Self-described as an ‘accidental immigrant’, Omayma Al-Awar left Lebanon with her parents in the mid-seventies to flee the war. From living in the Gulf to the United States, she maintained a sense that she was only temporarily living abroad.
“Life gives us a series of circumstances. It was never intentional that I would end up in the US, until I started my PhD,” said Omayma in an interview with LebNet. A career in biological research and molecular biology in genetics does not offer many job opportunities in Lebanon so “life sort of made the decision for me,” she added. Omayma discovered her passion for biology in high school and while doing her undergraduate degree, she continued delving deeper into the field and fell in love with research.
From Science Research to Sales: Embracing the Unknown
Omayma finished her Masters in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Michigan in 1991 and her PhD in Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996. Her plan was to become an academic researcher but she soon discovered her interest in other scientific careers. While transitioning to postdoctoral studies, Omayma came across a job opportunity with the biotech company, MJ Research, which was interested in bringing on board a salesperson with a scientific background.
“I started out in an in-house sales role that I never trained for or thought that I'd be interested in. I started understanding how businesses are structured and how they are driven and from there I became interested in the commercial side of biotech innovation, and how it intersects with and enables scientific discovery. ” From then on, Omayma started moving into leadership roles: In 2003, she was a Regional Sales Manager at MJ Research and, in 2005, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Edge BioSystems. In 2011, she moved to Illumina, a pioneering genome sequencing company, where she currently fills the role of Regional Sales Director.
Forever a Science Geek
Despite transitioning into sales leadership roles, Omayma is still a self-described ‘science geek at heart’. Through her work, she and her team are often engaged in conversations with innovative leaders in academia, industry and healthcare, and she is grateful to be making an impact in genomics. “I am very lucky to be helping push the envelope in terms of understanding genomics or enabling researchers and physicians to uncover and treat the underlying genetic causes of disease. It’s very gratifying.” Her goal is to continue to grow in her career, take on more challenging responsibilities, and continue to focus on the development of the next generation of leaders. In the future, she wishes to work on a project that can give back to Lebanon and enables it to “reap the benefits of the current advances in genomics.”
When asked for career advice, Omayma recommends embracing the uncertainties and seizing opportunities that come along, as she has done with hers. “Stay calm, even as the path you laid out for yourself in your early career is not working out. The path you are going to be on can be so much better. Leave some space to allow for the beauty of the unknown.”