Dr. Tina Morris is the Executive Director of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS).
She leads the staff team that supports all operational aspects of the Association and works with the AAPS Board of Directors and other Volunteer Leadership Committees on the strategic and direction-setting activities that guide the work of the scientific society. Prior to that, she was Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at the Parenteral Drug Association (PDA).
Until 2018, Dr. Morris held several scientific senior leadership positions at the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), including as the Global Head of Biologics and Senior Vice President of Compendial Science. Before joining USP in 2003, Dr. Morris worked in the biopharmaceutical industry, with an expertise focus on analytical development and product characterization.
She completed her postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular virology from the Medical University of Luebeck, Germany, and a master’s degree in biology from the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany.
Connect with Dr. Morris on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Leading a scientific association at the interface of academia and industry – bringing the two worlds together
- Leading an association in a changing association and business environment
- Narrow vs. wide audience/membership
- Building a scientific leadership pipeline with a diverse background
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:17] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Association Leadership Radio. And this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Tina morris and she is with American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. Welcome, Tina.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:00:31] Thank you, Lee. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:33] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about AARP’s. How are you serving folks?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:00:39] So APS is a great association that was founded in 1989. We are an individual member based association of over 7000 members that span the entire pharmaceutical sciences, field industry, academia, regulatory and from students to executives.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:08] So it has its own unique challenges, I would guess, kind of when you’re trying to be the bridge between academia and industry. How do you kind of, you know, make everybody happy?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:01:22] Well, that that’s the miracle everybody’s trying to achieve. Right. I always call it our our secret superpower, that we are so broad. But it’s a huge opportunity to really connect people across the career spectrum. It is a an area where we can really foster innovation because often, as you know, people work in silos and really don’t get to connect their science, their business with the folks they need to meet. But of course, it comes with its unique challenges because academicians and industry folks have their unique viewpoints, and that that sometimes creates very interesting discussions and challenges, especially when it comes to association governance sometime.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:17] So now any advice for other leaders of associations that are trying to kind of navigate a similar bridge between academia and industry or there are some things that you’ve learned that you’re like, Oh, I’ll do more of this and I’ll do less of this.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:02:33] I think what we found with my team is the most important thing is really as as in in many situations, good volunteer training expectations, setting clarity around really what’s what the mission and the plan for the association is. We we were very fortunate that we had a we had an excellent strategic planning exercise recently. And if you end up with a good plan that everybody can get behind, it’s really, really helpful. And communication, communication. Communication, I think very important. It’s also important to have good balance in your leadership and good balance in your pipeline. Balance and diversity in your pipeline leadership is really important, but of course, sometimes also hard to achieve.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:33] Now, you mentioned that part of your constituents are students. How do you kind of include them in the pipeline and in the path to creating engagement for them at the beginning of their career so that they do see a path to stay connected and to engage with the association as they progress in their career.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:03:55] A lot of it, of course, depends on in the academic with our academic members who are more senior to be very supportive of their students presenting at our conferences for students many times, and APS Conference is their first ever poster presentation submitting abstracts. We do also have a student support committee that really fosters the the student support and the student interaction and fellowship. We have student chapters at at many university hubs across the country. I think what is sometimes more challenging is not losing these members once they enter their careers, whatever those are. Because obviously if you finish graduate school and all of a sudden you have your first job, be it in academia and industry, you have other worries than being an association member. And so making sure that they stick with us and see the value, that’s that’s really important. We do offer a lot of career development and mentoring advice at APS. At our big conferences, we have mentoring breakfasts. We offer entry level volunteer opportunities for students to make sure that they do get connected to more senior leaders and really have the opportunity to build their own network within the association.