We Are DIA: Career Corner
“All I Needed to Do Was … Start!”

Student Reflections on Industry Rotation and DIA GAM 2022 Experiences

Jazmyne Durrah Simmons
PharmD Candidate
Leslie Sam
Leslie Sam and Associates
David Fryrear

n the following three-way conversation, PharmD candidate Jazmyne Durrah Simmons retraces the path that led to her fourth-year pharmaceutical industry rotation, her DIA student membership, and DIA 2022 in Chicago, plus how these experiences reshaped the vision of her own professional future, and how and by whom she was helped along the way.


Jazmyne Durrah Simmons: I realized I wanted to be a pharmacist when my grandmother passed away in 2018 due to breast cancer. When she was first diagnosed, she was put on a regimen of medications that was very overwhelming for her. She had a very hard time keeping up with the medications, the scheduled times she was supposed to take the medication, and she suffered a lot of side effects from the medication. Her expressing those things to me on a regular basis caused me to reach out to a pharmacist at the hospital where I was working at the time. The pharmacist would explain some of these medications and their different side effects. After my grandmother passed, I always thought in the back of my mind: What if I understood her medication regimen back then, and I could help her more? That situation and guidance from the pharmacist prompted me to explore the field of pharmacy.

David Fryrear (Astellas Executive Vice President and Head of Quality Assurance): Astellas learned that one of our Chicago-area universities, the Chicago State University College of Pharmacy, didn’t have an industry rotation for their fourth-year PharmD students. That’s a very valuable rotation opportunity that most schools offer so that PharmD students can learn about careers in industry.

Tywnia Brewton (Astellas Head of Human Resources, Global Development and Global Quality) developed the rotation requirements and guidelines with me, and then we contacted and partnered with College of Pharmacy leadership to develop an industry rotation program exclusive to them. Jazmyne was our first student, and she just completed her rotation program as we’re speaking.

Jazmyne: In pharmacy education, there’s not a large emphasis on teaching what industry pharmacy is and certainly not how the process of drug development works. As David explained on the day I interviewed, this industry rotation allowed me to explore the industry area of pharmacy from the quality-assurance perspective. I was able to see all that goes into drug development from the pre-clinical phase all the way to the commercial manufacturing. This industry rotation would allow me to explore what working for a pharmaceutical company would look like.

Working with Astellas during my APPE (Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience) rotation greatly expanded my postgraduate career options because I was able to speak with so many PharmDs who worked for Astellas and they gave me excellent advice on how to take my career to the next level. Going into my Astellas rotation, I wanted to be an MSL (Medical Science Liaison). That was the only position within industry that I knew about. I had spoken with several MSLs and that’s what I thought I wanted to do.

But I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I thought I was going to have to start as a retail pharmacist or clinical pharmacist, and then go on from there. I didn’t know too much about fellowships, other than they were extremely competitive. Additionally, my school did not offer an industry rotation and that’s what I heard would give you a leg up when applying for fellowships. So, I initially thought I was in a lose-lose situation. After landing the industry rotation with Astellas, I realized that a fellowship would be the way for me to gain that valuable exposure and experience in the industry pharmacy area, all while learning more about industry pharmacy and the drug development process.

Not only was I able to learn about industry pharmacy as a whole, but I was able to complete a project. My final project, which was very relatable for myself as an African-American woman, revolved around diversity and inclusion in clinical trials. I was able to research a new idea that looked at diversity and inclusion in clinical trials as a quality-assurance issue, and this idea, coupled with my presentation, sparked a major conversation among the attendees as they considered how to be more inclusive of more vulnerable populations in clinical trials.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Leslie Sam (President, Leslie Sam and Associates): Jazmyne’s rotation with Astellas included a DIA student membership as well as registration to DIA 2022 in Chicago. Knowing my long DIA volunteer history, David Fryrear, her Astellas rotation sponsor, asked me to meet with Jazmyne to show her the ropes while she was at the meeting.

