Sharon Yavrom – PhD, Sr. Director in Clinical Science, California

June 1, 2022

Sharon Yavrom was born to immigrant parents, her mother from Costa Rica, and her father from Iran. Growing up in a multicultural household, she developed a strong understanding of the Spanish language (however not quite as strong ability to speak it)  and practiced the Baháʼí Faith, which teaches the unity of God, Religion, and Humanity.  

Sharon’s childhood was filled with “nothing but the most amazing memories.” She and her siblings, Michelle and Sean, grew up in an idyllic neighborhood in Saratoga, CA,  one where all the children got together for the day’s adventure, riding bikes,  skateboarding, or playing baseball. Instant friendships formed with the youth on her block and with whom she remains close today.  

At an early age, she developed a passion for the sciences, influenced, she determines,  by her father’s long career in the medical field. With chemistry set in tow, she and her father would camp out in what they called their “third bathroom” which was essentially an extra bedroom, and conduct experiments. She had her own personal microscope and would spend her time examining slides. At her father’s podiatry office, Sharon received a regular glimpse of science in action. 

This foundational exposure carved the clarity of Sharon’s pursuit of pre-med as an undergraduate. For her, it was never a question. The where was the real challenge. Her father was protective and not keen on her straying far, so Sharon landed at San José State University, a short commute from her family’s home, where she lived during her collegiate years. Despite the comforts of her home, college still proved to be a  transformative experience for the young Sharon. It was a true coming of age period,  where her focus shifted to her social life and as a result, her grades slipped for the first time. She knew her transcript would not meet the standards of medical school admissions, even with her strong test scores. But her desire to obtain her Ph.D. never wavered and her ability were never in doubt; the path would simply be less conventional. 

During undergrad, Sharon saw a flier for a job at NASA’s Ames Research Center. She didn’t meet the advertised qualifications, what with her grades and unaligned experience, but was undeterred and applied anyway. Sharon landed the gig. She worked to design projects that could be converted to applications on space shuttles: a  memorable study determined how zero gravity impacts a pregnant rat’s ability to deliver her litter in space. She stayed with NASA for several years post-graduation and the job was, to this day, one of her most cherished professional experiences. As Sharon reflects on her life, the leap she took with the NASA position is probably one of the first and most critical examples of her “why not me” attitude that she consciously adopts today. 

Her professional calling was so absolute, that she never once entertained the idea of another career path. She always knew there was a way forward to her destination, no matter the specifics of the route she had to take. Five years after graduating from San  José State, she was accepted into a post-Baccalaureate program for the medical sciences at Harvard University. There, she refined her knowledge and skills working in the lab, readying herself for a Ph.D. program.  

Still, Sharon’s poor undergraduate grades were unavoidable and secured her rejections from the top medical schools in the country, including Harvard, the University of Southern  California (USC), and Columbia University. But unseen forces were conspiring in her favor. The Pathology Chair at USC reached out after her rejection to propose an alternative avenue for admissions: Sharon was to write a ten-page paper on a selection of journals to receive reconsideration. Her efforts were a success and an acceptance offer arrived two weeks later. 

The path to graduate school was unusual and unlikely, Sharon recognizes. At that time,  in 1997, she estimates that 90% of the students in her graduate program were men from mainland China. To Sharon’s benefit, the institution was eager to support American candidates, who seldom applied. She earned her stay, completing her Ph.D. after 7.5  years. It was difficult, and at times, she wanted to give up. Sharon’s advisor was a  particular vehicle of stress. It is tradition for a Ph.D. advisor to remain a lifelong mentor, which did not hold true for Sharon. There was no satisfying the world-renowned scientist who only communicated in criticisms. The crystallized belief in herself was shaken. 

