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Small College, Big Pharma


Kevin Roback '17
Kevin Roback '17

When you’re at Hamilton, it seems like you’re surrounded by a lot of people who have life all figured out. But the good news is, almost nobody has it figured out! As I approached graduation, I had no plan of what I was going to do afterward. I was sitting on a degree in math and neuroscience with no idea of what to do with it. I moved back home and recalled a lab I visited on a high school shadowing program and decided to send in an application and see what happened.

I stumbled my way into working for ICON PLC, a contract research organization (CRO) based in Ireland. Many times, pharmaceutical companies lack some of the resources  required to bring a new drug to market. The goal of a CRO is to take some of the work from pharmaceutical companies and assist in the development process of new medicines. What many people don’t realize is the amount of time and large number of people and companies involved in the process of taking a drug from the lab to a trial, then to another trial, then another, and then hopefully to market. 

My role as a scientist in the pharmacokinetic immunoassay lab is to analyze samples from clinical trials and to send that data back to clients. The clients and physicians running the trials then use that data to generate a pharmacokinetic profile of the drug (how fast the drug breaks down in the body). The profile allows physicians to determine a safe and effective dose for the medication.

My experience in various lab courses at Hamilton gave me hands-on skills with laboratory methods that have allowed me to excel in my position. A STEM degree at Hamilton has a major advantage in the working world because of the focus on written and oral communication skills. A brilliant idea is entirely useless if you are unable to communicate it to others. The ability to articulate complex scientific ideas to people I work with has served me well in my career and I believe it will continue to help me in the future.

While the pharmaceutical industry may get a bad rap in the news (and for good reason sometimes), I find it to be a great practical application of science, mixed with business. You can take an idea from the lab, rigorously prove that it works to treat a disease, and then be able to distribute that to the patients that need the treatment. The pharmaceutical industry also features some good employee benefits. I enjoy a flexible schedule and generous paid time off. I am also happy to say that since I began in my scientist role, our lab (in a small way) has contributed to the approval of immunotherapies to treat cancer and inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

My advice to current students looking for jobs and internships is to explore what’s out there. When I graduated, I had no idea that CROs existed and how large a part they play in drug development. There are many different and innovative companies out there in the world. So go out and try something, send out some applications, and see what happens! You’re a Hamiltonian and you’re going to do great!

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