Our people

Women who are leading the way

From researching new medicines to fighting for health equity, these colleagues are making an impact around the world

March 9, 2023

Share this article


Women make an essential impact at our company every day — as innovators, leaders, mentors and trailblazers. Here’s a look at stories about just a few of the colleagues whose work powers our purpose to use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world.

Read on to find out how they’re leading the charge and lighting the path for others along the way.


Leading by example: Cristal Downing, Caroline Litchfield and Jennifer Zachary

Three of the top executives at our company recently were named among the most important women in leadership roles across the U.S. “It comes as no surprise to me that we have three of the most influential women executives in corporate America working right here at Merck,” said Chairman and CEO Rob Davis. Read more

three Merck executives - Cristal Downing, Caroline Litchfield and Jennifer Zachary


Accelerating our groundbreaking research: Denarra Simmons

Simmons, a senior scientist, is driven by a desire to help people and make a difference in society. “When you find out a medicine you worked on has helped so many people, you feel really special and you know all the work has been worthwhile,” she said. Read more

smiling woman wearing lab coat and goggles


Championing gender equality in science: Small molecule process research & development team

Women scientists have historically been underrepresented in the field of process research and development — the space between drug discovery and manufacturing. However, over the past seven years, the percentage of women on this team has nearly doubled and continues to grow. Read more

4 Merck women scientists


Helping to close gaps in care for underserved communities: Josette Gbemudu

Gbemudu is motivated to ensure everyone has the chance to be as healthy as possible. As an executive director of health equity and social determinants of health, she takes pride in giving a voice to those who may not traditionally have had a seat at the table. Read more

Josette Gbemudu sitting


Putting patients at the heart of innovation: Janethe de Oliveira Pena

Far-off galaxies and distant stars first sparked Pena’s imagination, but she eventually found her calling delving into the mysteries within the human body. Today, she’s working to advance research in the field of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Read more

Janethe de Oliveira Pena


Fighting for health equity: Carmen Villar

For as long as she can remember, Villar wanted a purpose-driven career that allowed her to give back to the community. As vice president for social business innovation, she leads a team working to do just that, saying, “We ask ourselves ‘How do we better support communities and co-create the work that will help solve challenges?’”
Read more


Building a more inclusive workforce: Celeste Warren

As vice president of diversity and inclusion, Warren leads our efforts to create an environment of belonging, engagement, equity and empowerment so that together, we can help ensure better health outcomes for patients. “When every single employee embraces a mindset welcoming diversity and inclusion and can fully appreciate the experiences of others, better discussions, decisions and outcomes will certainly follow,” she said. Read more

Celeste Warren


Developing women leaders: Nicoletta Luppi

Luppi, the first woman to serve as managing director of our company in Italy, is committed to developing women leaders and achieving gender diversity. Thanks to her leadership, we were one of the first companies in the country to eliminate the gender pay gap. Read more

Nicoletta Luppi
Our people

Amplifying the power of women in chemistry

Graduate students are eligible for the Merck Research Award, which promotes diversity in chemistry and career advancement opportunities for female chemists

March 8, 2023

Share this article

Merck scientist working in a lab

For Dr. Rebecca Ruck, having more women in science is personal. She remembers times early in her career when she was the only woman in the room. That’s why she co-founded the Merck Research Award, given annually by the Women Chemists Committee (WCC) of the American Chemical Society, to recognize and mentor talented women scientists in their third and fourth year of graduate school with a research focus in one or more chemistry-related disciplines.

Merck/s Rebecca Ruck and Anisha Patel

Patel (left) leads the WCC Merck Research Award program, co-founded by Ruck (right) and Ann Weber a former Merck chemist (not pictured).

For Merck, it’s a chance to build relationships with promising chemists and introduce them to the work we do.

“A key to attracting talent — especially diverse talent — is to build relationships early in people’s careers so they become familiar with our science, our people and our values,” said Ruck, an associate vice president in process research and development.

