Mary Joan Castillo

Associate Director, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

Ph.D. 2015

Yao Group

Know your strengths and leverage them to achieve your goals.

What is your current (or most recent) job, what does a typical day look like, and how did UConn prepare you for this role?

I am currently the Associate Director of Bioanalytical Sciences in Translational Research and Nonclinical Development team within Plasma Derived Therapies Business Unit in Takeda R&D. My days usually start with early morning meetings with colleagues and collaborators from Europe and other parts of the world discussing pre-clinical and clinical advancement of plasma-derived protein therapeutics. From my experience in UConn, both as a graduate student and teaching assistant, I gained various scientific and soft skills that are essential for my current role.

I had the privilege to have Dr. Xudong Yao as my graduate advisor. Having both academic and industry insights, he provided not only the technical guidance on bioanalytical research but also practical approaches that were helpful to me as I started to build my career in biotechnology/pharmaceutical sciences field. With Dr. Yao’s support, I also had the opportunity to obtain a 6-month internship at GSK during my 4th year. My internship experience motivated me to learn more about drug development and put what I have been working on in the lab into a bigger perspective on how our research potentially impacts the lives of patients.

Tell us about your experience as a Chemistry student at UConn.

Being a student in UConn Chemistry was an ideal environment for me to focus on learning mass spectrometry-based omics research, gain friends from diverse backgrounds and culture, and be a part of a supportive academic community that sets students up for success. I was also a General Chemistry teaching assistant for Dr. Selampinar and Dr. Neth, who were exceptional mentors. As an international student, being a TA tremendously helped me in acclimating to the culture. When I started, I remember losing my train of thought when students comment that they do not understand me, which made me feel that I need to improve my English. During grading sessions immediately after exams, we will stay in the Chemistry building until past midnight- pizza in one hand while marking exam papers with the other. It was exhausting. But I vividly remember the camaraderie among co-TAs and smiling faces of relief when we finally hand back the grades for recording. Among many memorable moments, the awarding (department’s annual holiday recognition) for Outstanding TAs when I was one of the recipients was very exciting for me.

Can you tell us about your experience post-graduation?

After graduation, I immediately joined a biotech start-up company (Synlogic), which at the time was a team of about 20 employees. As the company grew, I was fortunate to be a part of an organization’s evolution, not just in the research and development side, but also seeing how corporate strategies critical to driving products to the clinic are executed. At Synlogic, I served as the Safety Officer and a member of IACUC, as well as volunteered in STEM outreach and DE&I activities.

What is one this of advice that you would give to current students?

Know your strengths and leverage them to achieve your goals.

This is one piece of advice that I would like to share, thanks to Dr. Yao. It resonates with me up to this day. I was going through a tough situation in the lab and losing confidence when he told me: “I try to focus on my students’ strengths”. It gave me a fresh perspective and allowed me to appreciate that I have a unique set of skills that I should take advantage of to keep moving forward. I also apply the same mindset in managing employees and mentoring.

Mary Joan Castillo
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