Career Pivot Recharges Passion for Pharmacy

Alumna Janet Edwards, BSPhar ’95, MS, explores new paths with her Masters in Regulatory Science degree

Story by Ryan McDaniel | Published February 28, 2023

Studio headshot of Janet Edwards

Janet Edwards, BSPhar ’95, paints an sobering picture of her recent graduation from her Masters in Regulatory Science program.  “It was May of 2021, so my graduation was me sitting at my kitchen table in my graduation robe and chords, and I had my virtual ceremony,” she recalls with a slight chuckle.

This, of course, is the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic that so many of us have experienced. But Janet could never have imagined it would be the case when she began this new journey back in 2019. It turns out that the timing couldn’t have been better. “In the regulatory science program, we were learning about the FDA’s regulatory framework and then watching it play out in real time,” Janet explains. “We’re looking at companies taking advantage of the accelerated approval pathway, at new mRNA, gene therapy – a plethora of topics that I learned about and wrote about in classes that just recharged my passion for pharmaceutical regulations in the industry.”

This recharge has come 25 years into Janet’s career. After graduating from the UNC School of Pharmacy, she looked carefully at where she wanted to go. While most of her classmates at the time were moving into hospital or retail pharmacy, Janet went into sales first with SmithKline Beecham (Glaxo & Burroughs Wellcome were merging at the time, later to become GlaxoSmithKline, GSK). “I thought that I would do sales for two years,” she reflects. “When I applied, they asked ‘you have no sales experience – what do you bring to the table?’ I had my pharmacy education and that was valuable in comprehending and empathizing with health care providers about where they are in helping patients. And it has been extremely rewarding to interact with so many health care professionals throughout my career, while leaning into the many health care changes.”

Janet’s career path is quite different from where she started in undergrad. She began at UNC as an economics major but, in her words: “I started taking micro/macro and… not so much.” She was doing well in her science classes, though, especially chemistry. Her mother said she should look into pharmacy.

As with everything, Janet did her due diligence and found pharmacoeconomics was a flourishing specialty – a perfect way for her to combine business and science. With that in mind, Janet secured a part time job with the accountant in the Dean’s Office. “Through that I got to know the school of pharmacy better, learned many business skills, along with Dean Miya and then Dean Campbell, so it confirmed the journey I chose,” she says. “I applied to the school and that started me on my path.”

Janet has always had this growth-mindset and desire to explore new opportunities, but it was a nudge from her boss in 2019 that compelled her to explore her other interests and obtain her Masters in Regulatory Science. He simply asked, “What are you doing for Janet?”

Again, Janet delved into researching her options. “I took on the challenge of going back to explore what else I was interested in from my time at Carolina, and it was the regulatory field. I looked at all masters in regulatory science programs that were available in the area – Northeastern, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, and Temple – and researched what those were like, and what students were doing with the degrees.” At the time, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy had not yet introduced our own MPS in Regulatory Science program. “If that had been an option,” Janet says, “I probably would have seriously considered going with my alma mater, UNC, based on my fantastic undergraduate experience.”

Janet chose the University of Maryland to pursue her Master’s degree. Her fall semester of 2019 was the only in-person classes she had before the pandemic pushed everything to virtual. Despite this, Janet built camaraderie with her classmates and expanded her network as well as her skills and understanding of regulatory science.

Now Janet is considering ways to leverage her new degree and pivot to a fresh career path. Her team at GlaxoSmithKline has been extremely supportive, helping her rotate into different jobs at the company. And there are so many paths to choose from: health policy, regulatory ad promo, government affairs, R&D, or global labeling.

True to form, Janet is taking time to determine the best fit for her. “I’m still deciding where I want to go next with this. I know I can make a difference.”