For the awardees, it’s a chance to present their research at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall National Meeting. They also receive a Merck mentor to prepare for their presentation at ACS and advise them on their career journey — an opportunity equally fulfilling for the mentors.

“That level of interaction with established chemists sets the program apart,” said Anisha Patel, a director in analytical research and development, and lead of the program for Merck. “It’s also a tremendous investment in diverse recruiting.” Merck ultimately recruited three of the 2022 winners for future employment at the company.

Paying it forward for the next generation

When Ruck co-founded the award in 2015 along with Ann Weber, a former Merck chemist, she wanted to inspire the next generation of women in chemistry and build a community of scientists to support each other. Fast forward, and the WCC Merck Research Award fosters advancement for eight graduate students in chemistry annually. Last year, approximately 120 students applied.

One past honoree who’s now a Merck colleague, Beryl Li,  developed a long-term relationship with her mentor. “After I won, we would meet regularly,” said Li, a senior scientist at the South San Francisco Discovery Center.

article quote image

“My mentor was a significant factor in my decision to join Merck — and in my success at the company.”

Beryl Li

Senior scientist

Those successes are also a reminder that every step forward matters. “There is still plenty of work needed to advance women — and all underrepresented groups — in science,”  Ruck said. “But thanks to initiatives like this one, we are making important progress.”

Learn more about the WCC Merck Research Award.

Woman scientist looking at vial

Are you interested in a career in R&D?

Our people

VIDEO: Aiming for health equity and business success

Empowered at work and in a leading fellowship program, Josette Gbemudu is determined to make a difference

March 2, 2023

Share this article

Josette Gbemudu seated and smiling

Josette Gbemudu is motivated to ensure everyone has the chance to be as healthy as possible.

As an executive director of health equity and social determinants of health, Gbemudu draws on her health policy and public health backgrounds — and her strong moral compass and lived experience.

“I grew up in Nigeria and witnessed the health care and public health system crumble,” she said. “Populations that were already underserved faced even further barriers to care.”

She takes pride in giving a voice to those who may not traditionally have had a seat at the table.

“The work we do is very exciting and important — it’s challenging, it’s not easy, there’s a lot you have to do to navigate — but it’s all fulfilling,” she said.

A ‘first mover’

Gbemudu was the first nominee from our company to participate in the Aspen Institute’s First Movers Fellowship program.

The program equips leaders across industries to be intrapreneurs, meaning they work to advance societal value while also positioning their companies for sustained success.

“The global community is increasingly asking, and frankly, requiring, organizations to have a clear position around what they are doing to tackle the world’s most pressing and imminent challenges."

— Josette Gbemudu

“This fellowship has provided a tremendous opportunity to home in on what it takes to be a corporate social intrapreneur, and how to incorporate that intrapreneurial drive and mentality into my day-to-day,” Gbemudu said.

At the nexus of health equity

Fellows are challenged to lead change and create new opportunities within their business to help redefine how business is done and how success is measured. At our company, Gbemudu and her colleagues are developing and implementing company-wide strategies to help close gaps in care for underserved populations.

“It’s fantastic to be at the nexus of the efforts to embed a health equity mindset across our core business strategies and functions,” Gbemudu said. “Big problems won’t be solved overnight. But historically, we’ve risen to the challenge in addressing a lot of pressing public health issues. It’s interwoven into our DNA.”


4 historical designations highlight groundbreaking scientific achievements

The American Chemical Society Landmark program recognizes important contributions to modern life through chemical sciences

March 2, 2023

Share this article

article hero thumbnail

Scientific achievements can significantly alter the course of history — for individuals, families and communities as well as for future scientific developments. We’re proud to have been recognized for our own contributions to science by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which has granted Merck four National Historic Chemical Landmarks (NHCL) designations since 1999.

This ACS program recognizes seminal achievements in the history of the chemical sciences and provides a record of the contributions to chemistry and society in the U.S. Our Rahway, New Jersey, site has been recognized three times. Our West Point, Pennsylvania, site has been recognized once for our important work there.

