Maggie McCammon

Prior to her doctorate in chemistry, Maggie worked in industry for companies such as Pfizer. After completing her doctorate she worked as a university researcher, and then as a research fellow at the University of Cambridge. After undertaking an MBA at the Judge Business School in Cambridge, she moved on to become a research translation specialist at the University of Michigan.

The following text is a transcription of a career story collected by interview.

"My name is Maggie McCammon and I am a research translation specialist at the University of Michigan, and that involves translating academic discoveries from the laboratory into the market place. So we are trying to commercialise the discoveries that our academic scientists make.

"Well I was an academic researcher myself for a while, I was a postdoc and then a research fellow at the University of Cambridge. And what I found was that there was a lot of absolutely cutting edge fantastic research coming out, but the scientists kind of fell down when it came to taking the next step, as in getting it out of the test tube and into a tablet or injection that you could put into someone or actually make a difference to someone that's ill or whatever. So I became interested in what the next step would be, how we could encourage our scientists to do that. And then I did the MBA at Cambridge University at the Judge Business School and I focused on commercialising academic discoveries. And so we looked at lots of different ways, lots of different pathways and new ideas, working with large pharma companies and things like that. And at the end of the MBA I decided that that's the area I wanted to go into rather than going back to the research bench. And that sort of job doesn't really seem to exist in the UK at the moment and it's definitely a growing area, the research councils are all, have put huge resources into this. And they have a technology transfer department of their own. And I've contacted the people that are involved in these and they are very open and very keen to look at new ways of doing it. It's quite a new area, er, but it's enormously interesting and there is a lot of, a lot of funding going into it.

"I thought I wanted to be an academic researcher all the way through, it didn't occur to me that I'd leave the bench. And the sort of turning point I think was I was working on a project in a big collaboration, and we found that erm, we'd got some really good results and I was thinking in terms of clinical trials ‘cos I had an industry background before that.  And then I found out that other people in the collaboration were still thinking in terms of academic research and that's I think, that's the main part when I realised that there's a disjoin, that there's a gap between the academic scientist and actually translating that into a product or a real thing on the market.

"While I was doing my degree I worked, unpaid, in different industry settings, and one of them, Pfizer, is the place I decided where I really needed to do a PhD.

"There was a, an older chap there and he hadn't done a PhD but he was fantastically brilliant – he absolutely knew everything and he took me aside quite early on and said his biggest regret was that he didn't do a PhD and there's a definite glass ceiling, certainly within industry and also within academia I realise now, if you don't have a PhD. And he'd missed his chance, and when he realised that he'd already had a family, and mortgage and didn't have the option to go back.

"So while I was at Pfizer, that's when I first started thinking about I wanted to go on and do a PhD. It's not really been a journey, what I've always done is what I want to do. I don't want to do a job that I don't like or I don't want to get stuck in something that I'm not enjoying.

"I liked the idea of blue sky research, although I realise that there needs to be a commercial aspect because it is so expensive. My job is going to be interacting with academic scientists erm trying to convince them that they want to buy in to the idea of commercialising their research, which is really difficult. By definition, world class scientists tend to be very focused almost to the point of being obsessed. And what we don't want them to do is lose focus to try and start commercialising their work, we need them to stay, you know, world class. Because I've been a research academic I know the pressure's they're under and I understand how they think, erm, I understand the vernacular, I think, I can interact with them, erm on a more one to one basis or a more sort of trusting basis I suppose. And the job I am doing now is my absolute dream job, it's perfect. In fact I virtually wrote the job description and then sort of touted it around trying to get someone to give me a job doing it, which Michigan did."