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As hot as STEM fields are right now, the jobs that Peter Shearstone ’89 has held throughout his career in life sciences are virtually unknown among today’s students and universities.
“When I graduated from Salem State, most people didn’t know about the full range of industries where I could use my biology degree and make a difference in peoples’ lives. The obvious options were to become a doctor, nurse, teacher, or scientist. I didn’t want to be those things.”
After graduating, Peter found his way into life sciences. He started out doing sales for scientific products, then became a laboratory technician helping to manufacture scientific tests and continued to advance with roles in technical support, research and development, and quality management. That path has since led to a successful 30-year career. Today, he’s responsible for over 5,000 employees globally for Thermo Fisher, the world leader in serving science.
“My career has been focused on helping the world get healthier. Whether it’s getting the right diagnosis, doing the right research, protecting the environment, or helping our first responders, I find my work very rewarding. Now I want to help today’s students find the kind of career opportunities I had.”
Students and universities are often unaware that roles like his exist, Peter said. He’s on a mission to spread the word about career opportunities in life sciences – especially at his alma mater. He’s hoping to guide more students into life sciences fields, where companies are currently desperate for technically-skilled STEM grads; there simply aren’t enough out there right now to fill the needs.
Forging His Own Career Path
“I was a blue-collar kid who couldn’t afford an expensive, private school,” Peter explained. “At Salem State, I worked lots of jobs to support myself. I had a job at Salem Hospital at one point, and that helped me realize that I wanted to do something meaningful with my career.”
While Peter admits he wasn’t a 4.0 student in college, he had a breadth of experiences at Salem State that helped prepare him for his future career. One of the most impactful of these was his role in student government.
“I was involved in student government on campus all four years I was on campus, and then in my senior year I served as president of student government,” Peter said. “Running the election was a tremendous learning experience. It’s not easy trying to convince 8,000 students to vote for you. I had a lot of help from Dr. Stan Cahill, who was the head of student life at that time. He very kindly coached me in how to run an election. Through that process, Dr. Cahill helped prepare me for how to be an adult – working with people and bringing them together, learning how to find solutions and working with the administration. He was a tremendous individual.”
After graduation, Peter was unsure about how to use his biology degree to build a career he felt passionate about. So, he started out in a role in scientific sales for a small company in Cambridge, and soon after moved to California to work as the company’s West Coast sales representative.
“I was great at sales in terms of building relationships and getting people to look at our product, but I was terrible at getting them to buy it,” Peter laughed, recalling the early years of his career.
Forging a Career Path in STEM
Peter soon returned to Massachusetts to take on a role as a lab technician, making blood tests for a manufacturing company. He stayed with that company for six years and advanced through several roles – senior lab technician, quality control technician, technical support, R&D, and then quality management.
“None of those jobs were anything that I had specifically studied in school. But by working hard and being accountable, management recognized my work and advanced me. By the time I left there six years later, I was at a manager level.”
Since then, Peter held ever-increasing roles in companies across the US and Europe. He earned a position as vice president when he was 38 years old, making him the youngest VP in that company. Today, he works for Thermo Fisher Scientific in Chicago and Waltham, Mass. as the vice president of global quality assurance and regulatory affairs.
Life Sciences Companies are Starving for Skilled STEM Grads
Thermo Fisher and other life sciences companies are in desperate need of highly-technical STEM grads, Peter emphasized.
“There are thousands of companies out there – those that make medical devices, lab tests for doctors’ offices, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and many more,” he continued. “The market is so good right now, and there just aren’t enough skilled young people to fill the need.”
Peter is passionate about connecting today’s students with careers in fields like his. He hasn’t seen campus career centers hook into the job potential as much as he thinks they should, and he sees that not enough of today’s students know this kind of work exists.
“Most companies the size of Thermo Fisher recruit at schools like Brown, USC and UCLA – big schools with big names,” Peter explained. “I get the most value from people who work hard and have an education – it doesn’t matter where it’s from.”
Peter is focused on getting Salem State and other schools like it to turn students on to the variety of career potential in life sciences.
“In 30 years, I’ve only been out of work twice – once for a week and once for a month. This field is incredible for job stability and income growth – there’s so much potential.”