Learn more about these groundbreaking landmark achievements:


Discovery and development of medicines for the treatment of HIV

In the early 1980s, as AIDS began to be perceived as a potential epidemic, scientists at Merck embarked on an urgent mission to understand the virus. They were among the first to discover and develop medicines for the treatment of HIV. Our company’s work in this space ultimately led to the development of a treatment that was important in helping to make HIV a survivable infection.

ACS honored the discovery of this life-saving treatment with the NHCL designation in 2022 at our site in West Point, Pennsylvania.

Learn more about our commitment to HIV treatments and prevention through the years.

Members of the HIV protease research team


Development of a treatment against a debilitating infectious disease transmitted by parasites

Transmitted through the bite of black flies — which live and breed near fast-flowing streams and rivers — river blindness (onchocerciasis) is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness worldwide. In 1978, Dr. William Campbell of Merck Research Laboratories suggested the use of Mectizan (ivermectin) against river blindness in humans. In the early 1980s, Dr. Mohammed Aziz collaborated with WHO to successfully design and implement field studies in West Africa on the disease. 

In 1987, Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos announced our company’s commitment to donate Mectizan to treat river blindness — as much as needed, for as long as needed — and the Mectizan Donation Program was formed. Through the MDP, the work of Dr. Campbell and other Merck scientists continues to touch more than 300 million lives each year. In 2015, Dr. Campbell shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in developing ivermectin.

ACS honored the discovery of ivermectin with the NHCL designation in 2016 at our site in Rahway, New Jersey.

Learn more about 35 Years: The Mectizan® Donation Program.

young boy leading older blind man with a stick


Addressing vitamin deficiencies through the synthesis and mass production of vitamin B

In the 1930s and 1940s, Merck scientists reported a series of advances in the study of the vitamin B complex, a group of nutrients that is essential to cell functioning. Availability of these vitamins resulted in dietary supplements and vitamin-enriched foods that encouraged healthy growth and development, as well as treatments for diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies.

These achievements were outstanding examples of the rapid advances occurring in the fields of biochemistry and organic chemistry during this era and led to notable improvements in human and animal health and nutrition.

ACS honored our research on the vitamin B complex with the NHCL designation in 2016 at our site in Rahway, New Jersey.

Historic photo of vitamin production at Merck's Rahway, NJ site


Producing large-scale quantities of penicillin, a much-needed antibiotic during WWII

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, but it was very difficult to produce in large quantities. With the outbreak of World War II, the need for life-saving penicillin skyrocketed, and the mass production problem had to be solved quickly. At the request of the U.S. government, Merck and other pharmaceutical companies expanded research in the hopes of producing adequate supplies of this vital antibiotic. In cooperation with competitors, our research team helped develop a submerged fermentation process that sped production of penicillin for both the war effort and civilian use.

ACS honored the discovery of this life-saving treatment with the NHCL designation in 1999 at our site in Rahway, New Jersey.

Our history

For over 130 years, we’ve been guided by the view that great medicines and vaccines change the world.

“We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits.”

  • George Merck

Explore our history
George Merck
Health awareness

How early detection of kidney cancer can help save lives

An oncologist and a patient advocate discuss the challenges of renal cell carcinoma and their hopes for the future of cancer care

March 1, 2023

Share this article

Liz Leff and her daughter

When Liz Leff, an otherwise healthy woman in her 30s, went in for her annual checkup eight years ago, cancer was the last thing on her mind. But that routine checkup set her on a path with renal cell carcinoma (RCC), the most common type of kidney cancer.

The testing that led to Leff’s early kidney cancer diagnosis

Liz Leff and her daughter
Leff and her daughter

“My primary care physician saw microscopic traces of blood in my urine — which I was told isn’t uncommon — and suggested a follow-up appointment with a urologist,” she said. “I was reluctant to go in for testing for something that seemed insignificant, but my doctor pushed me to have it checked. I’m so glad I did. A renal ultrasound showed a tumor on my kidney.”

