A scientist learns the art of management

Already an accomplished scientist, MIT Sloan Fellow Linping Zhang develops a broader perspective — as a manager and a leader

MIT Sloan Fellow Linping Zhang

Linping Zhang readily admits that she is subject to a five-year itch. Every few years, she begins thinking about new frontiers. Zhang is launching her latest adventure with a yearlong sojourn as an MIT Sloan Fellow.

She enters the program as an accomplished scientist in a senior position in the Cambridge biotech startup Infinity Pharmaceuticals. Coming from Guangzhou in Southern China, her biotech roots are deep and cross-cultural.

As a synthetic medicinal chemist, she led drug discovery projects at the National Institute for Drug Research and Development in China. Wanting to see how the United States was handling the same processes, she enrolled at SUNY Buffalo to earn her PhD, then did postdoc work at Harvard before joining Infinity.

In directing biotech projects, Zhang felt confident that her science knowledge was first rate — and equally confident that her management skills were not.

“Scientists,” Zhang says, “are people, too. People require leadership. And leadership requires management skill. Bottom line: I want to do more than a scientist can do. I want to see things, not just from the eyes of a scientist, but in a broad way.”

Being a scientist, Zhang conducted in-depth research on exactly where she should get that management training. Two of her mentors — Infinity CEO Steve Holtzman and Alexey Eliseev, SF '05, an ex-professor of hers at SUNY and a successful global entrepreneur — both recommended the MIT Sloan Fellows Program.

Global lessons from global colleagues

A few months into the program, Zhang reports that what she's learning now is profound and very different from anything she's learned before — which, she says, makes it an adventure.

That and working closely with 90 other fellows from around the world.

“I have learned so much from my classmates, from their backgrounds and their experience. I've learned how they've handled many of the challenges I've encountered or can expect to encounter. I find being with these amazing people encouraging ... even inspiring.”

Busy as she is, Zhang is already planning her next challenge. When she leaves the program, she wants to launch a startup in which she can meld the biotech strengths of the U.S. and her native China.

“There's a huge talent pool in China readily available for drug research. My biggest dream is to create a new model that will propel drug research and delivery in China. I want to blend the United States' superior R&D model with China's unique resources and successful manufacturing model.”

Zhang hopes that this next frontier of hers will be the way of the future.

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