The Bubble of Silicon Valley
Ayesha Ahmed - Medical Science Director at Genentech
The pharmacy program at Northeastern was extremely difficult. It was a 6 year doctorate program, so it was a lot of content jammed into a short amount of time. We never had summer break; we would either be working or in classes all the time. There was a med school mentality which meant that there was a high dropout rate, a lot of pressure and one-chance-to-pass sort of exams. You graduate at the age of 24 with a doctorate degree and it feels like this huge accomplishment because a lot of people didn’t get through it. I thought being a pharmacist would guarantee me work, but I graduated during the recession and there were no jobs. I had to take a per diem job 50 miles away from home with no benefits. I went from a 100 mile round trip commute to getting a part time job at the Target pharmacy. It took me about a year at Target before I got a nice job at a hospital and felt a bit settled. I now work as a Medical Science Director at Genentech.
I moved from Boston to the Bay Area about 2 years ago. The Bay is very much a bubble. I don’t think people here realize what the rest of the country is like. It truly feels like a Utopian society out here. The weather is great and you’re outdoors all the time. There are nice parks, places to eat and so much diversity of culture. There is so much wealth here. When young people think about starter homes they are looking at a +1.2M dollar ticket price on average and that’s actually a steal that most twenty something year old can afford. People are working at these jobs that value their health. I remember when I started at Genentech my managers made sure I got enough sunlight and that I was going for walks and using the massage chairs and nap pods when I felt overworked. For the most part, people in the rest of the country are working in windowless cubicles, wearing business casual pants and shoveling snow at 5 in the morning. There is a holistic approach to employee health and satisfaction out here that you don’t find anywhere else. Even after being here for just two years I don’t think I could go back to a traditional East Coast job.
The ongoing struggle for me is how to balance my personal and family life with work. There are still a lot of things I want to do at work, but I see myself holding back because I have so much responsibility at home. I don’t mind that, but it’s hard to be in a place where I can feel satisfied both at home and at work. I always thought after I had my first child it would be easier to decide the right time to have my second child, but that’s actually not the case. I think it’s because there never really is a right time. You will never find a time in your life when you can say that for one year you’re not going to be physically up to where you want to be. I still see myself worrying about how I will be perceived at work while being pregnant. Even though Genentech has a strong female presence along with a very good work environment for parents and an amazing maternity leave policy, I think as women we’re so conditioned to believe that our professional lives will negatively impact our lives that it’s hard to get into the mindset of growing your family. I remember I met my friend’s 15 year old sister once and she said ‘I never want to have children because if I have children I will be throwing my life away’. That was such a trigger for me and I realized if I could show other women and girls that you can still have your life and be wildly successful and that won’t make you a bad mother, then I could really impact how women think about their professional future.