A Day in the Life of a Lilly Scientist

How A Loaned Executive’s Schedule Creates Opportunities in Indiana’s Science and Technology Ecosystem


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For Vanessa Barth, learning and innovating starts with her schedule.

“The things that are energizing, that may change how you think about something, are not always the immediate needs of the business. You have to hold the line on the time that makes you grow. Innovation is reliant on that time,” says the senior director of scientific collaboration and current BioCrossroads chief scientific officer.

She collaborates with leaders across Indianapolis academia, biotech, pharma and commercial agencies to develop opportunities that create connectivity and fuel the Indianapolis life sciences ecosystem. One of her current projects is leading the shared strategy development across the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) and 16 Tech, which focuses on local community impact through STEM education and entrepreneurial support.

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Making community impact through STEM education – 2018 accomplishments, future plans, and multi-year strategy – with Starla Hart of 16 Tech.



16 Tech, a new innovation district scheduled to open in mid-2020, is located in the heart of downtown Indianapolis and broke ground in December 2018. The district will have 60 acres of creative space, including research and wet labs. The goal of 16 Tech is to create an environment for driving global impact in health, technology, manufacturing, and the arts while growing local business opportunities that support Indiana’s science and technology ecosystem.

Barth started her career 19 years ago at Eli Lilly and Company as a biologist. What excites her most about Lilly’s innovation journey is the opportunity to do more science outside Lilly’s walls with other innovators who have very different perspectives and ways of solving problems.

“I love that we have branched out into new technologies to support therapeutic discovery and development. It is very important to tap into technology. Innovation usually happens when we tackle problems by looking through a different lens.”


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5 a.m. I am a morning person and wake up pretty energized. When I was going to school and working at the same time, I would rise at 4 a.m. I like to be at work as early as possible. I let our two dogs, Will and Emma, out and then hop online to see what’s going on in industry news and check email. Then it’s time to pack my daughter Elyse’s lunch box, make tea, hit the shower, dog proof the house, make sure I have both computers, all of my IDs and parking permits, and a power cord.

6 or 6:30 a.m. While commuting, I mostly think about staying on time, since I travel across sites most of the day. Making sure the family logistics are squared away helps me stay focused for the day. I’m not a fan of breaks and prefer to power through and keep the momentum going.

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7 a.m. The first thing I do in the parking lot is send my daughter a text, telling her to have a great day and check in with my husband, Brian.

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My schedule varies from day to day and I love that. I enjoy meeting with a variety of people, tackling challenging projects, and discovering new areas of learning.

It’s invigorating to interact with science and scientists—to see how others approach problems and technologies, and to think about how we can do things better. My goal is to find a way to bring key learnings back to Lilly and share them.

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Sharing project updates in a BioCrossroads staff meeting, alongside Chris Eckler and Brian Stemme.



11:30 a.m. I occasionally use lunchtime for meetings. The restaurant REVeli is great on Lilly’s campus. It’s great to get outside when the weather is nice. I find that lunch conversations can spur new ideas and perspectives and provides opportunities to brainstorm. I am very intentional about having a lunch meeting. On days that I don’t have a meeting, I often work through lunch and use it as quiet time so I can dial-up my energy for the back half of the day.

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3 p.m. I have most meetings during the first half of the day. I like to spend some time later in the afternoon reflecting, following up on action items, and prepping for the next day’s meetings in order to get the most out of my interactions.

I always try to finish on time, and leave campus at 3 or 3:30 p.m. one day a week to pick up my daughter from school. That gives us time to chat and get to an early soccer practice that starts at 5 p.m.

I am so fortunate that my husband and parents also help with dropoff and pickup.

6 p.m. I usually exercise after work but before dinner. I am not a good cook so Brian cooks dinner while I keep him company. I am on clean-up duty! When I am on point for dinner, I will usually order food from Amber Indian Restaurant.

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We spend a lot of time in the family room kitchen area, where my daughter focuses on homework and I am either working online or catching up with Brian. If time allows, we may play board games or go on a hike. Brian, Elyse, and my parents are the most important people in my life.

10 p.m. I try to be in bed around 10ish. If I read a book, it’s usually something my daughter is reading so we can talk about it. When Game of Thrones is on, that becomes a Sunday night ritual.

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“We have to constantly challenge ourselves to be intentional with what we are working on. I try to say ‘yes’ to the projects that are most challenging because I know that I will grow, and those are the projects that will impact and evolve the business.”

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