Women, Science, and Leadership—an Interview with Andrea Szilagyi

11 February is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. At Teva api, women make up a large percentage of the work force and leadership positions in our R&D and manufacturing teams across the globe. Today, Andrea Szilagyi, Associate Director of R&D at our Debrecen, Hungary site, tells us what inspired her to enter the world of science and what’s different about the Hungary team.   


Andrea, how did you get into this field? 

My mother was a math and chemistry teacher in elementary school so even before I studied chemistry, I knew it would be interesting. Maybe I was biased, but I wanted to be just like my mom! In high school, I pivoted and decided I wanted to be a chemist instead, so I went down that route at university. My mom was obviously very happy and always very encouraging!  

My teachers both at school and at university were very inspiring. My two supervisors, who guided me throughout my university career, through to my PHD, were women and strong role models for me. I think the way I work now is very much influenced by them.  

My husband and I moved several times over the course of my PHD and beyond, and each time I worked in a different field of chemistry. This was really fruitful for me in the long term and really broadened my experience. 


What exactly does your job entail? 

I’ve been at Teva now for 15 years and I like it very much. There’s never a dull day! My team and I develop API processes – we work out how certain APIs can be manufactured. We start with a small-scale product and work through many development stages over a long-time span.    

We have synthetic projects, but here in Debrecen we also specialize in developing fermentation products. Following the actual fermentation, we then take the active ingredient and isolate, purify and sometimes modify it. This requires a different approach to synthetic products, which is very interesting.  

In recent years, we’ve also collaborated with other R&D sites within Teva. We had several projects in which the earlier development was done at other sites and then transferred over to us. We also transfer a lot of our projects over to the production sites in other countries. 


Do you think women bring something unique to the table? 

The male female ratio is approximately 50-50 here in Debrecen. I do think women contribute something unique. Because we deal with a wide range of activities, no project can be a one-person show. The teams are large and must work together. It’s not just about being a chemist, it’s about the flow of teamwork and how we find solutions together. And I think the women here are particularly strong at that and make a fundamental contribution in the exchange of ideas and working on solutions throughout the process of the project. 


What advice would you give to young women and girls?  

This is relevant to everyone in today’s day and age but know that having a family will never be a drawback, but an asset to your career. I have three adult sons and retrospectively, I see how I had to develop certain skills through my children that later came very handy at work. I don’t think I’d ever have been able to do what I do now without having fine-tuned these skills: 

Planning – I was not a person who planned very much but when you have 3 kids, you have more children than hands, so you must find clever ways to achieve what you want. Planning was something I had to work on to get through the day. This is an essential aspect of my work now. 

The ability to switch between tasks — I learnt how to flexibly move from a work task to a family task. Because I knew I couldn’t be in the lab without limit, it helped me create boundaries and borders.  

Creativity – children require a lot of creativity. My kids helped me learn how to be more creative at work. I would envision what was happening in a project like a story. Do I understand it well enough to be able to describe it properly to others?  


What advice would you give someone who wants to get into a leadership position? 

To be a leader is less about the profession itself – whether science or otherwise – and more about the people. You need to concentrate on people and enable them to grow. And it will give you the opportunity to grow in a different way yourself that has nothing to do with scientific knowledge.  


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

I like to read and attend cultural events, such as the theatre and classical music concerts. In recent years, I’ve become really fascinated with history, so I watch a lot of documentaries and read a lot about different historical periods. I also like to travel, which is again about people for me. I like to see how people interact with each other, what their heritage is about, and how they think about the world.