A Conversation with Nicole Langlois PhD’23: From LEADERs to Amgen

03/13/20 – BOSTON, MA. – Second-year doctoral student Nicole Langlois works in the Clark Lab on DNA nanosensors to help study chemical processes in the human body in the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex on March 13, 2020. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University


For many PhD students, figuring out which career path to take is like a science experiment. It’s a good thing Nicole Langlois PhD’23, chemistry, specializes in problem solving.

She came to Northeastern’s PhD program with a double undergraduate degree in chemistry and forensic science and her reasoning skills led her from analytical chemistry into a LEADERs fellowship at biotech company Amgen. Her unique skill set didn’t go unnoticed by her Amgen supervisor Dylan Riggs. “Nicole blew us away from day one. Right off the bat, she was coming back to us—no exaggeration—with some of the most well-prepared presentations I’ve ever seen,” says Riggs, process development principal scientist. “She is an amazing scientist both in terms of her ability to communicate the data she’s collected and her results.”

In August 2023, Riggs helped Langlois find a full-time role at Amgen. We sat down with her to learn about how her LEADERs project made its way into her dissertation and led her to the role of senior scientist.

Anna Fiorentino: How did LEADERs impact your career?

Nicole Langlois: The LEADERs program allowed me to explore career paths tangential to my research and without that experience I would not be in my current role today. I had been unsure what opportunities were out there for PhDs, or even what it would be like to work in the industry. During my LEADERs placement, I was not only able to learn about the drug development process and different roles for PhDs in industrial careers; I contributed to a project with meaningful impact. I had a positive experience working with my LEADERs mentors and formed connections that helped me to get my foot in the door to search for future opportunities at the same company. As a result, I secured a senior scientist position after my defense in a different department at the same company.

AF: Why is your role in Amgen’s Drug Product Technologies group so critical?

NL: We are essentially a group that ensures the drug is safe, well controlled, and reproducible so that the patient gets the best product out there. I focus on understanding the processes that go into producing the product, from how the drug is formulated through when it is filled in the final container. We simulate manufacturing conditions through lab-scale studies to help ensure the right manufacturing conditions that support product stability to enable future regulatory filings.

AF: How did you first learn about LEADERs?

NL: I heard about the LEADERs program from one of the outreach seminars. From the beginning, I had my sights set on industry, but hadn’t quite figured out the details of what my ideal role would look like. I was interested in learning more and being eligible for a future placement, so I enrolled in the initial class.

AF: What did you gain from the “Leading Self and Others” course?

NL: PhD students often only focus on what’s going on in their own lab, so it was great to get exposure to different areas of research at Northeastern. I enjoyed familiarizing myself with formal tools to help plan out projects using charts and timelines, and the communication aspect was particularly helpful in my research and presentations. When I began the part-time fellowship, the class also helped me manage my schedule with my PhD research.

 AF: How did your research tie into your LEADERs fellowship?

NL: My graduate research was in the lab of former Northeastern distinguished professor (and founding director of the Institute for Chemical Imaging of Living Systems) Heather Clark, who is now the director of the School for Biological and Health Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. The lab focused on developing chemical sensors and imaging technologies to enable measurements inside complex living systems. As an analytical chemist in the group, my role was to improve our understanding of how these sensors remain stable in living systems and to develop techniques to characterize their stability. In addition to the LEADERs fellowship, which became one of the chapters of my thesis, I had two thesis chapters on stability-based methods—both focusing on DNA nanostructures, which are useful platforms for sensing and imaging.

The environment at Amgen is very welcoming and collaborative and that really appealed to me, so I decided to spend eight months part-time in a group called Pivotal Attribute Sciences. I developed a workflow to understand fragments of monoclonal antibodies. With the current routine monitoring methods, it can be challenging to predict the identity of an unknown fragment of an antibody. I developed chromatography and mass spectrometry-based methods to characterize the fragments of an antibody, with a workflow to match these identities back to the routine monitoring methods.

AF: How did LEADERs shape your journey to employment at Amgen?

NL: My fellowship group at Amgen ran parallel to my current group, whose main focus is understanding the different molecular level attributes of the drug product itself—the unique chemical features that make up a specific product—and designing methods to characterize them. During my LEADERs fellowship, it was key to gain perspective into the different parts of the organization and its culture, as well as the drug product development process as a whole. The research from my LEADERs project became one of my thesis chapters and improved my ability to connect my work to the potential impact beyond the lab. Following my dissertation, I already knew Amgen was a fantastic company that I wanted to work for, so I was eager and open for opportunities. Dylan was helpful in sharing insight into what my current group does and encouraged me to apply even though the job description was outside of my comfort zone of past experiences.

I think the ultimate benefit to the LEADERs mentoring process was having access to a network of people who can provide insight into the day-to-day life of scientists in industry. This helped me relate the context of my PhD work to real-world applications and see how the skills I developed as a graduate student could be transferable in future careers.

 AF: What was your biggest takeaway from LEADERs?

NL: It’s always more reliable to have a first-hand exposure to something rather than just trying to read endless articles. From my experience with Amgen, I was able to learn new techniques like mass spectrometry. I gained exposure to the drug development industry itself. I knew I wanted to stay in the biotech industry, which has been growing, particularly in Boston, very rapidly since COVID. The pandemic highlighted how essential biomedical technologies are to a global economy. I knew that I wanted to be a small piece of the puzzle in contributing to the next generation of improvements.

AF: What advice would you give to a future LEADERs student?

NL: To be open to trying a new opportunity outside their research area of expertise. The fellowship research projects are a good chance to try something new and showcase your skills in a new light. I recommend considering opportunities that are not just beneficial to your dissertation, but rather that provide you with a chance to explore a potential career path you are considering. While the scope of my doctoral research focused narrowly within my discipline, the experience I gained in LEADERs planning out projects, collaborating with colleagues, and executing thoughtfully designed experiments enabled me to be successful in carrying out a project in a new field.