Alexandria Henry-Smith, Morehouse School of Medicine researcher and PhD candidate on the southeast life sciences and Women@SLS community means to her, and can mean to others.


Alexandria Henry-Smith’s mother made a highly intentional effort to expose her daughter to science, including in her homeschooling through the third grade. Her pediatric dentist also went out of his way to demonstrate new tools, technologies and techniques during her visits.


While initial ambitions toward dentistry didn’t fully manifest, the intentional exposure to science, including new fields opened to her through a high school medical program, forged a foundation of knowledge and curiosity that made a career in the life sciences likely, if not inevitable. It’s a bit of a family affair as well. Her uncle is a biologist and currently the head of the environmental science department for a leading engineering company. 


Ms. Henry-Smith is now a PhD candidate in biomedical science with a focus on neurology at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Her research into ways of decreasing neural injuries covers zinc and its effects on ASIC during ischemic stroke.


In 2019, Ms. Henry-Smith discovered Southeast Lifesciences and Women@SLS (previously Medtech Women @ SEMDA) on LinkedIn, which she followed for awareness, networking and potential opportunities for operational roles in life science and biotech startups. When her research hit a ‘hard hold’ in early 2020, she found herself desperate for interaction with the southeast life science ecosystem. She found a piece of that in the 2020 Women @ SLS Annual Conference.


Discovering more of what’s possible


“I met women performing roles and doing work I had not yet realized was actually attainable or possible,” she told Write2Market’s Paul Snyder. “As the only graduate student in that virtual event, it turned into an incredibly valuable personal advice session.


“An undergraduate professor once said pretty women can’t be surgeons or leaders. While I was solid in my self confidence, for many women that was completely discouraging. But when we see women in leadership roles like so many in the Women @ SLS group, it shows an executive level career in life sciences is an actionable, attainable goal. It’s something you can really do. 


“It does take dedication, a competitive spirit and strong backbone to the rigors of scientists, researchers, but these women are proof that there are more roles and more routes to careers in the life sciences than legacy pathways to them.


“It’s also immensely valuable to pick the brains of women in life science leadership roles that have transitioned from academia to industry,” she said. “Their advice on specific activities like boards to join and introductions to others whose pathways look a bit like mine or those whose needs might align with my skills, research, knowledge and experience is invaluable as well.”


An environment and community of encouragement


She said the 2021 edition of AdvanSE reinforced the highly collegial spirit of the southeast life science community.


“In every conversation I had at the event in South Carolina, each person was happy to advise and encourage,” she said. “Everyone was very, very kind. This is not always expected coming from the highly competitive academic research side of the life sciences.”


She told Paul she aspires to be a chief innovation or operations manager officer for a startup or early growth stage life science entity.


“I would love it if that entity had a strong focus on neurologic disorders, but I have learned flexibility is key when things present themselves. It’s important to be ready to jump. Before getting more closely engaged and active within the Southeast Life Sciences and Women @ SLS communities, I would not have aspired so high.”


When asked why one should get actively involved with SLS and Women @ SLS, she said, “Whether you are focused on marketing, communications, research or development, there are connections to be made that are highly beneficial for the future. You may well speak to your next employer. If you are a young regulatory professional, for example, you will meet people doing that work, many in leadership or influential roles that can help you get where you want to go. You can find champions, those who advocate for you when you’re not in the room, and mentors, your advocates there for you when you are in the room. 


A big house with a place for everyone


“Young life science professionals, including startup founders, have so much to gain by engaging closely with the Southeast Life Sciences community. You can speak directly to those with the ability to advance or jump start your career in ways or places you might not have anticipated, especially because the pathway into these careers is not always clear.


“Engineering, marketing, operations, biomedical research, manufacturing… they’re all critical elements to the life science industry. It’s a very large house, and there’s so much to do in it, anyone can find their place.” 


We thank Ms. Henry-Smith for taking the time to share part of her story with us.


The 2022 edition of Southeast Life Sciences’ flagship event, AdvanSE, is May 25 – 27 at the Avalon Hotel and Conference Center in Atlanta. Follow Southeast Life Sciences on LinkedIn and Twitter for all of the latest including 2022 dates for the Women@SLS Conference.