Q&A with chemistry grads
By: Christine Buckley, CLAS Today
Melinda Rottas graduated from UConn’s chemistry department in 2000 and went to work at Pfizer immediately following. Now she’s a business manager at the international firm and says she loves every minute of her job.
What got you started working at Pfizer?
While I was at UConn I was lucky enough to work with Professor Amy Howell, doing undergraduate research on a summer fellowship in her lab that was sponsored by Pfizer. That led to an internship on site at Pfizer in Groton, where I worked in the pharmacological science department. Those connections then led them to hire me full-time when I graduated.
How did you like working with Professor Howell?
She was fantastic. She was really a great strong woman mentor who taught me and guided me in so many ways. She was always good at identifying people’s strengths, and she put me on projects that capitalized on those. Now all these years later, I look back and know there was a lot Amy had going on at the time that I didn’t realize: She was a working mother. Now that I’m a working mother I have her model to look to for that achieves work-life balance.
You started as a scientist at Pfizer, but now you work as a business manager. How did that happen?
I initially worked in the neuroscience department on drug discovery. I eventually found out that I was more excited by the business side of the science tha
n the chemistry side. So I enrolled in a part-time MBA program at Rensselaer in Hartford, and Pfizer supported my education financially. Once I completed that program, I was able to apply for – and luckily get! – a business manager role where I helped plan how we use our resources in research and development.
Do you still use your chemistry background?
Absolutely. Not only does it really help me to understand the science that’s going on in the labs, but the analytical side of being a scientist comes in very handy
in business. As a scientist, you have to develop those critical thinking and problem solving skills that really help in the business world.
What advice would you give to young chemists looking to find jobs?
The number one thing is to get experience. Any kind of experience. You’re never the only person applying for a job, and you have to set yourself apart from the people who “only” have a degree. Also, take advantage of opportunities while you’re in school. I think a lot of my success stems from the opportunities that the chemistry department gave me.
Heather Daniell began her career in chemistry at UConn and after earning her PhD at Oxford, she’s taken a turn into business across the pond. Here’s her story.
What impressed you about UConn when you arrived?
I remember thinking it was fantastic that here I was, a freshman who didn’t know much, and I got to work directly with the chemistry professors. It went far beyond the textbook. The faculty were all really fantastic about making time for students. That added experience really makes you feel good.
What led you to the U.K.?
I was always interested in climate change, energy and the technology surrounding them. The U.K. was much further along in this technology than the east coast of the U.S. and
London was a hub for clean technology, so this was the place to be. At Oxford, I did my thesis on insulated molecular wires. The concept is that carbon-based materials can conduct electricity similarly to metals.
And your path after graduate school?
When I finished graduate school I started my own clean energy consulting business. At the time there were are all sorts of technologies that no one really understood, and a lot of utilities, governments and companies trying to figure out where to invest their money. When you have new technology it’s hard to know if something is the next big thing or if it’s just a pipe dream. That’s exciting.
How has your education helped to get you where you are today?
I really genuinely believe that the analytical skills from science degrees are crucial to critical thinking and figuring things out on your own. When things don’t work the way you want them to, you have to figure out why. It teaches you self-sufficiency. Also, the writing and public speaking I learned in undergrad have really helped me come a long way, partially to what I’m doing now.
Now I’m consulting with entrepreneurs to help them start new businesses. If you’re an average startup, you often don’t know where to look to get the resources you need. I’m saving people the hassles I had, of banging my head against a wall when I started my own company! I’m just trying to help people get stuff done.