Alumni Spotlight: Marissa Dockendorf, Ph.D.

Marissa Dockendorf, Ph.D.

Marissa Dockendorf, Ph.D., (Ph.D. ChE ’05), Executive Director, Head of Global Digital Analytics & Technologies at Merck & Co. Inc., presented to students in the Department of Chemical Engineering about her career progression through industry. 

Dr. Dockendorf has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 14 years and at Merck for 10 of those years. She has a background in pharmacokinetics (Pharmacokinetic-Pharmacodynamic PK/PD) modeling. She’s participated in many cross functional drug development teams and provided pharmacokinetic and pharmacometric expertise and scientific oversight for a number of discovery, early, and late-stage drug development programs across multiple therapeutic areas, with particular focus in the areas of cardiovascular disease, neuroscience, and ophthalmics. She plays a critical role in innovation projects at Merck Research Laboratories aimed at transforming the way clinical trials are conducted, including use of emerging technologies and use of outpatient sampling in clinical trials. 

In her current role as Digital Health Portfolio Lead, she works with project teams to develop and implement strategic plans for use of digital health solutions in clinical programs to address key drug development questions. Dr. Dockendorf received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, her M.S. in Biomedical Engineering, and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Florida. 

Q: What was the best aspect of your experience at UF CHE?

I had such a wonderful experience as a graduate student in the CHE department that it is hard to pick a “best.” I worked on an interesting Ph.D. project, had many opportunities to publish and present my research, and left grad school well-prepared for my career ahead. I also made some of my closest friends to this day during my time there! 

Q: What is your favorite memory of your time as a student? 

I have so many fond memories from my time as a graduate student. I actually met my husband in a class at UF! One moment that I often reflect on that may be more relevant for current students is related to an Intro to Engineering class I used to TA. In that class, I would give a presentation about chemical engineering to undecided undergraduate engineering majors, which included discussion on how chemical engineers were the “universal engineer,” with many different possible career paths. At the time I didn’t realize how true that was! My own career path has not involved taking what would be considered “traditional chemical engineering” roles, and I know many people who are chemical engineers by training that are now working in a variety of different areas. It has been wonderful to see what I used to lecture on play out in practice in my own life! 

Q: Who influenced you during your time at UF? 

My graduate research advisor, Dr. Anuj Chauhan, has and continues to be a great mentor to me. During my time as a graduate student, he helped me to develop my research, experimentation, and modeling skills. Beyond the technical aspects, he encouraged me to present my research in various symposia and conferences and hone my presentation skills. He also helped me to find a summer internship during my time as a student that later helped land me a job at that same company, and provided me with a lot of career advice, both during my initial job search as well as throughout my career. 

Q: How did this time influence your career? 

During my career I have worked in pharmaceutical R&D in the areas of quantitative pharmacology & pharmacometrics, ocular drug delivery, and now digital medicine. My experiences at UF really opened my eyes to many different possible career options. It was during my graduate research that I worked on developing a physiologically based pharmacokinetic model and first became aware of the field of pharmacometrics as a career path. I also learned a lot about ocular drug delivery from my advisor and others in my lab, which is a field in which I also later worked. 

Q: How have you stayed connected to the Gator Nation? 

I have many friends from my time at UF that I keep in touch with and a few that have ended up working at the same company as me (Merck & Co. Inc.). I have been a recruiting ambassador for my company and enjoy meeting others from the Gator Nation at conferences (back when they were in-person), and I can’t wait to do so again when conferences return to being in-person! 

Q: Have you faced a challenge in your career and how did you overcome it? 

One of the challenges I faced was of a more personal nature. My husband and I had the classic “two body” problem in trying to find two Ph.D. level jobs in the same location. My husband found a job in California, and after having worked at another company I wanted to return to Merck & Co. Inc. in Pennsylvania. I asked about remote work as a possibility, and fortunately, had a very supportive supervisor that hired me back and allowed me to work remotely from California. I ended up working remotely for over 10 years, first from California and later from Florida. I’m very grateful that my company supported this remote work arrangement and I have learned that it is best to simply ask for what you want to enable your success and work/life balance. 

Q: What advice do you have for current students? 

Use this time to learn and explore various things you are interested in. Take advantage of opportunities to get involved in the wider scientific community and seek out mentors that can help you navigate your job search and offer career advice. Take every opportunity you have to present your research findings and develop your presentation skills; the GRACE symposium is a great forum for this! Most importantly, enjoy the journey, pursue a career path that you are truly excited about, and don’t be afraid to change jobs or even career paths to suit your personal and professional needs.