Meet our alumni

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We are proud of the successes of our Alumni and their contributions to a diverse range of businesses.

Minori Shimizu

Minori Shimizu

Associate Director, Portfolio Management, Analytics and Governance, Moderna

What it’s like to work on vaccine development during a global pandemic

You must have been pretty busy over the past several months. What’s it been like to work at a company that released one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.?
Very exciting. And very busy. I think everyone at Moderna has at least two jobs right now.

What are your main jobs?
For my COVID-focused role, I support and manage the COVID-19 vaccine program for Japan. As a Japanese-American myself, being bicultural and bilingual obviously helps me in that role and it has been an amazing learning opportunity. For my main role, I support the management of Moderna’s development portfolio (as in, programs currently in the clinical trial execution phase) and help enable the organization for efficient decision-making within our portfolio.

Was that what you were hired to do?
Not exactly. When I joined the company in June 2019, it was a research-focused biotech company that was still relatively unknown and I was hired to support preclinical research strategy and operations. Many of our mRNA portfolio programs were in the research phase at that time. Then, in December 2020, when COVID-19 was first detected in the world, our work accelerated. We started phase 1 clinical trials for our COVID-19 vaccine in January and, by early March, we announced our intention to be one of the first companies to have the vaccine ready for distribution.

Wow, that’s fast.
Yes, and right around that same time, in early March, I gave birth to my son, so I went on maternity leave. Then, exactly ten days later, Massachusetts, where I live, went into a lockdown. I remember thinking that it would be an interim thing. But I also remember thinking that maybe I’d at least be able to work from home a little more when I went back to work. I had no idea, at that time, how much everything, including the way we all work, would change.

How has your return to work been?
What I like most about my work right now is the global impact we’re making. Everyone is so motivated because we’re working on something that will make a difference to the world. At the same time, as you’d imagine, our company pretty much doubled in size since I went on maternity leave. So I’ve only met some of my new colleagues on video conferences. I’ve been working from home ever since I came back in July, which is when we announced initiation of phase 3 trials for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about what you’re seeing on the front lines of vaccine development at Moderna?
I’d just say that across the company, we all believe that our mission is to save lives, or to make someone’s life better than it used to be. And I strongly believe, even more so after the COVID-19 vaccine development, that clinical trials are an essential part of that process. So I think one important, and positive, outcome of the pandemic is how this crisis has hopefully raised people’s awareness about what it takes to get new products, and new medicines, to market. I hope more people would be willing to participate in clinical trials in the future.

What’s the best advice you can offer to others?
First, keep an open mind and explore the opportunities that come your way. Second, focus on your relationships. And always treat people with respect, whether they work above or below you. I think those are the things that have most helped me the most in my own career.

This interview was conducted, edited, and condensed by Jen Swetzoff, founder and creative director of CLOSEUP. She was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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Amy Paquette

Amy Paquette

US Alumni Network Manager, PwC US

Sallie Hinson

Sallie Hinson

US Alumni Network Manager, PwC US

Kerri Murphy

Kerri Murphy

US/MX Alumni Network Leader, PwC US

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