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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

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Merck scientist Denarra Simmons wearing goggles and lab coat
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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.”