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Career Ladder

Career Ladder: Lana Rossiter

This FDA reviewer doubles as a commissioned officer called to action for emergencies like COVID-19

by Gina Vitale
July 4, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 26




From pre-med to pre-chem

Lana Rossiter grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. She started college at Emory University on a pre-med track, but an organic chemistry professor encouraged her to explore lab science. She was accepted into a summer research program in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Utah after her sophomore year that “opened the possibilities up to me,” she remembers. After an internship with DuPont, she started graduate school at the University of Oregon, which she chose in part because there were several female faculty in the chemistry department. After earning her PhD in synthetic organic chemistry and methodology, she completed a postdoc at Eli Lilly and Company.


Contract chemistry

After finishing her postdoc, Rossiter took a job at Albany Molecular Research Inc., a contract research company. While she was initially hired to work in the chemical development group, she agreed to work in the medicinal chemistry department. While there, she shifted from one research area to the next depending on the contract; over 10 years, she worked on medicines for Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, several cancers, and more. What she enjoyed most about contract research was the chance to gain experience working with such a broad range of medicinal chemistry. “The potential to learn a lot and really expand your knowledge was there,” she says.


“A new adventure”

Rossiter was always interested in ways to give back to the community. In 2010, a friend who had started a job at the local US Food and Drug Administration office told her about the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. This group enables government employees, in addition to their day-to-day jobs, to participate in emergency response initiatives as commissioned officers. She started her application to join the commissioned corps in May of 2010. However, the process of transitioning to a government position was a lengthy one, so in the meantime Rossiter took a job at Draths Corporation, a small green chemistry company in Michigan, to “set off on a new adventure.” In the year that she spent there, Rossiter says she “was able to rebuild my confidence in myself and my abilities,” as well as learn an entirely new field of chemistry. She stayed until October 2011, when she secured a position at the FDA.



Officer Rossiter

Rossiter’s last day at Draths was a Friday; the following Monday she started at the FDA as a chemistry reviewer at the Center for Tobacco Products. She hadn’t worked in tobacco regulation before, but “thought it was fascinating from a chemical perspective.” She began the job as a civilian while her application to be an officer with the commissioned corps was being processed. Once approved, Rossiter was given the rank of lieutenant commander. In addition to her regulatory work on tobacco products, she has since been promoted to commander and has responded to several emergencies. In March, she was sent to New Orleans to help set up testing sites for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Later, she was sent to Colorado for the same reason. Rossiter anticipates many more opportunities to give back as part of the commissioned corps. “I don’t think this is the last chapter of this part of my career.”


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