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be almost 82,000 new diagnoses of kidney cancer, which includes RCC, in the U.S. in 2023. Renal cell carcinoma occurs when cancerous, or malignant, cells form in tiny tubes in the kidneys, known as tubules. Unlike Leff, a third of all patients aren’t diagnosed until they have advanced disease.

One of the difficulties around early diagnosis is that unlike breast or cervical cancers, there’s not a preventive care screening test for RCC. Kidney cancer is often found during abdominal imaging tests for other complaints,” said Dr. Rodolfo Perini, an associate vice president who leads the RCC clinical team at Merck Research Laboratories.

Leff’s experience is not typical, as at the time of diagnosis she was young. Additionally, she was not experiencing any symptoms at the time of her diagnosis.

“For most people, common symptoms — like persistent pain in your side or loss of appetite — can be vague and are often brushed off. By the time they become more severe, disease may have spread,” said Dr. Perini. “That’s why it’s so important to listen to your body and share anything you’re experiencing with your doctor. Early detection is associated with better outcomes.”

Kidney cancer causes and care

Risk factors for renal cell carcinoma include smoking, being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure, having a family history, and having a history of exposure to environmental toxins. The risk of kidney cancer may also be greater for Black men and for people over the age of 45.

“The research landscape has changed, and we’ve seen improvements in the care of kidney cancer over the years, but it’s not good enough,” said Dr. Perini.

article quote image

"We still have work ahead, but with the progress that’s been made, there’s reason to be excited for the future.”

— Dr. Rodolfo Perini

Life as an advocate after experiencing kidney cancer

Leff is also hopeful about the future of care in kidney cancer. Following successful treatment, she joined the National Kidney Foundation, where she draws on her own experiences to better advocate for others living with kidney cancer.

“When I first heard the word ‘cancer,’ I was terrified. I felt like I was in this alone with no place to go. I don’t want others to go through what I went through,” Leff said. “From when I was diagnosed to now, there’s a lot more information and support available.”

“My ultimate hope is that continued research, plus more resources and education for patients, may help lead to earlier diagnoses and better outcomes for more people.”

— Liz Leff

logo for National Kidney Foundation

Learn more about renal cell carcinoma and access resources via the National Kidney Foundation.


In our commitment to R&D, the numbers speak for themselves

We follow the science where we can make the greatest difference

March 1, 2023

Share this article

Merck woman scientist in a lab doing research

Our scientists are revolutionizing how we discover and develop medicines and vaccines to address unmet medical needs, guiding invention in the areas of oncology, vaccines, infectious diseases, cardio-metabolic disorders, neuroscience and more. 

With a science-led but portfolio-driven approach to our pipeline, we use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve the lives of humans and animals around the world. And, that’s why we’re expanding and investing in our research and discovery efforts.

Here’s a look at how we got there:

2022 by the numbers

4 Merck scientists in a lab

$13.5 billion

Our research and development investment

women scientist in a lab


Employees driving our research activities


two people looking at papers


Publications by our scientists in peer-reviewed journals

Woman patient talking with health care provier


Patients enrolled in our clinical trials at more than 21,000+ sites worldwide

hands with a globe illustration


Countries around the world where we are conducting clinical trials


laboratory photo


Late-stage clinical trials around the world

two men shaking hands


New major acquisitions to broaden our reach

woman talking to men in a meeting


Significant business development deals to enhance our pipeline

Woman Merck scientist in lab
Our pipeline

We follow the science where we can make the greatest difference, now and in the future.

Man and women scientists in a lab

Are you interested in a career in R&D?


