Investigator in R&D drug discovery, GSK

Dec 05, 2023
Investigator in R&D drug discovery, GSK

Dr. Ivelisse Cruz-Torres is a scientific investigator in R&D drug discovery. In this role, she works in matrix teams with the goal of evaluating potential targets to treat neurodegenerative diseases. This role allows Ivelisse to leverage her scientific expertise, while learning new skills on the job and the complexity of developing new treatments for patients in need.

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

My highest degree attained is a PhD in Pharmacology. I completed undergraduate studies in Biology at University of Puerto Rico and discovered research late in my junior year. At the time, I was facing personal and financial hardship, lacked awareness and role models or mentors, and access to new opportunities was limited. I started exploring research internships at the University of Puerto Rico Medical School in cocaine addiction research, increasing my interest in neuroscience. During my senior year, I had the opportunity to intern/postbac in neuroscience and pharmacology/toxicology at Michigan State University. While exploring these 3 broad areas of life sciences, I solidified my passion for research and understanding how drugs/molecules interact with the human body. During my PhD in Pharmacology at University of Colorado School of Medicine, I studied memory deficits following cardiac arrest/stroke, and exploring pharmacological strategies to restore/protect brain function. I carried this knowledge to a postdoctoral position at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where I integrated immune biology of glial cells and chronic inflammation. Overall, my diverse background in neuropharmacology led to my current role as scientific investigator.

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

I currently work at GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) and the organization is focused on being ambitious for patients and creating accessible treatments globally; leveraging genetics and technology to tackle diseases.

How did you first learn about the company?

I first learned about GSK during a pitch performed by my PhD advisor, in which we were looking to collaborate with the organization. I was impressed with the breadth of scientific expertise by industry professionals, and quickly noticed the importance of translating basic science to the clinic.

What do you like most about the company?

At GSK, the environment is open to collaborations in matrix teams, mentoring and learning opportunities, and the ability to challenge yourself while staying focused on what is important. I get to work with a talented pool of professionals in an organization where the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is intentional.

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

Adaptability and flexibility are two skills that help me accomplish the milestones established for projects. In addition, using my problem-solving skills and leadership to work as a team (relying on experts) to drive a solution mindset makes the most demanding/challenging aspects of my role exciting. I chose this role because I get to be creative on how I approach answering scientific questions for specific projects using complex in vitro models, genetics, and leverage expertise from fellow scientists to tackle questions as a team.

How do you define success?

Success, to me, is defined as enjoying what I am doing while having the opportunity to grow, many times in the form of challenges/adversities. To be successful, I try to live my purpose through my actions, whether it is by giving back to the community, inspiring others, or taking care of my family. Who else is going to lift our communities and family, if not ourselves? This way, I’m carving the path for others and empowering them to be inspired by their personal growth.

What's the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

Knowing that I am making an impact through my expertise and the result of that work would directly benefit a patient population.

What advice do you have for students and job seekers?

For students: 1) Set a goal to apply for 3-5 professional opportunities each year, chances are you get 1 or more. 2) Continually assess your progress (every 6 months) and start connecting with professionals early(regardless of your interest in that career path). 3) Take advantage of all opportunities coming your way, and be prepared to take them, and dedicate time to invest in your soft skills through activities or voluntary work. For job seekers: 1) Informational interviews will broaden your network and bring opportunities to your awareness or radar; the sooner you start, the better 2) Set a goal to perform at least 1 informational interview per week; each of these opportunities are practice for job interviews etc. 3) Focus on understanding your interests, self-brand, and building your network. 4) Think of yourself beyond your area of expertise (scientist, critical thinker, creative solutions, adaptable, breaking down problems into small components, a leader, inspiration for your community, you are valuable as a whole). 5) Do not hesitate to apply because your skill set only matches a portion of the job description. Adjust your resume to the job application and see what happens.

What book did you read last?

Just Harvest - This book is about the biggest class suit aiming to compensate black farmers from decades of disadvantage in the USA. As a mom of a Black Hispanic girl, I am and feel responsible for learning and teaching my daughter about the history of her ancestors.