Laura Heisler always wanted to apply her interest in science to help people and make a difference. As a science program director, she brings together scientists, members of the business community, and others for the benefit of both society and the scientists. A people person with a broad background in science and communication, Heisler bridges diverse groups to reach common scientific goals.
I work for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), whose primary mission is to support scientific research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As program director of WARF, I develop, implement, and manage programs aimed at science and technology advancement and campuswide collaboration. In essence, this means that I meet with different scientists from labs throughout campus, as well as representatives from research organizations and corporations off campus to learn about what they do. I then help the different groups work together to accomplish common goals they might not otherwise be able to achieve independently (e.g., making a vaccine accessible to the public).
For instance, I helped to create the Strategic Technology Enhancement Program (STEP), which is aimed at advancing early stage technologies. To do this, technologies (e.g., promising new drug candidates) must go from being of interest to researchers to also being of interest to companies. First, an idea is born and research is initiated in a university lab. Then, I learn from companies what they need to see--before they invest money in an idea--in terms of demonstrations. Next, I determine from university inventors (or scientists) the methods and tools needed to arrive at those demonstrations. Finally, I secure a source of funding to allow the scientists to carry out their work. Ultimately, the objective is for the technology to be patented and available on the marketplace to serve the public.
The key skills needed to be a program director in science are the ability to understand just enough about a large number of topics and to know where to go--and who to ask--to get specialized knowledge. My background has prepared me well for the …