From Scratch: First-Generation College Graduate to Building New Safety and Regulatory Programs

By Brittany Baisch posted 06-06-2024 12:24 PM


This essay is part of a series designed to celebrate SOT member diversity and showcase the diverse pathways and experiences of its members.

Everything that I have done in my career has felt like it was “from scratch”—and that is why it has been so fun!

I love to bake from scratch. Baking with my great aunt and great grandmother is how I became interested in science. There was a precision, specific order of addition, and always a way to tweak the recipe to get better results. I never reached the career milestones of my great grandmother, who baked more than 1,000 pies in a year during her prime. However, I have enjoyed building toxicology programs from scratch as I have grown in my career.

I became financially independent once I graduated high school and was the first person in my family to attend college. I applied for every scholarship and did every work study while at Western Connecticut State University and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and Spanish. The university built a new science building while I was in attendance that had state-of-the art analytical equipment and a biochemistry lab, which were two of my favorite subjects.

I also yearned to travel since my humble upbringing did not include the financial means to do so. I experienced culture and traveled through time and different places while studying in the Spanish department. After working to save money during my first two years of college, I was able to study abroad in Italy, Guatemala, and Spain. I took courses in the arts and technology and public health to bridge my science and world languages experiences.

I completed my senior research from scratch with a new faculty member in the physical chemistry department. Toward the end of my undergraduate education, I had a full-time internship as a formulator inventing solutions to clean logic and microelectronic devices. The scientists were great mentors and encouraged me to further my studies.

I decided to apply to graduate programs in toxicology because it seemed to combine all my interests. It was, and still is, a vast field that is ever-changing and has lots of opportunities; there is so much to learn that I could never be bored. I attended graduate school at the University of Rochester and completed my PhD in toxicology in one of the oldest toxicology programs in the country, with a long track record of funding as a training center. The students all worked incredibly hard but had great personalities. We all supported each other, and the program was difficult but worth it! My dissertation investigated the inflammatory response following nanoparticle deposition in the lung at different dose rates. Of course, this was from scratch since I was my thesis advisor’s (Dr. Alison Elder’s) first graduate student. Alison has since graduated many more students and had several grants supporting multiple projects. It is a privilege to be considered even a sliver of her story in the nanotoxicology and inhalation toxicology fields.

I knew I wanted to work in industry. I liked the idea of variety and being able to work in consumer product goods where I could see the products on which I worked be on the store shelves within a year or two. My husband is not a scientist but had worked in sales—we always had something new to talk about—and I was fortunate that he supported me in choosing my best opportunity and was open to moving. My first job after graduate school was at Kraft Foods in Chicago. The food safety team was impressive, and I had a great mentor who specialized in food toxicology. He taught me a lot about risk assessment but also about the importance of collaborating with other toxicologists in the industry to tackle common issues. In my short time at Kraft, I proposed a packaging safety program; became an expert in chemical food safety programming, monitoring contaminants in the supply chain; and worked on messaging with the corporate affairs and legal teams.

I leveraged the from scratch skills that I had gathered to that point to land my next position at Sun Products Corporation, which was later acquired by Henkel, to lead the North American laundry and home care product safety program. I built and led the programming for consumer exposure complaints, product safety for consumer testing, raw material and formulation safety assessments, and product safety messaging for marketing materials, as well as designed and conducted testing to substantiate antimicrobial and disinfectant products. My mentors at the company had extensive experience in regulatory affairs, and we gelled well, combining our expertise to navigate changing regulations in labeling and transparency, along with increased savviness among retail customers to have product safety assurance. We not only completed assessments but also navigated many in-house systems to capture data and route approvals. I also gained experience navigating a merger and acquisition, which were not dull moments!

During my tenure at Henkel, I obtained my DABT certification between having my children, and although travel budgets were tight, I still remained active in SOT as an officer in Component Groups and also on SOT Committees. After learning all that I could, I decided to take a position in early discovery toxicology programming at an agrochemical startup company called Enko Chem, Inc.

Enko is leveraging target-based discovery principles to find solutions for crop pests and diseases. This approach can significantly shrink time in crop protection discovery. In this from scratch position, I designed a predictive screening cascade to inform molecule advancement decisions. It is a creative “mad scientist” position, where I can shop around with vendors and design protocols and evaluate assays for their utility to predict outcomes in GLP registration studies. I am also managing regulatory affairs related to shipping and global trade compliance, as well as communicating registration study requirements in various geographies for our portfolio indications. In addition, I am leading our EH&S program, and I am the Chemical Hygiene Officer. My team is having a blast building these programs—we are learning so much from our industry peers, consultants, and regulators.

Despite building programs from scratch and often working as the only toxicologist (or one of two!), it has been invaluable to maintain a network of colleagues, and SOT has always fostered that—I have never felt like a lone wolf.