PhD Alumna Explores Non-Conventional Career Paths

Alexandria Lau, PhD ’12, has worked for SC Johnson, the Hershey Company, and now, a Winery.
“From paint and make-up to pet food and potato chips, I encourage students to network and explore these other non-conventional career options.”

(Nov. 18, 2018) College of Pharmacy alumni go on to all sorts of careers, working in hospitals, researching and developing new drugs, or serving patients in community settings. Other students choose non-traditional careers, where pharmacy is a lesser-known component. For Alexandria Lau, PhD ’12, her toxicology training prepared her for industries that embrace the sweeter parts of life.

Dr. Lau’s interest in the health sciences began with a desire to be a medical doctor. As she continued her education, she decided to change course; her interest in helping the sick led her to pharmacology and toxicology. “This field really hit the sweet spot,” she said. “It was interesting, it provided the means to help others, and it offered the potential of a fulfilling, lifelong career.”

When Dr. Lau joined the College of Pharmacy, she studied under professor Donna Zhang, PhD. In 2009, she assisted as a counselor with PharmCamp, an experiential learning program for middle school students interested in the health sciences. As one of the only counselors not pursuing a PharmD degree, she brought a unique perspective to the table.

“I wanted students to understand that becoming a pharmacist was a wonderful career path, but it was not the only one.” Hosted in her hometown of Yuma, AZ, PharmCamp provided a great opportunity for her to give back to the community in which she grew up.

Since the completion of her PhD, Dr. Lau has worked in a range of career settings. Beginning as a toxicologist at SC Johnson, she helped to ensure the safety of household pest control products. Her work involved human health risk assessments, such as identifying chemical hazards and calculating exposure to determine if there were any concerns.

“This was when I began to apply what I learned in graduate school to real-world scenarios,” said Dr. Lau. “I was introduced to topics of human health assessments, including identifying hazards and understanding exposure.”

Following this work, she joined The Hershey Company, where she managed the global corporate allergen program. Her responsibility was to evaluate ingredients in the supply chain to ensure chemical risks were managed appropriately. In this role, she applied what she had learned at SC Johnson, while also gaining new knowledge of food safety issues. Her work was even spotlighted in Science Magazine!

Currently, Dr. Lau serves as the toxicology program manager for E&J Gallo Winery. While she continues to conduct risk assessments, she also collaborates with a team of analytical chemists to develop methods to detect compounds of interest and ensure product safety.

“I stay up to date with the regulatory landscape of toxicology and food safety to determine how it may impact the industry,” she said. “Often, this leads to external outreach and partnerships with academia, industry, and regulatory agencies, so I get to work with several different types of organizations, which keeps the job dynamic!”

Recently, the UA Alumni Association recognized Dr. Lau with the 2018 Alumni of the Year Award. A video of her career highlights can be found on YouTube. “There are toxicologists in places I had never imagined as a student,” said Dr. Lau. “From paint and make-up to pet food and potato chips, I encourage students to network and explore these other non-conventional career options.”