Manage Your Career

Apr19_CS_Groeber.jpgActively promote your skills and capabilities to advance your career.

AAPS Newsmagazine recently interviewed Elizabeth “Beth” Groeber, Ph.D., M.B.A., senior director of laboratory sciences for Charles River Laboratories, with 22 years in the pharmaceutical sciences. She shared her experience and outlook on success.



At the top of Groeber’s list of vital skills is having a good focus on the technical requirements of the job. Presented with any gaps, it’s important to dig in and do additional research to get where you need to be. Personally, she tries to develop a natural read of the situation to dive deep to understand what she needs to know to be better at her job, to be better with the subject matter she’s trying to lead. She’s a big fan of life-long learning, and returned to school to earn an M.B.A. at age 50.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is also valuable, especially to read an audience to learn if you’re communicating effectively. “EI helps me gauge if am I meeting expectations,” Groeber says. “It allows me to figure out how to fill the gaps as necessary, so whether it’s building better relationships with coworkers or helping people fill in areas of deficiency, EI allows me to connect on a personal level.”

Lessons Learned

Crediting her Midwest background, where people tend to be very direct, Groeber believed that people would see and notice her good work and that advancement would happen based on merit alone. “Early on, I didn’t really consider the never-ending politics, agendas, and prejudices that are alive and well and the way that plays out in divvying out projects,” she says. “You may not get a project that is going to flex your skill and encourage growth.”

Groeber says that she was given “more mundane roles and not as many opportunities as somebody else across the aisle with an equal skill set.” She says, “That happened many times in the course of my career and unfortunately, there's nothing you can really do at the moment.” As she matured, she took a more active role in trying to shape perceptions around her. She spoke out, pointed out her abilities, and promoted herself by putting out proposals, etc. “It was a disappointment early on to not get many opportunities,” she says. “But it became an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me in my career.” She more actively managed promoting her abilities and tried to shape politics and perceptions around her. “Sometimes you have to vote with your feet,” she says, “walk away from a project or organization and make change by finding a new path.”

While at Pfizer she benefitted from their focus on talent development. “It became clear to me that the way you occupy your time is indicative of what your next role is going to be,” she says. “I didn’t learn that early in my career. If I had, I would have employed that philosophy earlier on. You have to manage your our career with where you are and with your current work, knowing that it is going to translate into your next opportunity. You must constantly push yourself even when you are stalled. You can’t look back with regret or self-judgment, you just have to let your wounds heal and move on.”


Future Challenges

“Industry creates incredible pressure to keep up with the changing technologies, and the way that we integrate data,” Groeber says. “There are waves of new and better instrumentation, and software that makes data easier to process. There are also incredible efficiencies that can be gained in a workflow. The hard part is, of course, that anytime that you are changing out your system, there is the risk that you are making a wrong decision and are going to invest time and money into a project that may be a dud. You also have to get your people to be willing to pull away from how they're currently doing it and break into a new method.”

“A company must develop a culture in which everybody is willing to be on board with change, an agile culture,” Groeber says. “I think the agile culture part is still a real challenge. It's funny how even some of our younger generation get entrenched in a ‘this is how we do it’ mindset and are uncomfortable with ongoing change. I think we need to introduce a new modus operandi of change that they must embrace. When coming out of school, they need to be willing to adopt new ways of doing work, and they need to participate in finding those new ways so that they are a part of the evolution. What they do and what they know today is likely going to be completely different in another three to five years. Maybe they will be lucky (or not lucky) to be doing the same thing, depending on what side of the coin they are on, but I think that's the challenge—being nimble as an individual and as a company to stay competitive. It’s a do or die kind of proposition for companies. We have to be able to embrace that and create a culture of nimbleness and flexibility of thought despite working in such a highly regulated, process-oriented environment.”