Before the conference, Jazmyne and I connected to make our plan. We met for breakfast on the first day and I gave her a crash course on what to expect. We spoke about the importance of her “elevator speech”: She would be meeting hundreds (if not thousands) of people, and this elevator speech could be the only impression she might get to make. She needed to be prepared so they would understand who she is, what her goals are, and how they could help her, in a very short time–an invaluable networking tool. We also discussed sessions that could offer potential leads for future career paths. Every day, she was learning more about industry practices and career paths to which she had not been exposed previously.

David: We were very fortunate that the DIA Annual Meeting was right here in Chicago on the second week of her rotation. As someone who has been very involved with the DIA Annual Meeting for 30 years, and even served on the Annual Meeting Planning committee, I know that there’s no better place to explore careers in the biopharmaceutical industry because this meeting offers all the different facets in one place, and the opportunity to network is excellent. The subject matter and rich content that it offers every year are invaluable. In fact, for Jazmyne, the diversity, equity, and inclusion topics (especially those related to clinical trials) were really inspiring for her. It was an excellent place to introduce her to industry opportunities and industry “hot topics.”

Leslie: In Jazmyne’s case, you have someone who is well educated but is “very new to the industry” and trying to learn more about it. I want to do my part to help her navigate potential avenues she did not know were available. By helping Jazmyne, I’m helping the pharmaceutical industry: We have this curious, high-performing individual, who I’m convinced is going to give back in big ways we don’t even understand yet. I want to do my part to set her and everyone else who reads this article on the right path for their journey.

It’s not just what Jazmyne and I can contribute. I’m hoping that other first-time professional attendees or students will read and understand how Jazmyne’s experience helped inspire her to expand her network and career options to the next level. I’m also hoping that other experienced DIA attendees (like myself) will seek out students and first-time attendees to help shepherd them through their conference experience so that they will realize the full value of DIA. You have so many opportunities for networking as well as seeing innovative and creative ideas that our peers are bringing to the table. DIA is in a unique position: sponsoring this global conference as a fertile ground for new attendees that, with proper support, will produce our future life sciences professionals.

Leslie Sam, Jazmyne Durrah Simmons, and Tywnia Brewton at DIA 2022 in Chicago.
Leslie Sam, Jazmyne Durrah Simmons, and Tywnia Brewton at DIA 2022 in Chicago.
Jazmyne: The conference experience truly solidified my interest in industry pharmacy and pharmacy as a whole. I was able to meet so many different people in many different positions, some that I did not even know existed, within the pharmaceutical field. During my poster session, I was able to showcase the research I had been working on, Detection and Quantification of PDE-5 inhibitor Adulterants in Commercial Sexual Performance Enhancers. Also, I was given an abundance of insight focused on mentorship and sponsorship during the conference to help shape my professional career within industry. I even gained a new mentor (Leslie Sam)!

David: The DIA Annual Meeting is unique in the way it focuses on students and emerging professionals and offers professional development opportunities for everyone. Providing those opportunities not just to learn about industry, but to learn and practice skills and tactics for mentoring or career development was hugely valuable for Jazmyne. The networking opportunities with people you can meet from different companies or from different areas of industry is just a perfect place for a student to learn about potential careers.

Jazmyne: Because this was a huge meeting, just seeing the number of people who showed up and just how massive in general the conference was, having someone to guide me through it was extremely helpful, and I think all students could benefit from that. However, if it’s not possible to find someone to give you that guidance, start working on your elevator speech. Utilize the DIA app, which allows you to see who will be attending, to pinpoint who you would like to speak with, who you want to potentially reach out to, what sessions you want to attend, ahead of time. This will give you a leg up coming in and not be so overwhelmed by all of the great things the conference has to offer.

Now, looking back to when I was 18 and first thinking about pharmacy school, I would tell myself to leave nothing on the table. Take advantage of all the opportunities you are presented. Early on, I doubted myself and my ability to become a pharmacist, and I don’t know why: From my work ethic to my ability to speak with and connect with people from all walks of life, I had everything I needed to be successful as a pharmacist. All I needed to do was … start!