March is Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the extraordinary achievements, courage, persistence, and contributions of women worldwide. This is the second profile of some of the women at 23andMe who inspire us each day.
Even in her busy position as 23andMe’s Vice President of Business Development, Emily Drabant Conley never forgets what inspired her way back in high school.
It was during her first job working as a swimming coach for autistic children. Working with these kids, learning about developmental disorders and differences in behavior, pushed her to learn more. It’s what sparked her interest in understanding developmental disorders and psychiatric illnesses as a psychology major at Vanderbilt University. That early exposure to autistic children shaped her passion for science and led her to study neuroscience at Stanford as a graduate student and ultimately brought Emily to 23andMe. Emily joined our small but mighty team in 2010. She came with deep experience conducting research that combined genetics and neuroimaging to understand diseases of the brain, and she initially joined 23andMe to manage our nascent Parkinson’s Research Community. Emily helped to build that community into the largest cohort of genotyped patients with Parkinson’s disease in the world, and the groundbreaking work she’s done helped to form a template for the creation of several other disease research communities we’ve since set up. Since then, Emily has risen the ranks to serve as our Vice President of Business Development. In this role, she has helped lead many of the company’s major research collaborations. Combining her business acumen with her deep scientific knowledge, Emily has been instrumental in spearheading our collaborations with many biotechnology companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech and Pfizer. These collaborations fuel research discoveries. To date, Emily has also authored more than thirty peer reviewed scientific publications on a wide variety of topics including opioid dependence, Parkinson’s disease, depression risk and general cognitive ability. In addition to the many responsibilities in her current role, Emily is also the executive sponsor of 23andMe’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Beyond 23andMe, she previously served on the Advisory Board of the UCSF Alliance Health Project, a clinic that provides services to the LGBT and HIV-affected communities in San Francisco. She also currently serves on the Board of Lesbians Who Tech, an organization seeking to improve representation of women and lesbians in technology.
Before joining 23andMe, she told Anne, our CEO, that she was disillusioned by the slow pace of science in academia. Emily wanted to do something bigger, to accelerate the pace of research and create a new model for genetic research. Emily’s energy, her knowledge of science, and skill working with people has fueled her successes at 23andMe. She, like all the women making strides at the company, is why 23andMe is honoring Women’s History Month.
What joins these women together, beyond the work they do here, is their thirst for knowledge and their optimism about the future. That’s what 23andMe is built on. And as we take a moment to recognize Women’s History Month and the incredible achievements made by women around the world, we all take inspiration from those examples and the everyday examples of other women we featured on the blog this month like our VP of Research Joyce Tung, Director of Health Product Shirley Wu, and now Emily — as well as the many other women here at 23andMe. We hope their stories help encourage others to truly realize that anyone can be a scientist.