Being one of the few woman in a traditionally hardcore, scientific environment, Groeber hopes to knock down barriers as an example for other women. “I am trying to be a role model,” she says. She realizes that she has a lot of eyes on her. “I have some core tenants that I’ve tried to adhere to with my leadership roles,” she says. “Primarily, I think that people aspire to achieve a vision and mission set before them and that they want to have their skills stretched. They want to be part of something that is excellent and bigger than themselves. So I strive for a kind aspirational leadership style that people will get behind. I want to create a bold, visionary agenda that’s waiting for them when they come to work every day so they can feel a part of something bigger…  and that they are striving for excellence.” She helps them figure out how to get there, how to achieve excellence. “I'm trying to bring that mindset into every interaction I have, big or small. And if I'm not the leader, I'm trying to help the team dynamic.”


Best Advice

Groeber says, “In my early 20s, I got advice from my father, a life-long learner, who strongly cautioned me against putting my career second. At the same time, he encouraged me to get my doctorate. I could have stopped after the bachelor's degree, figuring I’d be busy with family and other lifestyle choices and wouldn’t need a Ph.D. He encouraged me to follow through, and I'm ever so grateful that I did, because I wouldn't be here today if I hadn’t followed his advice.”

Other good advice came when she found herself in the doldrums at Pfizer. One of Groeber’s mentors advised managing her work relations in all directions—up, down, and laterally. He suffered no bemoaning of her managerial situation. She recalls, “He said, ‘manage all around you, and when you’ve done that, come back and then we'll talk.’ So that became a mantra for me.”

The last piece of advice had two parts. “One was to do good science. No matter what, just do good science,” she says. “If all else has fallen around you, focus on putting out something that serves the needs of the problem at hand, and be proud of it, and use this philosophy as your core tenant.” The other piece was to realize that sometimes a job is a job. “It’s that 80/20 factor. We may spend 80 percent of our time focusing on things that are not our greatest passion, but if 20 percent of that is thrilling, then be happy with it. Sometimes our careers are just going to feel like a job for a bit.”


Scientific Knowledge vs. Leadership/Management Skills

“I don't think that you can disassociate the two (science and business),” Groeber says. “To be strategic from a business and scientific service perspective, it requires both skill sets. The scientific skills allow me to take those critical thinking and technical skills, look at a problem, and find the fundamental cause and help get at the core fix. Pursuing my scientific doctorate first let me cut my teeth at the ground level and understand that nitty-gritty of how things actually get done at the scientific level. Getting an M.B.A. gave an overlay of the business decision-making on top that drives companies forward. The M.B.A. really standardized that core skill I needed to be a successful leader. It enables me to have a discussion with business managers who don’t have the scientific background. It has worked out really well for me. I think in a science-based business, you can’t just have it one way or another. You really need both; you can’t dissect them. You need scientists at the bench and in the C-suite. You must be able to merge the business knowledge with the science being presented. I personally think it best when there are people who have both. I clearly thought that was important for me, and that’s why I went after my M.B.A.“


Be Intentional

Groeber says, “Younger generations have a reputation for multitasking, and they are ready with all the apps. Recent research says that all of this is a distraction. In my personal practice, I have tried to pare down my lifestyle, and the things that I do focus on are very intentional. I try to focus on my career and job, my family and relationships, and enriching activities for my brain, eliminating ‘brain junk food.’ Disallowing the brain junk food has afforded me better focus, continuous learning, more calmness, and faster recovery time; it really is a lifestyle practice. I try to be very intentional about what I set my mind on. It sounds cliché, but it has been part of my success.”


Elizabeth (Beth) Groeber’s career spans contract research and innovator pharma (World Wide Clinical Trials, Pfizer, and Charles River Laboratories). Her expertise includes bioanalysis of small and large molecules by LC/MS, including peptides, proteins, and drug conjugates, agro and industrial chemicals, and biomarkers. Groeber has held roles in drug discovery through development including most recently leading teams providing contract research services in the Safety Assessment division of Charles River. She holds a doctorate in analytical chemistry and a master’s in business administration, both from The Ohio State University. Groeber is passionate about evolving analytical sciences to keep pace with the pharma and biotech industries. In her current role, she oversees formulations analysis, bioanalytical chemistry, ADME/DMPK, and immunotoxicology, and she frequently participates on global strategic initiatives.

Related Stories

Table of Contents
Career Success
April 2019