Women in Science: Interview with Laura Douglass, President & CEO, Next Generation Clinical Research

Laura L. DouglassLaura Douglass started out as an ICU/surgical nurse and moved into drug research, becoming a Clinical Director of a major life science company.  She eventually went on to found and lead 2 banks dedicated to funding science research and is on numerous boards, as well as volunteering on a community medical team. She shares how she juggles work, home, volunteering and staying current, and advice for anyone who would like lead a life science or high tech company.

Sarah Worsham: In your entire career, what’s been your favorite job or project and why?

Laura Douglass: My favorite project was compiling a drug application for a new drug that helps kidney patients. We were a small group of people working for a start up pharmaceutical company. Everyone from the CEO to the receptionist had a critical role making the drug’s approval a success!

Sarah: Was there a particular event or moment when you decided to pursue a career in STEM?

Laura: I started out as an ICU/surgical nurse and from there went into drug research. As I became more involved in pharmacology and drug development I realized how exciting science and innovation could be in making a positive impact on patients.

Sarah: Did you have any mentors or role models growing up that led you to this career?

Laura: My father, Robert Johnson, and Dr. Charlie Bishop, are both great role models.

From Dr. Bishop, I not only learned more about science and medicine, but also how to build a business in the life science industry. He always had a positive manner of getting “the team” to exceed the expectations which made us successful.

My Father is always inventing or building something innovative which included a solar house, wind turbine and countless other devices. Aside from that he can hold a conversation on anything from the US economic situation to world religions. He and my Mother, brought me up to have the attitude that I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it.

Sarah: You’ve worked in a variety of companies and positions in the biopharmaceutical industry — including very different skillsets and disciplines.  How did you know it was time to take on a new position?

Laura: I’m always looking to expand my knowledge and experience in a variety of areas. Whenever a good opportunity happened, I acted on it. Ultimately I had the goal of founding a company so I could be in charge of my own destiny and get involved in projects that I enjoy. Every role or path I choose has contributed to my experience, knowledge and network of relationships.

Sarah: Has having this diversity in experience been helpful?

Laura: Absolutely. Being exposed to different industries, cultures, and people helps me think outside the box and brings ideas to the table from another perspective. Something can always be learned from other experiences.

Sarah: So why start a bank (or two)?

Laura: As an entrepreneur, I couldn’t resist because it was something different and interesting to do as well as a good opportunity. I’ve found the banking industry has it similarities to the regulatory environment I work with in drug development.

Sarah: How has that experience affected your STEM positions (and vice versa)?

Laura: My STEM experience has benefitted the bank as many customers are life science or high tech companies. Having knowledge in these areas allows me to help the bank make good decisions about loans and better understand their financial requirements. On the flipside, I have learned a great deal from start up companies regarding new technology and how they approach business.

Sarah: What’s your day-to-day like?

Laura: That depends on whether I am traveling or not. I spend anywhere from 3 to 8 days each month traveling within the US to meet with clients or work on projects. Those days are long. Otherwise, I get up about 6:30, tend to my 17 chickens and go to the office. I work about 10 hours a day and then work out at the gym for another 1-2 hours. After that I go home for dinner or go out for dinner!

Sarah: What is the highlight of your day?

Laura: Dinner with my family. We generally eat late so everyone can try to make it. This provides me the opportunity to reconnect with everyone and stay involved. My daughters are senior in high school and senior in college so I know my time is limited for these moments. They both just happen to be living at home right now.

Sarah: All of these concurrent positions, plus a wife and a mother, and a medical team volunteer — how do you find the time to do everything?

Laura: Lots of juggling, less sleep and staying healthy and fit. I find everything I’m involved in important, so you find the time. I also strongly feel everyone should take the time to volunteer for their community in some capacity.

Sarah: Do you ever get any “down” time?

Laura: Late night and Sunday mornings.

Sarah: How do you keep up your skills to allow you to be in such diverse positions?

Laura: I spend time hands on as well as keep up with training in every role. You need to build in that time to stay current and remain knowledgeable.

Sarah: Are there any skills or courses that have been more useful than you initially expected?

Laura: I wish I would have worked harder to learn foreign languages. This would have been so valuable for International travel and business. I studied Spanish, German and Brazilian Portuguese and regularly embarrass myself trying to speak them.

Sarah: Did you have to overcome any obstacles to get where you are?

Laura: Absolutely. Mostly age related difficulties. Being taken seriously when I was 20 something and Clinical Director for a major life science company.

Sarah: How did you overcome them?

Laura: Being knowledgeable about the material and having confidence in myself and my presentation skills. I should probably be flattered to hear comments about my presumed youth at this point, but I still believe there is no place for that in business. It’s disrespectful.

Sarah: Have you ever had any difficulties in your career due to your gender? If so, how did you handle them?

Laura: Yes, many times. My reaction is tempered on the situation (and I unfortunately have a short temper). I may ignore any inappropriate gender reference and carry on. Or I may take it head on. I won’t be called endearments like “honey” or darling”. Again there is no place for that with real professionals but it still happens.

Sarah: What advice do you have to anyone interested in a similar positions?

Laura: Anyone interested in one day leading or starting a life science or high tech company really needs to develop a solid understanding of the industry first. I believe my success has come from knowing the ground up and not being afraid to work at all those levels even after you are the CEO.

A huge thank you to Laura for her insights!  Hopefully you found her story helpful, interesting and inspiring.  If you would like to share your own story, please submit your information and we’ll be in contact soon!

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