Changing how we hire for real-world skills

Chairman and CEO Rob Davis discussed our talent focus on skills rather than a four-year degree for a qualified, diverse workforce

February 24, 2023

Share this article

Merck CEO Rob Davis and some Skills-First attendees

In an increasingly competitive job market, we’re evolving the way we recruit, hire and develop talent — focusing on skills instead of degrees as the most important determinant of success. This talent strategy, called “Skills-First at Merck,” was front and center during a recent event at our Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, location. 

Our chairman and CEO Rob Davis sat down with CEO of OneTen Maurice Jones for a fireside chat moderated by Celeste Warren, vice president of global diversity and inclusion. They discussed our Skills-First hiring strategy, which connects talent to well-paying job opportunities without a four-year degree requirement, and our partnership with OneTen.

Co-founded in 2020 by our retired chairman and CEO Ken Frazier, OneTen brings together more than 70 companies and CEOs with a mission of hiring one million Black Americans into family-sustaining careers over 10 years. In a highly competitive and evolving labor market, this approach helps level the playing field, increase access to high-potential talent pools and accelerate our talent strategy.

“I am personally committed to continuing this mission and driving this change across our organization,” said Davis. “Our ability to attract, develop and retain top talent that brings diversity of experience, perspective and ideas is critical to our success now and into the future.”

A Skills-First success story

Attendees heard firsthand from Merck Research Laboratories (MRL) colleagues about how they experimented with their operating model to create meaningful career opportunities for non-degreed talent in the Philadelphia area. Because one of the obstacles to attracting diverse talent can be travel time from their communities to an office space, MRL set up a WeWork coworking space in the city. That, along with removing four-year degree requirements and recruiting through diverse channels, contributed to the successful hiring of two cohorts of new, diverse colleagues.

Most of the employees at the site work as clinical data managers, roles which previously emphasized degrees.

Our commitment to diverse talent and Skills-First

Celeste Warren, Rob Davis and Maurice Jones.

This photo: Celeste Warren, Rob Davis and Maurice Jones. Top of page: Rob Davis with Merck interns through the Year Up program.

In 2022, our company posted 900 roles not requiring a four-year degree, and more than 4,000 job seekers responded to our Skills-First recruitment efforts. We are continuously expanding strategic partnerships to bring in more diverse talent, including collaborations with Year Up, YUPRO, Open Classrooms and Interapt. In 2022, approximately 100 Year Up interns and 30 Skills-First apprentices joined our company.

“Put simply,” Davis said, “by focusing on skills instead of a four-year degree for appropriate roles, Skills-First will make us a stronger, more competitive company that reflects the patient populations we serve.”

Health awareness

VIDEO: Living with pulmonary arterial hypertension

One woman’s story shows the power of knowledge and support for patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH)

February 9, 2023

Share this article

Colleen with her husband and two children

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) entered Colleen’s life unexpectedly. She was 35 when she noticed she became short of breath easily. She thought it was due to the weight she gained during her recent pregnancy. A year later, Colleen lost the weight but was still gasping for breath after climbing a few flights of stairs. Colleen wasn’t only feeling fatigued; she was worried. She’d later learn these were symptoms of PAH.

Colleen was first diagnosed with asthma, but her condition continued to worsen. She searched for an answer while daily tasks became more difficult. It took two and a half years for Colleen to be referred to a cardiologist who properly diagnosed her with PAH, one of the five different types of a broader condition called pulmonary hypertension (PH).

What is pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH)?

PAH is a rare and life-threatening blood vessel disorder that worsens over time. PAH has similar symptoms to other common lung diseases, such as asthma, which can make it difficult to diagnose. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed with PAH each year.

In PAH, the pulmonary arteries — the blood vessels that carry blood from the right side of the heart into the lungs — become thickened and narrowed. This blocks blood from flowing through the lungs, which then raises blood pressure in the lungs. As a result, the right side of the heart must work harder to pump blood into the lungs to keep the body functioning properly.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of PAH

The exact cause of PAH is unknown, and most people with PAH have no known family history of the disease. People may not notice any early-stage symptoms of PAH, but as the disease progresses, they may experience common symptoms, such as increased shortness of breath, fatigue, edema (swelling of the feet, legs and, eventually, the abdomen and neck), dizziness and fainting spells, chest pain, and heart palpitations (racing or pounding).