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:35] And I think those mentoring opportunities are so important for young people to take advantage of because as they progress in their career, at some point they’re going to be the mentor. So for them to learn what a good mentor, how a good mentor behaves and how a bad one behaves, and to kind of be able to say which one they want to be, I think is super helpful as no matter what, like you said, no matter what direction their career goes in.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:06:02] Exactly. That’s completely right. And I’m very fortunate, I have to say, that our our especially our board of directors, but also our some of our more other committees are very interested and committed to student mentoring. We never have trouble finding enough volunteers for that. More recently, a lot of conversations have circled around what we what we call nontraditional career paths, really, where people may start in academia, then they’ll jump into industry in the pharma side, sometimes jumping from the innovator into the supplier side. And what all those challenges are that now that career paths are not as straightforward as they used to be in our field. And I think there’s a lot of interest in young and even mid-career professionals to network and find mentors to help them navigate a very rapidly evolving career challenge.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:12] So do you feel that the industry and academia are kind of up for that challenge when there is this? Maybe it’s a different type of workforce in today’s world than there was pre-pandemic time?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:07:25] Oh, it sure is. I think the the pandemic has created an entirely new set of challenges. Right. And in terms of it has made the employment market much, much more dynamic. It’s, of course, created a situation where lots of folks have worked remotely and virtually for an extended period of time. They typical networking venues and ways to connect with their peers and are not there or they’re only just now coming back. So yeah, it has, it has really changed the industry and it’s it’s changed how the associations, I think have to support their members. We have really made a big emphasis at APS during the pandemic to have meaningful year round virtual and digital offerings for our members, because that was a very challenging time. And just because you. You can have your big conferences or your workshops. Doesn’t mean you can’t just drop off the air. So we were actually since we’re on the radio, one of our one of our internal mantras was APS has to stay on the air during the pandemic. And I think our members really appreciated that.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:53] Right. And that’s what I’m I had a conversation this morning with an executive director of an association, and it was the same. These are as we come out of the pandemic, you have now the ramifications of so many remote workers now coming back and now they’re coming back not totally all the way that it’s a hybrid. So, you know, you have a whole new bucket of challenges to navigate. You know, as the the workplace has shifted so much and the value that the association brings to the table has shifted before, you know, you probably weren’t doing as much online, virtual, you know, as much as you were through the pandemic. And now that the pandemic is waning now, do you keep up that pace and the in-person like now you’ve got to find the balance there as well?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:09:39] Yeah, for us it’s really been it’s been a fantastic laboratory and we have really developed a lot of and developed an increasing amount of value from that, not just for the interaction with our members. And in science, it’s actually extremely important to enable like a year round dialog and to be able to advance those scientific topics through different kinds of venues. And digital has been just fantastic for that. But we’ve also really it’s it’s really accelerated the way we interact with our partners because obviously we have not had a large conference during the pandemic. Our corporate partners couldn’t exhibit. And we have it’s really accelerated our transition to more a thought leadership consultative based approach where we’ve done webinars with our corporate partners, each talks and other content, and it’s enabled them to communicate with our members in a different way as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:53] Now, having gone through this and are coming out of this, how did you kind of keep everybody focused on the same true north? That was the mission of the association to begin with.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:11:07] That’s a that’s a great question. I think we had an advantage because I think it helped that we were committed to our strategic planning exercise. So like right before the pandemic, our we had a leadership retreat in New Orleans and literally two weeks later, the pandemic hit and the board of directors and the entire association leadership stayed committed to really doing a strategic planning exercise. And it was incredibly hard. We did everything virtually. We had a wonderful facilitator, Richard Chang. But when you have those discussions during a changing environment, it really helps you focus. It really helps you focus on what are we all about, what do we need to do? And our mission is to bring scientists together across the development spectrum to really accelerate the development of medicines from from laboratory to patient. And that that was really incredibly strengthening. And it helped us a lot. It helped us focus through all the logistical and other challenges. But it is not easy now.