Inspired by puzzles and math for as long as she can remember, Mary Martin Sherman, Ph.D. ‘70 found her life-work in graduate school when, after mixing her academic passions with her interest in medicine and health, she came up with pharmaceutical chemistry. And Mary hasn’t turned back since, stating, “I still like puzzles and math and finding out what makes things work. The difference between now and when I was a kid is that I focus my problem solving on looking at how and why new medicines work or in some cases, don’t work.”
After graduating from St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains (now called The White Mountain School), Mary earned her B.S. in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota, followed by her Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and post-doctoral work in chemistry at the University of Utah. Mary then worked for several years in the biotech industry as a research scientist. Capitalizing on her interpersonal, relationship building and communication skills, as well as her pure science expertise, Mary transitioned into managerial roles in biotech companies. It was here that Mary was able to extend her problem solving skills from the lab bench to the whole laboratory and then to entire divisions. “I now view the drug development process as the puzzle I need to solve, starting with finding viable targets [which disease/illness can currently be helped by pharmaceuticals], moving to the chemical manufacturing of the drug and then putting all of the safety pieces into place before actually bringing new drugs to the clinical trial level. I help coordinate all of the participants involved in this complicated and lengthy process. It is a complex puzzle and one that I find both rewarding and challenging, since no two projects are alike,” says Mary.
Starting in 2006, Mary left the corporate world to work for a consulting firm and then as a freelance consultant. As the principal consultant at Aptuit Consulting, Inc., Mary worked with a team of 17 scientists to provide strategic and tactical support to biomedical and pharmaceutical companies through the stages of drug discovery to clinical trials. It was as a consultant that Mary had the opportunity to hone her communication skills as she often found herself providing the bridge between the scientists and non-scientists in the drug discovery and development process.
While still continuing as an independent consultant on a part-time basis, Mary has also returned to the world of academia. She is now the Therapeutic Research Project Leader for the Translational Medicines Group at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. The Translational Medicines Group is currently working on drug therapy development for diabetes mellitus, cholera, skeletal muscle wasting diseases, heart failure, and stroke. Mary says of her current work, “while the day-to-day work is the same as consulting, I now spend more time mentoring and educating both younger members of the team as well as clients, and I find that aspect of my work to be particularly rewarding.”
When asked about how she feels her time at St. Mary’s has influenced her current life and work, Mary reflected, “St Mary’s constantly pushed me to pursue new activities and roles that I had not thought about, and in doing so, created a foundation for constantly pursuing new challenges in life”.