People with PAH may notice that their lips and fingers turn blue. PAH can hinder a person’s physical abilities and impact everyday tasks.

“Living with pulmonary arterial hypertension isn’t easy.”

“I had to purchase a scooter to do outside activities with my children. I couldn’t perform basic functions for myself and my family or make it to the sidelines of a baseball field to watch my son play. I was truly relegated to living on the sidelines myself. But through it all, I’ve never given up,” said Colleen.

Raising awareness for PAH

In addition to working with her doctor, Colleen found comfort through her support system. Since her diagnosis, Colleen has dedicated her life to raising awareness of PAH and helping others living with the disease. “It’s important for patients and the community to have knowledge and encourage each other. Whatever we can do to lift the community and spread awareness of this devastating disease is appreciated,” she added.

Colleen and her support group holding a hope sign
Our people

Women in science? Absolutely

Strong career paths and cutting-edge science draw more women scientists — like chemists and engineers — to our small molecule process R&D team

February 3, 2023

Share this article

4 Merck women scientists in a lab

Women scientists have historically been underrepresented in the field of process research and development — the space between drug discovery and manufacturing.  However, over the past seven years, the percentage of women on our company’s small molecule process research & development (SM PR&D) team has nearly doubled and continues to grow.

“This progress is important because it reflects our mindset that diversity and inclusion fuel creativity and innovation.”

  • Jamie McCabe Dunn
    Director, process chemistry
Jamie McCabe Dunn

“Our group today looks dramatically different than it did when I first started 14 years ago because we’ve taken steps to build more diverse teams,” said McCabe Dunn.

And, women chemists and engineers are vital to our success.

“While we’ve come a long way in the last decade, achieving greater gender equity must continue to be a priority for all leaders,” said Kevin Campos, vice president.

One successful approach has been for women leaders to take more active roles in recruiting talent. This allows  for greater relationship building among female candidates applying for jobs in science fields and provides a vision for growth opportunities at our company.

“We’re also expanding relationships with more academic institutions and casting a wider net to find excellent talent,” said McCabe Dunn. “As more women join the company and see the strong career paths open to them, we expect to see even greater diversity.”

A woman chemical engineer in a male-dominated field

Eighteen years ago, when Marguerite Mohan joined Merck, she was one of a small group of women scientists on the team. Although not different from what she experienced academically, she recalls being asked whether she thought this environment would limit her.

“I had no concerns being in the gender minority…I knew I was here because of my ability.”

  • Marguerite Mohan
    Executive director, chemical engineering, SM PR&D

“I loved being a chemical engineer and wanted to apply my skills where I’d make an impact on people’s lives. The interface of research and manufacturing was a great place to start,” said Mohan.

Tasked with developing and scaling up processes to safely, innovatively and robustly produce drug candidates for clinical trials and commercial use — these teams deliver for patients through cutting-edge science.  They challenge the status-quo and try new things. That’s also how they recognize and develop talent.

“We’re committed to making sure everyone’s voice is heard and respected. This has allowed women to frame what technical growth looks like from our point of view, bringing diversity of thought to the problem-solving and leadership table,” said Mohan. “By challenging the status quo, we’re creating stronger, more innovative teams filled with unique scientific talent.” 

A new generation of women scientists

Niki Patel and Cindy Hong joined our company within the past six years — both drawn, in part, to our reputation as a scientific leader committed to improving human health.

chemical equations and lab equipment
two women scientists working in lab

“I was very aware of the team’s novel and innovative science through publications in high-profile, peer-reviewed journals and presentations at conferences. This was a place where I wanted to do great science,” said Patel, associate principal scientist. 

It was also a place where both Patel and Hong knew they’d fit in.

