‘Don’t Be Afraid of Setbacks’ — Advice on Growing a STEM Career From a Director of Ideation

Sponsored by SCIEX

Farzana Azam

Photo courtesy of SCIEX.

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What’s the key to advancing your STEM career? For Farzana Azam, the Director of Ideation at SCIEX, “the key is finding something that you are passionate about, that you are good at, and building on it.” This means not always following a predetermined path. Instead, “be open to new opportunities, take risks and don’t be afraid of setbacks,” says Azam. “All experiences are great and will inevitably help in your career journey.”

Azam herself is no stranger to taking new paths that others may have not considered. In fact, her job is to try different things. “My role is focused on either solving customer problems with new solutions or finding new customers or markets for our current solutions,” Azam explains. And, "for the second objective, I am currently exploring adjacent markets — meaning, close to but outside of our core business.

“What excites me most is the innovation — gathering new insights that drive action and solving customer problems,” she adds. 

Interested to hear more about what Azam’s job is like, how she uses her leadership position to support other women and her best advice for others following a similar career trajectory? Read on…

First up, tell us about your job.

I serve as head of ideation as part of our innovation team. The innovation team sits within our Chief Technology Office (CTO), and our role is to focus on inorganic growth — everything outside of our core business. We focus on new and adjacent markets for SCIEX, new customer problems to solve and new technologies. I’ve been in this role for 3.5 years and, previously, I was heading up the business unit for our Pharma — CRO business.

How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you?

For the last four years, I have been mentoring women — typically one or two women for a one-year time frame. I meet with the mentees regularly, usually biweekly or monthly, and the goal is to focus on two-to-three key development areas. The mentees drive the agenda and often focus on building professional skills such as presentation skills or building personal brands and soft skills like having crucial conversations and striving for work-life balance. 

The feedback I often receive as a mentor is that I provide a new perspective, encourage them to think differently or approach a problem in a new way and that it “feels good to have you in my corner.”  Being a mentor is extremely rewarding for me so I will always I prioritize this time in my schedule.

Do you participate in any employee networks or leadership/development programs?  

I am part of several Associate or Employee Resource Groups, such as the Women + Friends and Asian + Friends network.  In addition, I co-head Women and Friends Networking group for our Canadian site. As part of Women’s ARG, I was fortunate to be selected for a series of coaching sessions for personal development. 
I have participated in our annual strategy development process and have both led and participated in high-priority strategic cross functional projects. 

What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve ever received? 

Don’t let perfect get in the way of progress.” Perfection in all its glory is a unicorn, and they do not exist! Understanding the importance of progression and creating small yet achievable goals that you can build on and use to get the ball rolling is a much better approach. Progression is about being on a learning journey and being flexible and open to new ideas while being resilient and adaptable in the face of setbacks. We should always maintain high expectations for ourselves whether focusing on business or personal goals, but steer away from perfection.

Moving on to your company, what’s one thing you think people should know about SCIEX? 

Career development at SCIEX is impressive, more so than most companies that I have worked with in the past. Maintaining a development plan that focuses on obtaining the right skills for career progression — whether that is moving up in the organization, developing more breadth of skills by making lateral moves or exploring new functions to build your portfolio of experience, is critical.  
This is great for associates as it allows the flexibility to follow their passion or chart new interest areas while bringing along their core skillset.

Why do you think SCIEX is a particularly supportive work environment for women?

SCIEX acknowledged early on the importance of diversity and inclusion, which is a high-priority initiative that we have been actively working on for the past few years. This is not just focused on women, but also diversity as it relates to People of Color, sexual orientations, etc. The first step is recognition and support from the very top of the organization. Next is to understand the gaps and create meaningful actions and programs to minimize these gaps.

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