In late 2008, at age 49, Carol Williams found herself laid off from her job as a senior pharmaceutical representative at Merck, the global pharmaceutical company where she had worked for eight years. Her friends working at other pharmaceutical companies received pink slips at the same time. “The FDA was tightening up on the clinical trial side, and drugs were disappearing from one sales meeting to the next,” says Williams. “Blockbuster drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex were being pulled off market, and others were going off patent.”
With eight previous years of experience as a pharmaceutical consultant at Glaxo Smithkline, an undergraduate degree in psychology from Spelman College, and an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management, Williams had experience and credentials. Going back to school seemed counterintuitive to her friends, but when Williams learned about Northwestern’s Master of Science in Clinical Research and Regulatory Administration (now MS in Regulatory Compliance) program she thought it could be the way to reinvent her career. Today Williams works for GE Healthcare in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in its Quality Regulatory Leadership Program.
Williams says that she could immediately apply to her work at GE everything she learned in the program. “Clinical research methods, regulatory administration, statistics, quality systems — when I first came to GE for an internship I understood everything they were talking about and I could do all of it. That’s what helped get me the job.” For her MCRRA capstone project Williams looked at strategies to increase participation of the elderly in clinical trials. “You have to get creative and go to where the elderly hang out,” says Williams. “It turns out seniors aren’t listening to the radio; they’ve turned to social media, connecting with others in chat rooms.”
And what happened to her friends who were laid off from work in pharmaceuticals? “Most of them are still out of work,” says Williams. “But one just applied to Northwestern.”