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,
with test tubes.
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
After spending nine years doing antibiotics research at SmithKline,
White, who completed her chemistry studies at Cambridge in 1987,
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
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
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
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
of the company." They named their company Phizz Rx. The
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
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
can create chaos. "Think of the R&D groups," says White.
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
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
she says, "there is not such an emphasis on meetings." Another
difference is that Europeans behave decently where the phone is
"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:
rigorous training at university," says White. "All of this
sets up barriers between different kinds of scientists. You act
depending on whether you are a chemist or a biologist."
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.
a small thing, says White, but even the pre-work safety routine is
differs from science to science. "Viruses are different from
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.
are most likely to occur when scientists practicing different
share insights, says White. Breaking down the barriers, and getting
the groups to stop dismissing each other as "`Oh, that lot;
the chemists…or, they’re the biologists,’" aids — and speeds
have separate water coolers and break rooms, says White. Reconfiguring
a lab by getting rid of one water cooler and one break room, and
those that remain to a central location could do a lot to get the
two groups talking.
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
to get a dialogue going.
story of an anthropologist who spent an entire year studying the
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.
Corrections or additions?
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