Advisor Toxicologist (MIH Leadership Development Program) - ELI Lilly & Company

Apr 16, 2024
Advisor Toxicologist (MIH Leadership Development Program) - ELI Lilly & Company

Chiamaka (Chi-Chi) Ukachukwu, Ph.D is an ‘Advisor’ and she is a full-time employee in the Medicines Innovation Hub (MIH) Leadership Development Program (LDP). As an LDP, she has the opportunity to rotate across three functional areas over the next two years before settling into a department. Her first rotation is with the investigative Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, Excretion (ADME) and Toxicology group. They support the early clinical development of new drug candidates. In other words, she works on cross-functional teams focused on assessing the non-clinical safety of new drug candidates to ensure that they are safe for people.

What is the highest degree you have earned and what can you tell us about your academic path?

I earned my Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My thesis focused on characterizing novel biophysical properties on the cardiac ion channel hERG1 and investigating its potential as a therapeutic target for cardiac disorders. My academic path is best described as “not according to plan.” I applied to graduate school multiple times before being admitted into Ph.D. programs which required me to remain open, flexible, and persistent on the journey. I pursued enriching opportunities to become a stronger candidate for admission which included working as a research technician in structural biology and completing an M.S. thesis in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. From these experiences I developed research expertise in X-ray crystallography, Structure-Activity-Relationships (SAR), bacterial physiology, transcriptional regulation of biofilms, and antimicrobial resistance. In between my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees I completed a research sabbatical in Brussels, Belgium – as a Fulbright and Belgian American Educational Foundation fellow – to characterize antimicrobial pathways in bacteria. During my Ph.D. I also interned at Merck as a formulation scientist thanks to the SMDP network. In hindsight, I am grateful that nothing went according to my plan because it ultimately worked out better than I could have imagined!

Where do you work now and what is your company about?

I work at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Company and we are committed to creating life changing medicines to improve patients’ quality of life.

How did you first learn about the company?

I learned about Eli Lilly and Company through SMDP colleagues who began their careers here and had nothing but wonderful things to share about their experience.

What do you like most about the company?

The culture, community, and people. I am constantly encouraged to show up as my full self and I feel that that my unique background and perspective are welcomed and highly valued. I am constantly told that new talent is not hired to conform, but to bring new ideas that are formed by their life experiences and training. My colleagues are also amazing and incredibly supportive! They are always willing to help and are very transparent in their guidance and mentorship. I feel like I belong here and I am incredibly grateful for that.

What skills make you successful in your role and why did you choose this role?

My tenacity, adaptability, and resourcefulness has made transitioning into industry a smooth process while I am being challenged to grow and step outside of my comfort zone. My technical training in Pharmacology has also helped me tremendously in the non-clinical safety space. There is significant overlap with my work and the foundational principles I learned in graduate school which has significantly lessened the learning curve. Choosing Eli Lilly and Company was one of the easiest decisions of my career to date. The people I met during my interviews reflected how incredible the environment is and how well it aligned with my values. Also, the MIH LDP is a first of its kind and the only full-time role (to my knowledge) that provides this level of flexibility to explore different roles within the company before choosing a path. While I did not see myself here initially, I cannot imagine myself anywhere else. I am grateful to be here every day.

How do you define success?

I define success as living a joyful life, loving myself completely, being surrounded by loved ones, deriving fulfilment from within, and using my talents to positively impact my communities.

What's the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

I feel most fulfilled when I can connect how my work directly improves patients’ lives and when I feel valued for who I am.

What advice do you have for students and job seekers?

Use your network and don’t feel daunted by reaching out to folks. Remember that we all know how to network! If you’ve asked a stranger for help, that’s networking. If you’ve made friends at school, that’s networking. Reflect deeply about what you want to do with your life and what brings you joy, then have conversations with your peers and (potential) mentors about your interests. Be sincere and thoughtful with these discussions and then being pursuing opportunities that align with your values. Ask for help if you don’t know where to start, especially from you SMDP family! A second piece of advice is to practice marketing yourself. Recruiters will not always connect the dots between your training and lived experiences with the roles that you are applying for. Make sure that you have a strong and concise story that clearly defines why you’d be a great candidate for whatever role you’re applying for. Have multiple versions of your elevator pitch down pact (1-2 minute and 5-minute versions). Do not be shy or bashful about who you are and what you’ve accomplished when seeking roles. Be bold and confident!

What book did you read last?

The Partner Plot by Kristina Forest, a cheesy romance novel which is one of my favorite feel-good genres.