October 9, 2018

The woman building a biotech community for Lebanese in North America [Q&A ]

With a Ph.D. in in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Farah Fawaz developed a passion for science and living organisms since the beginning of her career.

After working for several years in the healthcare industry, Fawaz – a LebNet board member – is working on developing a biotech community under LebNet, to scout biotech innovations, empower startups in this field and provide support and expertise.

In a chat with LebNet, Fawaz talked about her journey and the vision behind the biotech community, the role of women and achieving a work/life balance.

LebNet: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you become interested in biotech

Fawaz: As far as I can recall, I have been curious and inquisitive about living organisms and understanding the underlying mechanisms that govern life at the macro, micro and molecular levels. My schooling and career are a direct consequence of this passion. I obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the American University of Beirut. I then received a Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I moved on and completed my post-doctoral studies at the University of California in San Francisco. From academics, I moved to the Biotech industry where I held various roles with increasing responsibilities in research, development, and commercial operations in different companies such as Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Berlex Biosciences/Schering AG, Bayer AG, Intarcia Therapeutics, and most recently at Allogene Therapeutics. Throughout my career, my drive has been to make a difference in people’s lives while working on what I like best, science.

LebNet: What are the mission and vision behind the biotech community?

Fawaz: Over the past years, LebNet has experienced a tremendous success in growing the Hi-Tech network across the U.S. and in Lebanon and in supporting both these communities. As LebNet matures, and we continue to attract new members entering the workforce, reaching out to professionals in another exciting, fast-paced and impactful technical area namely, Biotech, would strengthen our organization. Furthermore, bringing together professionals from both disciplines would no doubt provide opportunities to advance areas that overlap both fields.  

The mission of the LebNet’s Biotech community is to establish a network of professionals in the field across the US and Lebanon. Such a network will provide these professionals with a forum to connect, meet, exchange ideas, and create opportunities for advancement at the individual and community levels.  

LebNet: What activities and programs are you planning on hosting for this community? 

Fawaz: In line with the events and programs that have been sponsored by LebNet, we would like to host several events across the country as we grow the network, featuring guest speakers, panel discussions, and interviews with leaders in the field. Furthermore, we would like to support several programs, such as establishing mentorships, pairing senior leaders in the network with mid- and entry level individuals, as well as connecting members to secure internship programs for new graduates as well as graduate/college students.

LebNet: What type of support do you need? 

Fawaz: The immediate goal for the Biotech community is to establish a presence first in the US and reach out to colleagues in Lebanon next. As we establish, point contacts in the various cities, the biotech community will further expand.

LebNet: Why should members join? What’s the added value?

Fawaz: Networking is a key element for personal development and advancement of ideas. Traditionally, fewer Lebanese individuals chose Biological and Chemical Sciences, key disciplines for the biotech industry, as their professional career. This is demonstrated by the small number of Lebanese people in the Biotech field in comparison to Hi-Tech or other professional areas, albeit this is based on anecdotal observations. The strength in numbers and bringing people together, both in the US and Lebanon, will only help individuals as well as the Biotech industry to advance. Leveraging the existing Hi-Tech network is an added bonus that could potentially help foster new interdisciplinary ideas.  

LebNet: How are you planning on growing this network? 

Fawaz: As an immediate action, I have started to reach out to Lebanese colleagues and friends who are in the field in the U.S. I hope to have volunteer point people in the various existing LebNet communities who will then support us in expanding the network. Planning events, as mentioned earlier will also help us to attract members and grow the network.

LebNet: Do you think there are enough women working in biotech? How will you be focusing on women? 

Fawaz: As the Biotech industry has grown, women representation has increased and women are now an integral representative group of this industry, certainly at the individual contributor and manager levels. It is however imperative to increase the representation of women at the mid-management and senior levels of organizations. This can be supported by providing mentorships, coaching, and shadowing opportunities to women within or across industries. Furthermore, providing internships for college/graduate students or fresh graduates may help fast track young women scientists on a path that will encourage them to grow and remain within the industry.

LebNet: How do you achieve a good work/life balance? 

Fawaz: As a professional woman in Science and mother of two young women, this is a topic that is dear to my heart. What has worked for me is to define my priorities at the time, and work toward achieving the goals associated with them, recognizing that there may be sacrifices at times, either in one’s career or personal life. These priorities can be re-visited as one progresses in their career and as personal demands shift. It is also crucial, when balancing family and career to have a partner that is supportive of your career and professional development, and/or a reliable support system to help as needed or in cases of emergency. Finally, carving time for oneself, no matter how small, to recharge is also a must