**This ongoing series profiles female powerhouses who are making their mark in their leadership roles. In the spirit of paying it forward, each profiled woman is asked to nominate another peer to fuel the series.**
Cheryl Guyre understands the importance of work-life balance. In fact, her quest for a simpler life—hiking bucolic trails, breathing in fresh air, and rejecting the typical 9-to-5 working day—are core reasons she started her own company, Double Diamond Consulting, LLC. To be able to pursue her passion of immunotherapy research while enjoying the quieter parts of life.
I had the pleasure of connecting with Cheryl, who was fresh off of an Italian skiing vacation. What follows is a glimpse into our conversation about following your heart, listening to your body, and making a difference…
Me: Cheryl, you were nominated for inclusion in this series by Anne Lodge, president of Astarte Biologics in Seattle, Washington (you can check out Anne’s interview here). To begin, how do you know Anne?
Cheryl: Anne and I both come from the life sciences industry. My background, like Anne’s, is in immunotherapy research where we hope to contribute to scientific and medical breakthroughs for patients. I consulted for a life sciences company that used some of Astarte’s cell products to test research reagents in development. After meeting Anne in person at a conference and then visiting her company in in Washington, we began brainstorming about the possibilities in the immunology world, including ideas for products and services for clients.
Me: You’ve worked as a scientist and consultant for a few companies but four years ago you started your own company, Double Diamond Consulting. What led you down this path?
Cheryl: I started out at Tufts University and received my undergrad in biopsychology. I always loved biological sciences and psychology and wasn’t sure exactly what field to go into but I did know I wanted to be a research scientist. Between my junior and senior years, I received a Howard Hughes research fellowship and landed a summer internship where I got to work in an immunology lab. I immediately got hooked on that. I went to Dartmouth Medical School to receive my PhD focused in immunology and physiology.
After a short academic post-doctorate, I worked for nearly nine years in biotech, at Genzyme Corp. and ImmunoGen, Inc., focusing on immune therapies for cancer, including monoclonal antibody therapeutics and cancer vaccines. My choice to leave biotech was really more of a lifestyle choice. While I really loved working at the bench, the call of the mountains and being able to grab a trail right outside my backdoor called me home to New Hampshire.
So I took a consulting position with Beckman Coulter to assist customers in research labs in the planning, design, execution, analysis, and interpretation of multiparametric flow cytometry experiments. I got to work from home and still got to travel.
Me: Sounds like the best of both worlds!
Cheryl: It was! While I was there, I had the idea to start my own LLC and to see if I could branch out and give specialty advice to clients and customers. Today I help my clients with everything from supporting product and therapeutic development to applications and experimental design to data analysis and interpretation.
Me: Sounds like a really natural progression to arrive at your own business. Now that you have your own company, is it clear to you that you always wanted to have your own business?
Cheryl: I had no idea I would start a company! Where I live now is a beautiful place but job opportunities are simply limited. By going into business for myself, I now have the ability to travel easily yet still reside in an area I love most. My consulting business allows me to have the flexibility to pursue different passions and even things beyond life sciences and biotech. Today, I have redefined my business to also include interests outside of science.
Me: As someone who did not always know she wanted her own company, what lessons have you learned about entrepreneurism along the way?
Cheryl: You have to seek out mentors. When I started out, I had to learn about everything from how do I set my rates to what I do about benefits. I had to figure out the logistics of forming an LLC. Along the way, I also learned about how to create balance, particularly in a work-from-home environment. Working from home is tough for me, whereas for others it’s really comfortable. I’ve found it’s about having discipline and knowing how to refocus when I start spinning my wheels so that I can stay motivated.
I have also learned to go with my own body rhythm in terms of what hours work best for my body. For instance it’s not uncommon for me to work to 2 am if I get on a roll and abandon the typical 9-to-5 schedule. This is often a benefit to clients in distant time zones such as West Coast, Europe, and Asia.
Me: One of the perks of owning your own business for sure! As someone who has had a successful career in the science industry, what is it about the industry that first attracted you to pursue a career in it?
Cheryl: I think I have always gravitated towards science because I love problem solving and figuring things out. I also always wanted to have an impact. I want to know that something I’ve touched led to someone else having more meaningful days on the planet. My favorite projects to work on surround immunotherapy for cancer.
Me: What’s your most proud moment to date?
Cheryl: A therapeutic I helped develop is going into phase 3 trials for multiple myeloma. Knowing that one patient will end up having more time with her grandchildren or that another is able to now travel somewhere is what it’s all about for me. I want to know I had a hand in something meaningful like that.
Me: What a wonderful accomplishment! It’s because of advancements like these that we as society have to keep encouraging kids to pursue STEM education. Have you noticed that your industry is especially male-dominated?
Cheryl: I actually don’t find that my field is nearly as male dominated as others such as engineering, but I do think there is still work needed to completely equalize across gender. I remember being in my first big corporate meeting in biotech and looking around and smiling because I noticed that 50 percent of the participants were women. I commented to my female VP after the meeting how exciting it was to see such strong female representation and she replied, “yes and no.” She explained that while the meetings I go to are more evenly matched, the executive meetings she attends still paint women in the minority. I think we are getting better but we still need to see improvement.
Me: What advice do you have for young girls wanting to get into STEM education or start their own companies?
Cheryl: I would actually choose to relay a message I heard a famous women scientist say at a conference that didn’t apply to me personally but stuck. She said that the one thing women can do wrong is delay the starting of families. I don’t have children. I kept waiting until I set up my career. But if you do that you can find that you run out of time. While some institutions may still frown on women starting families, you can do both, and I think there were a lot of us who didn’t think we could. Just because you are a professional and a scientist, doesn’t mean you can’t have a family.
Me: I can relate to that. It can feel easier to push it off to really focus on your career at hand but time will run out!
Cheryl: Yup, I see it over and over again. But we can have both.
Me: OK final question... what’s the best piece of advice you have received?
Cheryl: It’s not advice per say but more something symbolic. I have a picture of my PhD mentor, Dr. Allan Munck, hanging on my bulletin board; he passed away last year in his 90s. Up until the day he passed, he was living a healthy, active life and still going to lab meetings every week, making significant contributions to endocrine physiology. Then one day, after a morning walk with his wife of 59 years, he died. After hearing the news, another protégé of Allan’s tearfully remarked, “Even in death, he is showing us the right way to do it,” referring to Allan’s efficiency at accomplishing a task with the least complications. In difficult professional situations, I try to remember to ask myself: What would Allan do? He was always compassionate, kind, encouraging, and looked at the best in everyone. He was always level-headed and seemed never to get frazzled. He believed in me and that helped me to believe in myself.
If something looks scary, I try to muster up the courage and just do it. At times I have jumped off the cliff and hoped the parachute was attached but wasn’t completely sure. So far I’ve always landed on my feet.
Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as Marketing Principal for Trilix. Carrie is a 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” honoree and a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.