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Now that students are back in school, we thought it would be interesting to hear what inspired some of Johnson & Johnson’s top women leaders to study science at a young age, and put them on a path to where they are today. Here are a few of their answers:

Anuk Das, PhD, Head of Scientific Innovation, Janssen Human Microbiome Institute, based in Boston:

“I grew up in the UK, and generally received good remarks in all curricula. But one teacher I had when I was 13 made the subject of biology so interesting for me – she absolutely inspired in me a love of human biology. I knew that I didn’t want to be a physician, but I did want to do something science and health related, and focused on pharmacology. I always gravitate toward challenges – when someone says ‘that’s too hard,’ or ‘that’s impossible,’ I say, ‘why?’”

As head of scientific innovation for the Janssen Human Microbiome Institute, Anuk is focused on understanding the unique and crucial role that the microbiota – the diverse population of bacteria living in and on the human body – play in wellness and disease.  Her group seeks to accelerate the translation of microbiome science into therapeutic targets, diagnostic capabilities and products that have the potential to transform human health.

Ann van Dessel, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Global Clinical Operations, Johnson & Johnson, based in Antwerp, Belgium:

“Growing up, I was always intrigued when I went to a pharmacy and was told that drugs ‘knew where to go in the body and have the appropriate effect.’ When I started to think about a career path, my intent was to work at the pharmacy. However, when I was working on my thesis, clinical trials increasingly sparked my interest so much that I chose instead to work for the pharmaceutical industry and help develop new drugs to help patients.”

Today, as the head of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Clinical Operations, Ann supports the development of safe and effective medicines and medical devices.

Widya Mulyasasmita, Manager, Johnson & Johnson Innovation New Ventures, based in Menlo Park, California:

“The natural world fascinates me, so the call to study science had been loud and clear since early on. As a child I was always curious about how things worked, but it was not until high school when I became enthralled with the complex elegance of our tiny human cells that I truly realized the power of science in understanding and tackling important diseases. In college and grad school, I chose to specialize in biomaterials and tissue engineering because of its applied interdisciplinary approach, and also because I like to design, dismantle and assemble things. Isn’t it cool to grow cells and tissues in the lab that would one day replace damaged kidneys or treat spinal cord injuries?”

After graduating, Widya co-founded a medical device startup called LapIQ, where she served as Chief Scientist, developing biodegradable wound closure devices. At Johnson & Johnson Innovation, she supports deals and collaborations across consumer, medical device and pharmaceutical sectors.

Marion Vetter, MD, RD, MS, Global Vice President of Cardiovascular & Metabolism Translational & Experimental Medicine at Janssen, based in Philadelphia:

“I was always interested in the impact of food on health and disease, which led me to study nutritional science as an undergraduate student. In particular, I was inspired by a faculty member in the division of nutritional science who was a physician, but routinely incorporated the concept of food as medicine into her clinical practice. I was also considering a career in medicine, but decided to take a detour to pursue clinical training as a registered dietitian. I found my passion for clinical research during a dietetic internship at the National Institutes of Health.

“Later, I trained in medicine and endocrinology, incorporating nutrition and pharmacotherapy into the treatment of diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders. After spending a number of years studying the effects of various weight loss interventions on glucose control, I transitioned to a career in industry. However, I still see patients, which greatly helps my work in research and development.”

Today, Marion oversees early development of trials for new drugs, including first-in-human and dose-ranging studies, as well as those that elucidate mechanism-of-action for compounds spanning all phases of development.

Johnson & Johnson is committed to the acceleration of innovation through a unique focus on diversity, which the company sees as paramount in serving patients, customers, employees, and communities. Of the approximately 128,000 employees working in 60 countries, almost half are women.