Interview: Misha Johnson

June 12, 2016

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This article was previous published on Hellar Reviews.

The thing that I love the most about this new section to my blog is learning about the incredible women working everyday to make the world a better place through S.T.E.M. Today I have the pleasure to present to you Misha Johnson, an Associate Clinical Project Manager. Through her research, Ms. Johnson is working to help find a treatment for Parkinson disease.

A.H.: Why did you want to go into STEM?

M.J.: As a child, I was naturally inquisitive, always interested in the why and how. Science has alwMishaJays interested me in some capacity. At the age of 10, for Christmas, I received a Chemistry set, and that solidified my aspirations for a career in chemistry. I majored in Chemistry in college and was certain that I wanted a career as a Medicinal Chemist in Industry. However, after an internship, I realized that I really wanted to learn more about the biology and the mechanisms of action of the compounds that I was synthesizing, and thus, opted to study Pharmacology in graduate school. For my thesis project, I focused on Neuropharmacology and c possible mechanisms for sex differences in midbrain dopaminergic systems. My research had implications for both drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease. Having a grandmother with Parkinson’s disease, I loved the idea that the research that I was doing could be potentially advance the field. From there, I knew that a career in clinical research would be a great fit as I wanted to play an active part in bringing new therapies to the people who need them.

A.H.: Where did you earn your degrees?

M.J.: I attended North Carolina Central University where I earned a B.S. in Chemistry. For graduate school, I attended Duke University and earned a PhD in Pharmacology.

A.H.: Tell me about what you work on and why is this important?

M.J.: I am working as an Associate Clinical Project Manager for Quintiles in the Oncology Therapeutic Delivery Unit. I provide oversight for various functional groups to ensure that project deliverables are met and that a quality product is presented to the Pharmaceutical/Biotech companies that sponsor the clinical trials. While a departure from bench science, I still have the opportunity to learn about the mechanisms of action for investigating products that we are researching. It’s fulfilling to know that your contribution in the drug development process helped to advance a therapy that can eventually treat and/or improve the quality of life for patients with a life-threatening illness.

A.H.: How can people learn more about what you do?

M.J.: There are some great professional organizations, such as the ACRP (Association of Clinical Research Professionals) that provide opportunities for continued learning and networking. If you are student at an academic institution with a medical center, there is likely clinical research being conducted in your backyard. Try to connect with these individuals for opportunities to ask questions about their daily activities.

A.H.: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned since you started working in your field?

M.J.: Honestly, I believe that clinical research is really exciting in that I believe the work that we do is helping others. The field continues to change to incorporate new regulations and technologies, and so, I love that I am constantly learning either new skills or new information that is critical to my role. However, I have worn many hats during my time in the industry, including working as a Clinical Research Coordinator for a research site. There, I learned phlebotomy – a skill that I never thought that I would acquire.

A.H.: Who has inspired you?

M.J.: The people who have inspired me through the years are my parents, who have encouraged and supported me. I never felt that I had any limitations as to what I could achieve thanks to them.

A.H.: What motivates you to keep going?

M.J.: I am motivated by my faith, family, and the need to help others.

A.H.: What type of obstacles have you faced and how have you coped with them?

M.J.: I’ve been faced with several challenges in my career. However, the one that stands out is finding my place in science. During grad school, I learned that I did not enjoy the process of writing grants and publications. I had also burned out on bench work. It was a little disheartening to find that the things that I once enjoyed about research were now major roadblocks in my career. I decided to change paths to clinical research. I was uncertain about how my skill set and background at the time would prepare for my new venture. This was also an area for which I did not have a great deal of information. To ensure that I was making the right decision career-wise, I began to reach out to others in the industry to educate myself about the industry. I am firm believer that knowledge is power. Communications with professionals in various functional helped to steer me in the right direction.

A.H.: Do you have any advice for young women interested in going into clinical research?

M.J.: My advice to young women who are interested in my career is that it is never too early to begin research careers in Clinical. Take advantage of opportunities for internships in the industry and/or opportunities to volunteer in a clinical setting. Also, becoming a student member of an organization such ACRP can provide an opportunity to be exposed to the various specialized areas of the industry and connect with professionals who can provide valuable information to better direct your career. Taking in all of the information you can and taking advantage of all opportunities presented to you are key for making an informed decision and being successful in any industry.

A.H.: How do you share your love of science with others? Do you mentor, teach, etc?

M.J.: As I have received great mentoring from different individuals at various points in my career, I like to pass along the knowledge that I have acquired to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in careers in clinical research. I do serve as mentor for aspiring clinical researchers and enjoy participating in discussions/forums for students who may have questions about how to make the transition from basic to clinical research.

A.H.: I wish there was more time in the day, so I could….

M.J.: Channel more energy into Pomp & Panache, a candy buffet and sweets display company that I co-own with my sister.

A.H.: I have to ask, do you read science fiction or fantasy?

M.J.: I do not get around to doing much recreational reading of any kind these days. 🙁 I am more a film buff! Some of my all time favorites include: Magnolia, Blue Velvet, and Gozu.

A.H.: Thank you Misha for taking the time out of your schedule to do this I’ve learned a lot and I know others have too.
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Don Butto,

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