As a little girl, Linda Kidder would visit her grandmother’s farm in rural Pennsylvania. One with barns, machinery, and an assortment of animals.
During one of those visits, Linda’s family noticed the 3-year-old was missing.
Her grandfather turned the corner and entered the house, askeding mischievously, “Where’s Linda?”
He had in fact just followed the inquisitive toddler outside. There he had just taken a photo of the curiosity-driven Linda petting a groundhog.
“The groundhog and I were getting along fine,” she later said of her encounter and insatiable inquiring mind.
Her grandfather was an electrical engineer, and Linda became interested in discovering how things worked. She tinkered with farm trucks and tractors, learning how each functioned and could be repaired. Her interests were of a mechanical nature.
Linda’s relentless thirst for knowledge would later drive her academic and career choices. Some of its fuel came from that farm.
From there she went on to earn her Ph.D. in chemical physicsfrom Johns Hopkins University ― but considers herself a physical chemist.
“A physicist looks at atoms, while physical chemists looks at molecules. I studied things like eight sodium atoms stuck together. A sodium atom’s properties are extremely different from a handful of sodium. Where along that continuum, as you put more and more sodium atoms together, do its behaviors start acting like a handful of sodium? That’s what a physical chemist does.”
Yet that basic research came with a certain awkwardness.
“I was tired of trying to explain this at holiday gatherings with my family,” she laughed.
It was more than that, though. Doing research and development meant looking at a small slice of the world and believing it is the most important thing. But Linda had a broader perspective of what was interesting and wanted to solve problems with a more direct impact on society.
Linda joined the chemical physics laboratory at the National Institutes of Health for her post-doctoral work, and began using analytical tools to investigate disease and other life science applications. Those tools included mid-infrared, near-infrared and Raman spectroscopies. Her group added an imaging component, taking pictures of tissue sections and evaluating disease through spectroscopic imaging.
“I was going back to my engineering love,” she said. “I was building new instruments, plopping in detectors, bolting and screwing things down and coming up with novel instrumentation. So it was still tinkering.”
It brought Linda back to her roots.
“Scientific equipment has personality, like the groundhog.”
Yet she had a change of heart along the way. Wanting to make a difference in the world, Linda took a break from chemistry and analytical instrumentation to have a more direct impact on individual lives. She took a year off of work to study occupational therapy.
During that time, Linda volunteered teaching math to adults with disabilities.
“It wasn't learning multi-variate calculus,” she said. “It was okay learning what two plus two was, and just meeting (the students) where their needs were. It was really neat to be in tune with them, trying to figure out what each person needed to be successful.”
But she missed being around scientists and their analytical though processes. She eventually returned to physical chemistry and instrumentation, spending the next 20 years working for some of the preeminent particle size and Raman companies in the industry.
As a Generation Xer, she grew up at a time where females were told “women can do anything.” But not everyone felt that way.
“For many years I was lucky to be in a supportive environment,” she said. “I have to say, though, as I've grown older I realized that not everyone out there ascribes to that philosophy. There are people and situations where you're treated differently because you're a woman. Your opinions are judged differently. The world isn't necessarily an even playing field.”
How did she navigate those obstacles?
“The key is being with people professionally and personally who support your goals,” she said.
Linda found that association in a decades-old friendship with HORIBA Scientific’s Vice President of Sales and Business Development Andrew Whitley, Ph.D. She knew he was receptive to input from all sides.
In May 2020, Linda became HORIBA’s life science business develop manager. Her job is to merge the company’s arsenal of instrumentation and technology with existing and emerging life sciences markets.
“HORIBA has lots of fantastic technology that can be used to solve problems in life sciences,” she said, “from supporting academic research, as well as, for instance, speeding up processes in the biopharmaceutical industry.”
An example is the company’s proprietary A-TEEM™ spectroscopy technology with the ability to simultaneously acquire absorbance, transmittance and a fluorescence Excitation Emission Matrix of a sample. It can create molecular fingerprints in a fraction of the time of conventional instruments.
In the biopharmaceutical industry, for example, HORIBA’s Aqualog®, featuring A-TEEM technology, can be used for vaccine research and vaccine manufacturing. Even the inclusion of some of HORIBA’s Raman and fluorescence instrumentation on a manufacturing line in the pharmaceutical industry can pay huge dividends in efficiency and quality control.
Linda believes these connections may not be so clear both within the company or in the marketplace. Despite the company’s strong analytical solutions, she believes there’s an opportunity to more effectively position these tools.
“My job is to figure out which of these connections can build the strongest business for HORIBA, and to match customer needs with the HORIBA’s strengths,” she said.
Just like when she was teaching math.
And, according to Linda, there are scientists and engineers in process research and development within the biopharmaceutical industry who are responsible for finding interesting instrumentation and applying it to their research and development. She believes it’s an untapped opportunity.
“I'm just curious about the types of problems that customers have and the technology that HORIBA has,” she said. “And I enjoy playing matchmaker too. “
Many investigators today are conducting life science research in colleges and universities. Linda feels HORIBA’s Raman portfolio is superb for academics, with great potential for looking at, for example, tissue samples and thus markers in cancer research.
“Using our tools to help cure cancer or conduct research cancer is a totally different side of things for HORIBA, but also a place that I believe our life science portfolio can make a real impact.”
Linda has come a long way from that time she wandered off to greet the groundhog. Her family now includes a guinea pig, two rabbits, a parakeet and two dogs. But her curiosity still drives her. And she has powerful advice for similarly motivated younger people interested in pursuing non-traditional career choices.
“It’s about trusting in yourself and advocating for yourself,” she said, “because things may be stacked against you. It’s also about understanding yourself. If you are the type of person who gives up easily or lacks confidence, then you definitely have to surround yourself with people who will help you develop. If, on the other hand, you’re totally self-confident and think you can do anything, then go ahead and smash that ceiling.”
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