“As a female graduate student, I was definitely outnumbered. But, when I interviewed here, I saw such diversity on the teams – including at leadership levels.”

  • Cindy Hong
    Associate principal scientist
female scientist smiling

“I knew this environment was right for me,” said Hong. “I’ve worked with great female and male leaders since joining the company and been exposed to many different areas of expertise. I see real opportunities for growth.”

Women empowering other women in science

Strong networks and outreach are important to not only maintain a pipeline to potential female scientist candidates but also retain and promote those already on the team. They can include things like collaborative communities, mentor programs, publishing papers or grassroots efforts.

“We’re empowered to take steps to support women in this field.”

  • Niki Patel
    Associate principal scientist
Niki Patel

“For example, I’ve helped organize forums to discuss topics on diversity and inclusion and participated in career panels geared toward supporting women and underrepresented groups in the field,” said Patel.

Sometimes, that support might simply be a quick note of recognition.

 “I try to acknowledge micro-accomplishments in the moment — things that seem small but are important to that person,’” said Mohan. “It’s a simple, personal way to show someone they — and their work — matter.”

In addition to kudos from colleagues, many of our female scientists have been recognized externally. In the last three years, 12 women in the department have been honored with individual awards or as key contributors in team awards. These awards include the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Early Career Investigator, ACS WCC Rising Star, ACS Fellow, Heroes of Chemistry, the Edison Patent Award, the ACS Award for Computers in Chemistry and Pharma, and an HBA Rising Star.

“We have a high success rate,” said McCabe Dunn. “Ninety-two percent of the women we’ve nominated or renominated for individual awards have won.”

Can women have a successful career in science?  Absolutely. As Mohan says, “Know your core, be true to it and value what makes you a unique asset.”

To learn more about some of our women in science, read Women in STEM at Merck share who inspires them most.

Woman scientist looking at vial

Are you interested in a career in R&D?

Our people

VIDEO: Here for Good – When passion and curiosity fuel innovation

Hear how one of our scientists balances her work and family life to accelerate our groundbreaking research

February 2, 2023

Share this article

Merck scientist Denarra Simmons wearing goggles and lab coat

Testing experiments in a lab can be a lot like raising kids. Sometimes your molecules do what you want them to do, and sometimes they don’t. But it’s a challenge Denarra Simmons, a senior scientist at Merck and a mother of two, is always up for.

“You’re constantly trying to find other medicines because all medicines don’t work the same way for all people,” Simmons said.

“You spend the long nights thinking about experiments, how to make things better, how to move things faster to help more people.”

— Denarra Simmons

female scientist in a lab

Simmons has been curious about how and why things work for most of her life. As a young child, she peppered her family with questions, trying to understand the “why” behind anything and everything. But it wasn’t until a man in a lab coat came to her grade school to talk about his career that she realized what her true passion was.

“He wrote an equation on the board and was talking about how people made medicines, and I thought that was fascinating,” Simmons said. “But the thing that really drew my attention was how excited he was when he was explaining what he did. I wanted to do something that I would love that much and over time, I realized that for me, it was science and helping people.”

For 12 years, Simmons has funneled that passion into her research at Merck. Simmons works in drug development to test the efficacy and safety of our biologic medicines used for investigational new drug (IND) enabling studies.

“Working in the lab is my favorite part of my job — and getting good data."

Woman, man and two children smiling

Some days in the lab may be more successful than others, and Simmons uses it all to show her children what it takes to be a scientist. “Good days are celebrated, and the tricky days, we keep working towards improving,” she said.

Simmons also feels strongly about teaching her children that there’s more to life than work.

“I’m always thinking about the experiments, but when I’m home with the children, I really try to give them the attention and time they need,” she said.

But once her daughter and son finish their homework and head to bed, Simmons finds herself thinking about her next set of experiments.

“When you find out a medicine you worked on has helped so many people, you feel really special and you know all the work has been worthwhile,” she said. “And that’s why you’re doing what you do: you’re making a difference in society.”