Cheering for Science—A Chemist (and former professional cheerleader) in Medical SalesIt’s not every day you meet a chemist who works in surgical sales and used to be a professional cheerleader. But that’s what Allison Grosso is. Allison received a double major in biology and chemistry from North Carolina State University, where she was also a cheerleader. After college, she worked for four years as a biology researcher at Merck, and also cheered for the Philadelphia Eagles for four years, serving as captain for two years. Allison eventually realized that she wanted a job with more interaction with people. She transferred into a sales rep position at Merck, where she learned the ins and outs of the business of pharmaceutical sales. After a few years, Allison says she felt she “needed a bit more of a challenge.” So she applied for a competitive position in surgical sales and landed the job. Now she is a Territory Manager for a surgical device company, which she finds both challenging and satisfying. “I work with surgeons in the operating room, and my knowledge of our technology, anatomy and specific disease states is essential to my success,” Allison says. A typical day for Allison starts at 7:30 am in any one of the many hospitals she covers in eastern Pennsylvania. Her job is to be present while the surgical procedure is taking place to ensure the equipment is functioning correctly. After a few surgeries, Allison takes care of office calls and spends time talking to doctors and operating staff, informing them about new products and training them to use surgical equipment. The best part of the job for Allison is working with surgeons and operating room staff. “I sell a great product that is loved by so many people, and it is so wonderful to hear the success stories from them about how great the patients are doing after the operation,” Allison says. “The most challenging part of the job is trying to convince some surgeons to try something new,” Allison says. “It is my job to simply get them to try it, and let the success of the product speak for itself.” Allison says having a background in chemistry and biology has helped her immensely with her current job. She feels confident in being able to understand exactly how the company’s products work and compare to their competition’s products. In her spare time, Allison is part of a science outreach organization—Science Cheerleaders—comprised of current and former professional cheerleaders who are also scientists.
In addition to performances, such as (posted above) at the 2010 Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C., the cheerleading scientists also visit schools and do science experiments with kids—all while dressed in their cheerleading garb. Through her involvement with Science Cheerleaders, Allison hopes to encourage kids to pursue their dreams and do what they love—even if it’s outside of the box. “I know a lot of people think you can't do both [cheerleading and science], but I want to help spread the word that you can!” Allison says. “To most people, science and cheerleading seem like two totally different worlds,” Allison says. But she says she never felt like she had to choose between the two. And she hopes to be a role model for young girls and women who may think that you can’t be a scientist if you’re into cheerleading and dance, or vice versa. To people out there who are interested in a career in medical sales, Allison says that it’s definitely helpful to have a science background but also demonstrate that you understand the business side of the job. Once you’re on the job, you have to always be learning as much as you can, “about not only your product, but every other competitive product out there,” Allison says. You also need to stay current on the research related to the diseases and surgical procedures that your products are used for, and be an excellent communicator. Out of curiosity, I asked Allison if she has ever encountered hostility or stereotyping resulting from being a cheerleader in a scientific field. Sometimes when people have found out she is a cheerleader before they got to work with her, “I could tell they assumed I had no idea what I was doing,” Allison says. In these situations, Allison has tried to focus on her job and keep the conversation at a professional level. “Once I convinced them I wasn't just a dumb cheerleader, and I truly knew my products, then I would let them ask questions about cheering,” Allison explains. “It can be somewhat exhilarating to see a person change their impression of you right before your eyes.”