Daring Women: Adventures in Science

Teri Foy is more than just a woman in science. She's a scientist.

This story is featured in the October issue of Seattle Business magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.

Teri Foy recalls her surprise the first time she attended the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, a large and prominent annual gathering of industry leaders and investors. 

“I was stunned at the overall dominance of male representation everywhere,” she says, “including in almost every one of the meetings where I had to pitch our company’s story as the chief scientific officer of a biotech trying to find potential collaborators.”

Foy, now an immunologist at Bristol Myers Squibb, has more than 25 years of biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry experience developing new medicines to treat cancer and inflammation. As senior vice president, immuno-oncology and cellular therapy, she leads the Immuno-Oncology and Cell Therapy Thematic Research Center in South Lake Union, working to harness the power of immune cells to enhance and restore the body’s ability to fight cancer through cell-based therapies and biotherapeutics.

Foy, who previously worked for Bristol Myers Squibb subsidiary Celgene, also oversees both internal and external scientific research collaborations.

Leadership Traits: 
Effective leaders empower individuals to excel and challenge themselves. They learn to become good leaders independent of any micromanagement. Science is a demanding and rapidly changing field, so having the flexibility to adapt to unexpected hurdles is critical. Drug development is a long journey with more failures than successes. Demonstrating resilience in the face of failure sets an example for the team and lets them know it is okay to keep pushing the limits, to think differently and explore outside-the-box solutions, even if they don’t always work. That way of thinking is what will enable us to develop effective new medicines for the people who need them. 

I think a fear of failure prevents many women from taking stretch opportunities into leadership roles. It is important not to be afraid of challenges, to trust your instincts and have the courage to follow opportunities, even though you may not succeed initially.

Build your confidence and don’t let it falter. I have been the only woman in a room full of men on many occasions in my career. Often, that can cause you to concentrate on the fact that you are the “only” instead of the many reasons you deserve to be there. It took multiple experiences, preparation and support from my colleagues to be able to fully realize my value and recognize that I was the best person to represent my work. 

Lessons Learned:
When I speak with female scientists, I advise them to be confident in who they are and what they bring to the table, regardless of who else is at that table. When I was ready to take the next step in my career after my post-doctoral fellowship, I was trying to decide whether to take an academic position or to go into industry. I sought out advice from mentors with experience in both settings. They told me not to be afraid to take a risk and challenge myself to take on a role that was different or that stretched beyond what I thought I was capable of doing at the time. I have always remembered this.

Be conscious of gender inequities in your field, but do not let them become obstacles for you or allow them to dictate your personal career development path. There are many intelligent, passionate female scientists in our industry, but representation across senior and executive levels still has a long way to go. It’s important that we continue to push for change.

I really believe in valuing the people around you, whether those people are family, friends or colleagues. Having strong, meaningful and trusting relation-ships is one of the most important things we have in life. I think I bring that perspective to work every day. I try to be authentic and open with colleagues at all levels.

Do Differently: 
The pandemic really led me to appreciate how every individual has their own unique challenges and circumstances that influence who they are and how they work. It made me recognize the importance of understanding individuals’ perspectives and of having empathy for each other’s challenges. It also taught me to extend more flexibility to my colleagues.

I really enjoy the Pacific Northwest and all the outdoor activities it has to offer. I love hiking, kayaking and exploring. I’m fortunate enough to have a place in the San Juan Islands to sneak away to at times, which has afforded me even greater opportunity to enjoy the wonderful place in which we live. On Sunday afternoons, however, you’ll likely find me spending time with 60,000 other people cheering on the Seattle Seahawks. 

Autobiography Title: 
“From the Bench to the Board Room: One Girl Scientist’s Journey.”

Related Content

Webb also says great executives listen to and learn from the people they are charged with leading

Webb also says great executives listen to and learn from the people they are charged with leading

Swary also stresses that women’s leadership strengths are often misperceived as weaknesses ― a barrier that must be overcome

Donio says women seeking to advance their careers must be confident that they deserve the job and ‘are destined to do well’

Lockwood heads a working group that is applying genetic tools to advance the detection and diagnosis of cancers and other diseases