Learn to embrace change, says Dr Dave Hallett

25 Jan 2013

Dr Dave Hallett, executive vice-president of chemistry at Evotec, has operational and strategic responsibility for chemistry, computational chemistry and drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics groups in the UK and India. He tells us what he's learned so far, and what SCI involvement means to him.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
It was partly driven by what I enjoyed (and was good at) at school, but mostly I selected science because I really enjoy the translation of knowledge into something tangible and useful.

And was that apparent from childhood?
To an extent. I really enjoyed maths from an early age and even considered doing a maths degree. But ultimately I just enjoyed tinkering about in a lab too much and opted to pursue something more experimental rather than the abstract ideas presented in pure maths.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
Surround yourself with good people. Hire people who are better than you. You should not be too protective of your own position and you must embrace change, particularly in today's ever-changing environment, and accept that you need to evolve.

What would you say have been the significant milestones in your career?
The first was the decision to spend a year in industry before my first degree: I went to work at Pfizer, in Sandwich, Kent. At that point I'd done the classic science A-levels (maths, further maths, physics and chemistry), and I'd secured a position at Cambridge to study natural sciences, but I wasn't sure where I wanted to go in science. Going into that pharma environment, I saw that this was a great place to translate high-quality science into something practical that could benefit people. That decision helped shape my subsequent career, in terms of future decisions and the types of people I am drawn to.

The second was, after my post-doc in the US, having the fortune to secure a position at Merck Sharp & Dohme for about a decade; this was at the Terlings Park facility near Harlow, Essex, where they had a specialist neuroscience group. That was an amazing place to learn drug discovery - fantastic people, great place to work, and outstanding science. I don't think it's any coincidence that a significant number of people that worked there have moved into influential positions around the globe.

Finally, the decision to move to Evotec, as it allows me to work at the interface between science and business. Our scientists are at the core of what we do - supporting and driving innovative science in partnership with others. However, in a risk-averse world where we are all being challenged to do more with less, we need to find creative business relationships underpinned by efficient execution.

What key things would a young person need to do to reach the position you've achieved thus far?
Work hard and find something that you enjoy. The other observation I would make is that in today's society, where there is an overwhelming amount of information available, there's a temptation to try and digest it all. Lack of time precludes a really deep and meaningful analysis and you end up being a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none). I would say, particularly in the early stages of your career try to become competent or even expert in a particular field: don't be afraid to focus and be recognised for being a specialist. There's plenty of time to grow, and to learn more skills as you get older.

How did you first become involved with SCI, and what has that involvement meant for you?
I came across SCI when I was at Merck, Sharpe & Dohme: I was invited to be its representative on the Young Chemists' Panel in the mid 1990s and was part of that group for about three years. SCI is a truly translational organisation - it supports the needs of our sector with the right blend of academic and industrial input. Its meetings are relevant and timely and the networking opportunities are second to none. I've never been a big fan of clubs and societies but this is one of the few organisations I believe delivers and with which I've consistently renewed my membership.

If you hadn't pursued a career in science, what would you be doing now?
I've always enjoyed trying to fix things - whether it is broken equipment or broken processes and I get a buzz from leading process change. Through interactions with colleagues and consultants at Evotec I'm also learning about process optimisation techniques and how they might be applied to aspects of drug discovery. Given this, I think I'd have perhaps gone down the consultancy route - trying to optimise the performance of operations and organisations.

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