Women in Science: An instant passion for science and thriving in a male-dominated industry

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

Lisa Sellers, CEO, Vector Laboratories
Lisa Sellers, CEO, Vector Laboratories

Related tags Manufacturing Supply chain Pharmacology Pharmaceutical industry Vector Laboratories drug manufacturing

Lisa Sellers is the CEO of Vector Laboratories, and she is passionate about staying ahead of the pharma trends.

She discovered a passion for science after her very first chemistry lesson and found the subject came easily to her. To find out more about her and how she overcame the challenges of being the first woman scientist in her lab and finding her way in a male-dominated industry.

Could you give us an overview of your work?

As the CEO of Vector Laboratories, a leading innovator in immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence, and glycobiology products, my role centers around driving the company's expansion and business strategies. At Vector Labs, we empower scientific advancement through a culture of service, reliable products, and unmatched technical expertise, allowing scientists and organizations to move science forward with impact.

I am passionate about staying ahead of industry trends and ensuring that Vector Labs remains a pioneer in developing cutting-edge products that meet the evolving needs of the scientific community. However, my approach goes beyond business strategies. I am committed to fostering a people-first work environment within Vector Labs. A company's success is deeply intertwined with the well-being and engagement of its team members. By prioritizing the development of a positive and collaborative workplace culture, we ensure that our team is productive, motivated, and fulfilled in their roles.

When did you realize you were interested in science was it as a young child, teen or older?

My fascination with science was sparked during my first chemistry class. What made this class particularly memorable was not only having a good friend as my lab partner, but also being taught by an intelligent female teacher. I discovered my affinity for science in this environment, and it felt natural to me.

The realization that I might excel in science struck when I received an A in that class without needing those all-night study sessions. This achievement and newfound confidence propelled me to explore science further. I enrolled in honors physics and pursued a scientific trajectory throughout college.

Coming from a Mexican-American immigrant family, there was an underlying expectation to pursue a medical career. However, despite not having a medical degree, I redirected my path, earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Colorado Boulder. This initial chemistry class served as a catalyst for my academic pursuits and discovering a genuine passion that shaped my entire career in science.

Could you describe your personal journey bringing us to where you are now?

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm the only daughter among three older brothers from a Mexican-American family. As a second-generation immigrant from Mexico, my father instilled the value of hard work in us. Influenced by my affinity for science, I pursued chemistry in college, entering a male-dominated industry. As the first woman scientist in my lab, I faced challenges. Determined to overcome, I valued connections with female scientists, embracing networking and mentoring as a two-way exchange. My journey reflects resilience, from family values to pivotal decisions in education and industry challenges. Today, as Vector Labs CEO, I advocate for diversity and knowledge exchange in the scientific community.

What challenges did you face - as a woman or otherwise - along the way? How did you overcome them?

It was challenging to pursue a career in science, working and learning in a male-dominated environment. In college, my study groups were predominantly men, and this continued in my professional life. While my peers respected my Ph.D., there were instances where the male camaraderie felt exclusive.

To overcome these challenges, I embraced my background. I found alternative ways to connect with people on a human level, leveraging my people skills and building relationships.

I realized the value of understanding my own unique 'superpowers.' Emotional intelligence played a significant role. It helped me navigate situations where the dynamics were challenging and allowed me to connect with people on a deeper level. I found that focusing on human-to-human connections, regardless of gender dynamics, was a powerful way to bridge gaps.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

I was recently reminded of some great personal advice from a childhood friend, Lilian Chiang. Often, we think the advice is not transferable across our two worlds of work and home; however, both worlds have the same common denominator – people.

The advice: Be flexible and open-minded about what might come ahead. Doing this will provide you with more options and allow you to navigate challenges with resilience and creativity. That open-mindedness can be quite freeing from stress, fear, and a need for control.

What ignites your passion in your current role?

The perfect blend of continuity and innovation ignites my passion at Vector Labs. This aligns with what I've always enjoyed in my career  while constantly presenting new opportunities for learning and growth.

I firmly believe in the importance of knowing what you like and what you're good at, while still being open to new challenges. Leading teams has consistently been a strength of mine, and it's incredibly fulfilling to continue that in this role. However, what excites me even more is the dynamic nature of the job. This position keeps me energized and engaged, and I meet new people constantly.

Helping Vector Laboratories’ customers succeed drives my passion for this work. It is immensely rewarding to know that our work positively impacts our customers and contributes to their success. This, coupled with the continuity of our culture, is deeply fulfilling. I take pride in fostering a workplace where our values remain steadfast while embracing new business opportunities.

What is your current work ethos/style?

My work style revolves around a keen awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. Forming teams that complement my skills is vital, ensuring a well-rounded collective. This self-awareness extends to our company talent, aligning each member with roles that capitalize on their strengths.

I prioritize an environment where people feel empowered to speak freely about their strengths and areas for improvement. Open dialogue fosters collaboration and continuous growth. I delegate effectively and trust my team's capabilities. When challenges arise, we approach them collectively, emphasizing problem-solving over blame.

I recognize and leverage the unique strengths of each team member, fostering a culture of collaboration and shared success. My ethos centers on self-awareness, team empowerment, and collaborative problem-solving for collective growth.

Could you share some advice for young women starting to develop an interest in science or wanting to pursue a career like yours?

By being proactive, curious, and open to new experiences, young women can set a solid foundation for a successful and fulfilling career in the life science industry. I'd encourage them to leverage the abundant resources available. Information is at our fingertips in the digital age, and platforms like online courses, scientific journals, and educational websites can be immensely helpful in gaining foundational knowledge.

Networking is crucial in any career; the earlier one starts, the better. Talk to as many people as possible, attend science-related events, and connect with professionals in the field. Finding a mentor can be transformative. Seek individuals who have paved the way in your field of interest and learn from their experiences.

I recommend engaging in 'informational interviews.' Meeting someone already involved in a field you're interested in can provide valuable insights. Ask questions about their journey, challenges they've faced, and advice they have for aspiring professionals. People are generally willing to share their experiences, and these interviews can be incredibly enlightening.

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