Sometimes, when people learn that I am not only the CEO of a biotech startup, but also the hands-on founder of a science education nonprofit, they ask what my schedule is like. They usually assume that I’m busy, and yes, that’s true. Every day is busy, but often in different ways. And although there is some level of predictability in my week, each day brings unexpected ideas, prospects, challenges, and even new reasons to keep working hard. Some days are energizing. Some are frustrating. Here’s what a typical day is like for me.
Because I’m often busy well into the evening, I am not an early bird. Fortunately, I’m not the kind of scientist who needs to collect worms. Besides, getting enough sleep is good for your gut. When my alarm goes off, I briefly wonder if staying in bed will force the day’s issues to resolve themselves (here’s hoping!!), but I always conclude that it will not. I also love what I do, so after I shake off any remaining grogginess, I’m excited to get going. That means it’s shower time, when I can really wake up and start to think about what’s ahead.
A gut health scientist probably pays an inordinate amount of attention to what she eats, right? I do. But no one can be expected to maintain 100% compliance in a world where Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and hashbrowns exist. (Sometimes I skip breakfast. Shh. Don’t tell.) Usually, the best way to keep my nutrition goals on track is to keep breakfast extremely simple. On a non-Dunkin-drive-thru morning, which is most mornings, I enjoy some coconut yogurt with granola and berries, and I dutifully take my vitamins.
Next there’s my commute, during which I turn on my phone to get an overview (hands-free, of course) of my schedule or address anything that needs an immediate answer that I can provide while driving.
Meetings (and More Meetings)
When I arrive at the office, I settle in for one of two types of days: meeting days and non-meeting days. To be accurate, most of the “non-meeting” days still involve meetings. They’re more like “slightly-fewer-meetings” days. That’s just life as a CEO. At Ixcela, I have executive team meetings, science team meetings, sales team meetings, meetings to look at our progress, meetings to evaluate all sorts of data, and meetings to plan our next goals. We make sure everyone knows what’s going on. At Science from Scientists, I’ll meet with team members and have one-on-one conversations with staff that report to me. We’ll review our fundraising status and budgets and make sure everyone is informed if there are important updates.
Sometimes, the meetings seem to overlap, but they are not only productive, they also allow me to see the communication between team members and between teams. It’s exciting to hear new ideas come through. Even more exciting is reviewing data that shows how what we’re doing, both at Ixcela and Science from Scientists, is really helping people. It puts everything in perspective. During non-meeting days, I tend to spend time on the phone catching up with vendors, lawyers, and partners. I’ll work on preparing annual reports, presentations, and audits. I check in on ongoing projects and do other miscellaneous work I need to take care of. I don’t have much (if any) downtime.
I usually have a late lunch. Now and then, we order out, but otherwise I make the pilgrimage to the salad bar at Whole Foods. And then I keep working. Around 6 p.m., things get a little quieter in the office and I can take time to open my email or work on anything else that had to be put off until evening.
Enjoying the Moments
In this frenzy of activity, it’s important for me to appreciate the small things that strengthen our team or just make people feel good. One of my favorite things is seeing my team go above and beyond what they need to do. It’s also fun to celebrate birthdays and other milestones. I enjoy seeing small, thoughtful gestures that make someone else’s day. It reminds me that we all usually have these opportunities to make someone happy, even if it’s just choosing to express our gratitude. Another particularly bright spot is talking to Sam Nienow, my Chief Marketing Officer, who is always a happy, positive voice on the phone no matter what is going on.
In the evening, we often have trainings, which means that I’ll have a late commute back home. When I arrive home, depending on my mood, I might have a rum and Coke, a nice hot tea, or a sour apple martini with a quiet dinner. I stay up a bit so I can wind down and shut out the noise of the day, which is often lingering in my thoughts. At times, I struggle to make myself stop thinking about everything that’s happened and everything that needs to be done, or to stop trying to solve some puzzle from the week. I’m still figuring out the best way to relax when work is done, but I try to put everything aside by the time I go to bed. Getting a good night’s sleep is the first step toward the next good day, when I get to do it all over again.
Everyone’s life involves different types of busyness, and this is just a glimpse of mine. During my commute, I sometimes think about the traffic around me. Every driver has individual goals and destinations, but most of us are just doing our best to get the most out of each twenty-four-hour period. Even if you’re fortunate, like me, to be doing what you love, there may be moments when you feel exhausted by your own day-to-day routine (I am, more often than I’d probably like to admit), it’s good to remember that your daily tasks and interactions add up to bigger things that really do make a difference.
Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 2012 from Boston University School of Medicine. She holds a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erika is the Executive Director and Founder of Science from Scientists, an award-winning, National non-profit which sends real, charismatic scientists into classrooms to improve the attitudes and aptitudes of 3rd-8th-grade students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). She is also the CEO and co-founder of Ixcela, a biotechnology company aimed at developing tests and interventions to improve gut microbiome efficacy and health.