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:27] Once you kind of land on that and you get buy in, what was the next step like? How did you kind of then have that messaging trickle down to everybody in the organization association?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:12:41] We we have a community platform at APS. We actually have 42 online communities. Our community leadership gets together regularly and we’ve even through the pandemic, we’ve had the we’ve continued to have our leadership retreat. We did it virtually. But it really is it takes some time to for these messages to really sort of take root at every level of the organization. One of the best outcomes, I think, of our planning exercise was that we strengthened our governance a bit. We created several new committees that help the board be more effective in our governance. We created a scientific advisory committee, a DEI committee, and also really a strategy committee, which is called Horizon Planning Committees. So we’re trying to very much build continuity of thought and deliberateness into our governance. So also that there is not sort of this every time you have a board or a presidents rotation, you have these tectonic shifts in how the strategy or the path forward is interpreted.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:58] So now you mentioned DEI. Can you talk about how that’s going from a whiteboard to kind of a practice that’s happening in real life nowadays?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:14:11] Yeah, we have one is to understand where where our members head is. And so we’ve we’ve done a survey exercise in 2020 and we refreshed that data very recently. The DEI committee also has they have liaisons in in our different committees where selections and nominations are made. And we talked earlier about assuring that we have a diverse pipeline. So for example, our nominations committee that deliberates our future board candidates, our awards committee that looks at our award nominations and our fellows committee that deliberates the candidacies for our highest honor, our designation as a society. Those committees all have liaisons from our DEI group, and they kind of they’re there. They’re following the discussions and sort of bringing back how that interaction is going. And I have to say that this has been really great because we see an increasing awareness in those groups to to really look at those slates and say, are we balanced? How can we have a better balance? I think what is what is more challenging for the long term and it’s going to really require a dedicated effort is really building that pipeline and making sure that across our spectrum of science, we really have we have members represented from diverse backgrounds. We pay much, much closer attention. When we recruit volunteers, that we blind the applications. We have a blinded application process and questionnaires so that when folks are being picked, there’s people can’t call up just their buddies or their favorite people. That assures that new voices are in the mix. But it’s a process. It’s a journey.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:31] Yeah, that’s always tricky because you want to be inclusive, but you also have to fill the slot.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:16:38] Right?
Lee Kantor: [00:16:38] And and, you know, sometimes speed overrides being inclusive and it’s just making it a priority and just saying, no, this is not an area, you know, we have to and I love the idea of making it a blind, making it blind that way. It is, you know, kind of the fairest possible way. But also you’re not kind of just taking sometimes easy way out is go with the usual suspects that are the people that are closest to you.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:17:06] Exactly. And that was not uncontroversial. Of course, as you can imagine, in a scientific society, we have a lot of folks who have a a deep professional network and everybody knows sort of their their set of experts in the area. But you can only keep an organization like this fresh if you really if you have mechanisms to to bring new, new voices into the mix.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:36] Yeah. And I think that that’s really wise of you to, to be aware of that because a lot of people, they don’t you have to be kind of mindful of this and and put systems in place to address it. Otherwise, the easiest thing is going me going to the person I know I can count on that I always go to. And then if everybody’s always doing that, you are getting the same kind of faces around the table where if you do it with intentionality like you’re talking about, you bring in fresh faces that keeps the association thriving and you’re adding people that aren’t necessarily always the regulars. So I think that’s fantastic.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:18:17] Yeah, that’s one of the things we have we have implemented a couple of years ago. And I would say in general, I think it’s important to make sure that the governance mechanisms and policies are regularly reviewed. I joined APS on staff two years ago. I’ve been a member for a long time, but one of the asks from the board at the time was that all our contracts and services be reviewed that we currently have on the operational side, which is completely reasonable. But at the same time you have to treat your volunteer mechanisms the same way. I feel like because our the environment is evolving, the goals of the association have to evolve with it and you have to make sure that the governance mechanisms really support you in carrying that out, because otherwise it’s a battle every single time you make a change.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:17] So when you took over as leader, was there a moment where you were like, okay, I have a good handle on this. I’m starting to get traction. I feel like that I’m going to make that impact that I envision making.