23 pairs of chromosomes are the building blocks of human biology, and BioCrossroads is using that as inspiration to recognize 23 young leaders shaping Indiana’s future life sciences sector. Called 23 PAIR (Promising Achievers in Innovation and Research), the annual program recently announced its first “class” of award winners, but organizers say its mission goes far beyond just recognition. Ongoing programs designed for the professionals aim to showcase the depth and breadth of Indiana’s life sciences sector, sparking connections that BioCrossroads hopes will grow the industry and retain promising talent.
“Our plan is to cultivate this group of young professionals and help them better understand what’s going on in the broader industry,” says BioCrossroads Executive Vice President of Communications Lori LeRoy. “Oftentimes, they’ve got their heads down working hard on the next scientific [task], and it’s really important to understand…what potential partnerships could be available through other organizations, so they can get more involved in the life sciences community and make an impact also outside their organization.”
Dr. Jessica Pellman is one of the 23 professionals recognized this year. As study director and manager for safety assessment at Labcorp Drug Development in Indianapolis, she works with pharmaceutical companies to help generate safety data for future therapeutics. A Michigan native, she earned her PhD from the Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM) about eight years ago and says students’ perception of career opportunities are often limited.
“Sometimes in academia, you only know what your professor knows, and it can be hard to understand what other options exist,” says Pellman. “I had the opinion that I’d get my PhD [at IUSM], then probably have to move somewhere else. It became clear that there were so many opportunities to look very close geographically; we didn’t have to move, because there were plenty of opportunities right here.”
And when it comes time for the young professionals to take the next step, BioCrossroads wants their career path to remain in Indiana.
“We want to keep them motivated, interested and here in Indiana—that’s really part of it, ensuring we get some of these folks to stay here,” says LeRoy. “If we help them understand the broad opportunities that the Indiana life sciences community offers, there’s a higher chance they’ll make Indiana their home for good and know they can have a really prosperous career and retire from one of our great universities or companies.”
BioCrossroads plans to name a new class of 23 young professionals annually and create programming to continue their development; LeRoy envisions events such as training sessions and breakfasts with experts to “expose them to progress that’s being made by others…making sure they see their own long-term impact.” And BioCrossroads believes celebrating their accomplishments will help put wind in their sails.
“In the non-academia part of the sciences, it can sometimes feel like there aren’t a lot of opportunities for recognition,” says Pellman. “We can publish [in the private sector], but it can be difficult, because we’re dealing with a lot of confidential information, so having an opportunity to be noticed and recognized where I work is really thrilling.”
In addition to varied skills being represented in the group, BioCrossroads leaders say the organization’s founder, the late Gus Watanabe, “would have been so proud to see” the ethnic diversity.
“This is a beautifully diverse group of folks—not just from a talent or skills standpoint—but even in ethnicities and background. That’s so important, because it really proves that it takes all kinds of perspectives and ideas to make things successful,” says LeRoy. “It’s an incredible group of bright young lights that are going to be our next generation of academic and industry leaders. To see it be so diverse is one of the most promising and hopeful things to come out of this.”
In addition to recognizing the young professionals with an award, LeRoy says BioCrossroads will also create programming to continue their development.