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Career Ladder

Career Ladder: James Schiller

A life-changing event plus encouragement led to a career in the pharma industry

by Taylor C. Hood
January 31, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 6


Credit: Courtesy of James Schiller
A photo of James Schiller while hiking where you can see his missing arm and prosthetic leg.
Credit: Courtesy of James Schiller

Unfortunate accident


During his first semester at the University of Delaware, James Schiller was in an electrical accident that caused him to lose his left arm and right leg. His rehabilitation counselor at the time told him, “You’re a smart guy. You are going to need to provide for yourself and your future family” with the disability. So when Schiller returned to school in the fall of 1989, he chose to major in chemistry. “As much as chemistry was quite daunting,” he says, “I took a challenge and I went for it.”

Credit: Courtesy of James Schiller
A photo of James Schiller at his college graduation.
Credit: Courtesy of James Schiller

Given an opportunity


In his senior year, Schiller signed up for interviews through the university’s career center. He landed an interview for a forensic analysis position with the Philadelphia Police Department. “Because I could pass the classes and do all the things I could in the laboratory, I didn’t think there were too many things I wouldn’t be able to do” in that job, he says. He was hired as a staff chemist to identify narcotics through qualitative bench techniques.

Expanding his reach


After three years in Philadelphia, Schiller and his wife decided to move back to New Jersey, where he took a position at LabCorp doing liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis. “It was really interesting to me because LC/MS was a new field in terms of being the standard by which new medicines were quantified in biological matrices,” he says. He soon moved on to Taylor Technology, which performed LC/MS for multiple drug development companies, and later the pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough.

Diversifying the workplace


Schering-Plough began to expand its diversity efforts by starting employee network groups and asked Schiller how he managed his career around his disability. When Schering-Plough merged with Merck in 2009, Schiller was asked to lead a resource group for people with disabilities in addition to his principal analytical investigator duties. “That was a pretty big challenge,” he says, “but it was really exciting to broaden my skill set and learn more about the organization.”

Credit: Courtesy of Merck.
A photo of James Schiller from Merck.
Credit: Courtesy of Merck.


Creating diversity in chemistry


Schiller has continued to move up in the field. He is now director of the regulated bioanalytical preclinical group at Merck. He is also a member of the ACS Chemists with Disabilities Committee, which works to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the chemistry field. “I welcome the opportunity to share my perspectives to further advance the awareness and employment of chemists with disabilities,” he says.

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