Women's History Month Stories

Gursel Aktan, MD, PhD

Vice President, Therapeutic Area Head of Women’s Cancers & Head of European Clinical Development
Merck & Co., Inc.

Why did you pursue a career in science? 

From a young age, I was drawn to the idea of using scientific knowledge and research to improve the lives of others and make a meaningful impact on society. Science has always been a driving force in my life, inspiring me to ask questions, seek answers, and push the boundaries of what is known and understood. Science often involves collaboration, teamwork and interdisciplinary approaches; the field of medicine, in particular, offers a unique opportunity to combine my passion for science with my desire to help others, especially patients, in a direct and tangible way while collaborating with experts from different fields, fostering a diverse and enriching work environment.

What are you most proud of in your career? 

Hard to pinpoint one specific accomplishment. I believe with my team, we made significant contributions to Merck’s success through shaping strategies, innovation in drug development, bringing new treatment options and advancements for patients across Women’s Cancers. The development of new therapies has been some of the most fulfilling experiences. We have led to the development of new drugs and the advancement of healthcare solutions, especially moving to early setting of cancer.

Who is a woman/mentor you admire? 

I have admiration and learnings from so many women that share my passion for helping others, that are dedicated to advancing medical knowledge and have done groundbreaking work, established innovative treatment approaches and impacting patient outcomes, it would be very hard to list all these great women whom I have admired and who have mentored me. 

What advice do you have for women who are entering the field of science?  

-Embrace your passion and curiosity- this will provide motivation and fulfillment throughout your career.

-Never give up your dreams and embrace opportunities as they come, believe in yourself and your abilities, strive for excellence and perseverance, and be resilient. 

-Don’t be afraid of sharing your ideas or asking questions. Be engaged and receptive to feedback, and be a good listener.

-Have a “forever” learning mindset, be authentically empathetic and collaborative, and foster a diverse and enriching work environment. 

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