Sharon turned to her Faith. She had never before relayed on prayer and had not leaned on it so heavily as she had during this time of pain and darkness. Through prayer and her innate sense of perseverance, she found the necessary strength. She contemplates with a tinge of resentment, or perhaps longing, that she should not have had to persevere so acutely.  To have to succeed in spite of the person designed to be her greatest ally. She questions herself as well, discontent she turned to God most often in times of need, and had not tended as carefully to their relationship during the more joyous periods of her younger life.  

Sharon found support as well, from the women around her. She developed a lasting bond with one lab-mate in particular, Presley, who shared the same advisor. Presley worked in the pharmaceutical industry and a worn-down Sharon observed the balance  Presley found in her life. For so long, Sharon’s world consisted of the lab, the mice, and the Petri dishes. She wanted more out of her love of science than that. More than the $18,500 she made a year while in school.  

In the proceeding months of receiving her Ph.D., Sharon turned down several job offers, ones she was tempted to accept, were it not for the paltry pay and the behest of  Presley. She recognizes she was fortunate as well, to rely on her parents as she waited for the arrival of the right opportunity. Five months out, and with a referral from Presley,  Sharon landed a job at the same pharmaceutical company as her, working as a Medical  Science Liaison (MSL). In this role as a scientific expert, she was the link between the researchers and the physicians, discerning data and advising on effective, off-label uses of drugs. 

Sharon was amazed by the drastic and sudden shift in her life. She now made six figures, received luxurious travel accommodations through work, and found the balance she long desired. For ten years she served as an MSL, specializing in oncology. While working for Puma Biotechnology, she transitioned into the role of a Clinical Scientist,  with the main responsibility of designing and implementing clinical trials for cancer patients. 

A gift Sharon has is the ability to trust what is ahead. At least when it comes to her career. As a young adult, her focus was so squarely on her academic and professional pursuits, she didn’t venture into the dating scene until the age of 35. In doing so, she was confronted by the low self-esteem she held about her body. Growing up, she was the recipient of hurtful remarks about her weight, along with her own self-assessment of being “a dork in the sciences” (something she is proud of today). And the wounds from grad school were fresh, furthering her poor image of herself. A man she dated early on ridiculed her worth, asserting she was too old for a Baháʼí girl and that she would never have the fortune of her sister — be that a husband and children. 

Sharon was shaken by his biting remarks. She knew they weren’t true, but she didn’t always value herself in a way that reflected the worthlessness of his words. Her response was to take a literal, hard look in the mirror. She practiced positive affirmations to nurture her belief that she was deserving of whatever life and love she desired. As Sharon’s self-esteem evolved, the quality of romantic relationships followed in abundance.  

She met her now-husband, at the age of 41, with whom she shares twins. A fortune indeed, but perhaps more so a product of the fortune of choosing herself. And this stage of life hasn’t been without its challenges either. Before conceiving her twins, she experienced three miscarriages and extensive fertility treatments. Trying to get pregnant while balancing her career was harder than working once her children actually arrived. As the main breadwinner, she couldn’t leave her job while her husband transitioned into a career in computer programming.

Sharon is wholly appreciative of the systems of support she has had throughout her life. She could not do this alone and relays on others just as much as they rely on her.  

Currently, Sharon is between jobs and it is the first time she has not had another opportunity lined up. With a Ph.D. in hand, the job market is easier to navigate. And she’s not in a rush. She wants to use this time to find the next great thing for herself.

At 52, Sharon’s new challenge in life is to continue to learn. She thought she would be a  Clinical Scientist until she turns 80, but now, she ponders life’s possibilities. She is seizing this moment of suspension to spend quality time with her children. Tai Chi has become an important practice in her days as well, and she finds comfort in the mind-body connection. Sharon’s roots have grown deeper in the Baháʼí community, and with that a renewed appreciation of her faith; she now also prays in times of joy. She often thinks of sending her advisor a letter; her husband is uncertain of such a course. But still, she is centered, living grandly beyond the words of the unwise men of her past. It is, by all measures, a life well deserved.