Melissa Pryce—Charles River Laboratories

Charles River
In addition to being a powerhouse for R&D, Charles River Laboratories is also a positive place for women to work. (Charles River Laboratories)

Melissa Pryce
Company: Charles River Laboratories
Title: Senior supervisor, molecular biology

Melissa Pryce has spent nearly 12 years at the large contract research organization (CRO) Charles River Laboratories (CRL) in what she calls "a really interesting journey."

She began as a supervisor within the Molecular Biology department back in December 2007, initially to oversee their residual DNA QF-PCR assays and later volunteering to assume oversight of characterization testing within the Molecular Department in 2011.

Since then, she’s moved up the ladder, becoming senior supervisor, where she works to ensure that samples are tested and released within the allotted turnaround time according to the client’s statement of work; train technical personnel in general laboratory skills (as well as on specific assays); and provide development plans for her direct reports' growth.

"I find the work really rewarding,” she said.

In the world of life sciences, we can sometimes overlook CROs: Big Pharma and innovative new biotechs often grab the headlines. But CROs are the quiet foundations of research and development, and more often than not the companies working diligently on some of the biggest breakthroughs in biology.

CRL is one of the bigger CROs out there, raking in more than $2 billion a year with around 15,000 employees worldwide and working on a diverse set of services that has seen it support the development of around 85% of the drugs the FDA approved last year.

The CRO is not only a powerhouse for R&D but also a positive place for women to work. “I’ve found that both genders have an equal opportunity to move up the corporate ladder at Charles River, if desired,” Pryce explained. “Currently at our site of the 15 managers, 11 are women. And I have to say that at CRL I’ve never experienced a 'boys’ club' mentality.”

Encouraging the next generation of girls to get into STEM subjects is also very important to Pryce and to the company.

“I believe this starts at home, with parents encouraging young girls to explore these subjects, enrolling them in activities that will expose them to science the same way they would dance or sports,” she said, adding that "as a community, we need to advertise the science field as we do for sports to encourage them to test their hand in science."

She did exactly that during high school, where she was part of an outreach program dedicated to helping female students discover potential future careers in science. That program helped her decide to pursue a B.S. in biology, followed by a M.S. in microbiology. "The more we can expose women and young girls to science and science careers, the greater the chance the field will benefit from their talent," she said.

CRL is also looking to bring innovative STEM programs taking place at some of its other locations to its site in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

"For example, one of our sites has a STEM-focused ‘Take Your Kids to Work’ event that provides the opportunity for us to showcase our love of science to our kids through hands-on science experiments. Another site recently launched a ‘Leaders in Science’ program, which started as a monthlong celebration of women in science and has evolved into an interactive, science-share forum and network,” she said.

According to Pryce, there is “such a great need for future scientists,” as well as an equally great need to introduce science in an engaging way.

“Kids in our communities, and even some of our colleagues today, may not know the diverse types of STEM careers available to them, both here at Charles River and in the industry generally. This is why it is so important that we continue to create spaces at Charles River and in our communities for open dialogue and to see science in action.”

Within CRL, she is also helping women move up the ranks. “I strive to help my reports develop into the roles that they want to pursue by providing them the opportunities in my control—for example, providing training they need to get to the next level, and helping them to develop their soft skills as well as technical skills.”

Since her start at the company, she said she has had male reports, but she's been responsible for a few female technicians as well. Some have moved on to further their educations with graduate school, for example, and another worked her way up four levels—from Technician I to Research Associate 1—within four years of her hire at CRL, "which is amazing,” she said.

Currently, she's made five new female hires within the last six months, and she's laid out development plans to aid them in reaching their career goals while at CRL. 

"Ultimately, it is so important for all of us in supervisory roles to provide good guidance and advice to women desiring careers in science," she said.

Melissa Pryce—Charles River Laboratories