When you think about the qualities that are important for scientists to possess, leadership might not come to mind. University of Richmond senior Noah Walker, ’19, thinks this is a mistake. This summer, Walker, a Science Leadership Scholar, explored how leadership is a driving force in scientific developments.

“Leadership is essential in scientific research because it keeps everyone on the team focused. In essence good communication and leadership can increase efficiency and improve results,” Walker says.

Walker, who has conducted research in Dr. Kelling Donald’s computational chemistry lab for the past three years, completed his Jepson Internship with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Silver Spring, Md.

“It’s fascinating to me to learn more about the drug development process, and it’s also very cool to see that some of the people I work with have helped approve products I use regularly,” Walker says.

During his internship, Walker helped draft updates to drug companies regarding the status of their applications, read proposed protocols for testing drug toxicities, attended FDA meetings with drug companies, and analyzed the efficacy of recently approved drugs.

“I feel like the fusion of science and leadership is essential, especially in research settings or in companies like the FDA,” Walker says.

Walker says that leadership not only helps accelerate the rate of science through strong communications that make the process more efficient, it also contributes to overall employee wellbeing at a government agency like the FDA.

“The thing that surprised me most about the internship is that part of me expected an environment with a bunch of stressed scientists trying to manage all of these applications coming in from different companies,” Walker says.

While Walker says that this is sometimes the case, he emphasizes that there is diversity among FDA employees’ backgrounds and the experiences they bring from outside the sciences.

“Because everyone is so different, there are a lot of different types of activities that everyone can enjoy,” Walker says. “The FDA realizes people need something to occasionally distract them from their work and keep them loose; there are many opportunities to relax and meet new coworkers.”

The internship has helped Walker focus his post-graduation plans. After graduation, Walker plans to pursue a doctoral degree in pharmacology. After that, he says, he may look into coming back to the FDA or apply to do drug development at a drug company.

“Coming in to this internship I thought I wanted to do pharmacy. From speaking with people that work here, especially with the family friend that works here, I think I’ve decided to change my career path to become a pharmacologist because it aligns more closely with what I want to do,” Walker says.