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:19:30] It’s that’s an interesting question because my my first week on the job was already in the pandemic. So there has been not a single, quote unquote, normal day on my job. I think my my senior staff team had had a very organized plan for me for the first week in the office, and that all went out the window once COVID hit. And we had to pivot very, very quickly to to deal with the evolving situation. So I think we’ve made a lot of progress. It’s. I think in general, I never feel like I can just settle in and and, you know, things are things are on autopilot. I don’t know if anybody can do that these days in the association space, but it’s been a wonderful it’s been a wonderful journey. And there’s never a dull moment at APS, that’s for sure.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:34] Now, any advice? We talked a little about young people, but it’s so important for me to to get young people to pay attention to this, because I think associations are critical, part of a successful career no matter what industry you’re in, really, because the association to me is the center of influence that are kind of role modeling behaviors. They should be ahead of the curve. They should be the ones that are giving the best example of how to be and what you could be. And it’s a place to collaborate and to educate yourself. So I’m always for young people getting involved in their association and leaning into it. So any advice for that young person who, like you said, they get they get it. The importance when they’re young, you know, in college, because, hey, this is where all the people are in the jobs are. But once they get the job, they’re like, well, I’m busy. I got, you know, a life here. I don’t have time to go to these meetings. But what advice would you give that person to stay involved in their association and to kind of lean into the leadership opportunities there? Because I think that it’s critical for a successful career. And really that gives you a mechanism to give back and to really pay it forward in your career.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:21:45] Right. I would say you never know what you don’t know. And I think going going out there, engaging in your association, networking with your peers sometimes across disciplines or areas, is so important because it opens your eyes to what you maybe should be doing or should be learning. And I would just say a career has many turns and you never know if that connection or that skill that you learn because you involved yourself in something that you you were able to do it. Your association sometimes may pay you back ten, 15 years down the road because you met people or you you learned a skill that you never thought you’d need. And it’s there and you have it because you’ve got involved in something that may not have been directly related to what you’re doing right now. And that’s what I that’s what I tell our members and especially scientists in some areas of pharma development get very, very deep and very narrow. And I always tell them, go, go into a track where you know nothing. If you’re an analytical scientist, go, go, listen to a clinical study, go, go, go to regulatory, do something completely different. And you may discover that maybe I should change something, maybe I should get involved with that. Maybe I should learn that. Maybe I should meet people in that space. Right. And it’s a really it’s a huge growth opportunity, both in terms of leadership, but also other aspects of your professional life. So I always encourage that.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:34] So what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:23:38] We always we always would love to see more members, people get involved with apps. We think we really have great value to provide. We’re great association. You know, pharmaceutical scientists are not as nerdy as you think. And also we have we have a great team. I’m going to make a small pitch at the end. Two of my senior staff, Troy Davis, who’s our managing director of member products, and Eric Burns, who’s our senior director of corporate engagement. They’re going to be at the mid-Atlantic Society of Association Executives at their mid-year meeting in Philly in June. So if you have listeners who want to want to meet them there, they’re fantastic. They I would say they’re key architects in of change at apps and keeping us at the leading edge of association leaderships. So they’re out there, they’re doing a dynamic duo presentation. I can only recommend it. They’re fantastic. Yeah. Anybody who is out in our field check us out. We’re great association. I’d love to have have you on board.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:03] Well, you’re doing important work. And we appreciate you, Tina, if somebody wants to connect with you. Or learn more about the association. What’s the association’s website.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:25:15] It’s apps dot org and on Twitter we are at at apps comms can find us on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn as well. And yeah, we have I think our our website is the key to all our offerings, e-learning, our peer reviewed journals, our conferences for potential corporate partners in our space. We have a business development page. There’s a lot of resources right there at apps dot org.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:49] Well, thank you so much again for sharing your story. Like I said, you’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Dr. Tina Morris: [00:25:55] Thank you so much, Lee. Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:57] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We we’ll see you next time on the Association Leadership Radio.