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Compute This: How Women in STEM Make Medicine Happen

By Bana Jobe

When Becky Hintze watches TV, her eyes light up when she sees a commercial for medicine that she helped bring to the world.

“It’s still so incredibly powerful for me when I see an advertisement quoting the data and statistics that our group calculated for what each product can do to improve [patient] lives, and what the safety profile is,” she said.

To her, that thrill never gets old— even after working at Pfizer for 25 years as a statistical programmer and statistician.

Now, as Senior Director and Oncology lead within the Statistical Programming and Analysis group, Hintze leads a group of programmers who evaluate data for clinical trials in cancer. The statistics her team reports get sent to the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to help more medicines get approved for people all over the world.

Hintze is just one of many women at Pfizer who have powered through gender divides to forge their own paths at the crossroads of science, math, and medicine. As we commend them, we owe it to ourselves to also commend the women of yesteryear who did the same thing.

Ada Lovelace, known by many as the first computer programmer, was one of them.

Saluting Ada Lovelace, the Original STEM Pioneer

Growing up in the early 1800s with a keen eye for math and science, Lovelace thwarted the era’s typical gender roles when she began working with a math professor who had plans for a calculation machine called the “Analytical Engine.”

In 1842, she published a groundbreaking article about the machine that would inspire Alan Turing’s efforts to build the first modern-day computer in the 1940s. Often considered the first computer programmer, Ada showed – with calculations - how the Analytical Engine could be used to create art, music, and much more.

Her legacy lives on, now recognized each year on Ada Lovelace Day, to motivate girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As the 2018 day approaches, we salute Ada—plus the generations of women who have followed her lead.

We’re lucky that many such women have dedicated their intellect and talents to Pfizer. Along with Hintze, other colleagues offer their advice for women’s continued success as professionals in STEM fields.

“Don’t Shy Away Because of Gender”:  Michelle Casey

Senior Director, Biostatistics

Number-crunching always came easy for Casey, but it wasn’t until she participated in a summer program for women in mathematics that she realized how she could make a career out of it.

“I met a professor who was doing cancer research, and I immediately knew that this was a great way for me to apply my math skills,” said Casey, who now helps design clinical trials, interpret data, and support regulatory efforts to get drugs approved. “Shortly after that, I applied to a PhD program for biostatistics, and I was fortunate enough to find a job working on oncology clinical trials right after completing my PhD.”

Along the way, Casey was aware of the gender gap in STEM fields, but she surrounded herself with mentors and female advocates who could help her stay the course.

“I was fortunate enough to attend both an undergraduate and graduate program with mostly female students and strong women mentors, so I never questioned my role in the field,” she said.

For young women considering a similar path, her advice is simple:  Just go for it.

“Find mentors, network, and don’t shy away from a given field because of gender,” she said. “This is a great career to apply analytical skills to important research and to feel like you truly have an impact on people’s lives.”

“Look for Mentors from Both Genders”:  Patti Compton

Vice President, Statistical Programming and Analysis

Early in her career, Compton spent time in labs where scientists still made calculations by hand or had to find an expert to do their analysis for them. So when she found that programming could improve statistical analysis, she pursued it with gusto.

“I was introduced early to the power of SAS (a programming language), and found it rewarding to explain to others how they could understand their data sooner and with less risk of error,” she said.

In time, that work evolved into her role at Pfizer, where she heads the Statistical Programming group. All those tables, listings, and figures you see in package inserts? That’s her team’s doing.

“That work is fundamental to providing accurate analysis in support of our regulatory submissions, the [drug] label and information to patients,” she said.

To get to her present role, Compton surrounded herself with mentors to help her shape her career into what she wanted—leading to the advice that she passes along to others, too.

“We are once again at an exciting crossroads in terms of how technology can advance our understanding of data,” she said. “There are lots of people and programs to help you, and [they're] a great way to help make your ideas happen. Both women and men support women in data, so look for mentors from both genders.”

Learn more about careers at Pfizer.