Interview with Kimberly Aardalen

April 3, 2023
Yasmina Ibsen

Kimberly is the Director of Preclinical Pharmacology Oncology at Odyssey Therapeutics and a longtime Studylog user.

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I grew up in a suburb outside of San Francisco in both Larkspur and Corte Madera. It was very different back then. In fact, I can remember riding through downtown Larkspur on my stingray bike, swerving in between the painted lines that were separating the two sides of the street. There was basically nobody there. It was very much small town America. I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school in Larkspur as well. I then graduated from UC Berkeley after attending College of Marin.    

What sparked your interest in science? 

Very early on I wanted to go to medical school to be a doctor. As I got older, I realized that it's a long competitive process. I really love science and disliked the thought of leaving science to pursue a career in medicine, so I ended up getting a job in biotech at Xoma where I actually met Eric [Ibsen]. My career just kind of went from there. I had a general interest in science from a very young age and continued to choose that path. Everyone's path is so different, and had I gone to medical school, who knows what would have happened. I've built a career now out of being a scientist and I love it. It's very fulfilling getting to help people in a different way than being a doctor. 

Did you have any specific role models? If so, who were they? 

One of my aunts was an interesting person. She was a missionary and nurse in Uruguay. She influenced me as a very strong woman. She was single, never married or had kids. She was married to Jesus, she told me. That was her pathway as a missionary coming out of a very small town in Norway where my dad is from as well. Watching her build a life in the US afterwards in a career in science made her a great role model. 

My mom was also a great role model. Not that she had anything to do with medicine, but my mom has always been very level-headed, very smart, self-sufficient, and taught me from a very young age that whatever I wanted to do, I could do. I could be self-sufficient. My mom and dad got divorced when I was probably eight or nine. I was the first kid in school with divorced parents, me and my brother, and that was tough. They had nothing in place to support the turmoil that we felt. They had no infrastructure to support parents, especially for a single mom.  My mom found a way to do it.  She's been a great role model, just very strong and very committed. 

I also had one instructor, Dr. Manus Monroe, who was my chemistry instructor at College of Marin. He was a great mentor, and I have a relationship with him to this day. He was also someone who taught me to stay focused and be true to yourself. 

What would you say to a young person considering a career in science? 

Do what you love. With respect to science, it's always changing and, what you know now as holy writ, won't be in the future. So, keep an open mind, challenge everything, feed your curiosity, and read everything you can about what you're interested in. Then read what you're not interested in. I think the one thing that I would have done differently was to get my PhD. It doesn't mean that I haven't had a very fulfilling career without it. I just think that I would have been able to do more opportunity-wise. I also wish I had read more. Question everything and don't accept anything as it is because it all changes. 

What is important to you personally? I.e.what things do you value most in life?

I value my time with my kids-they are both teenagers so anytime with them I cherish. I love my family. I love hanging out with my daughter and talking about what's going on in her life. We were talking about history last night. It wasn’t about what she was teaching me, because she was re-educating me on U.S. history. It had to do with the fact that she was teaching me and it was a conversation about what she knew and not what I knew. The roles were reversed, and I watched her glow in that place. I have an awesome and very close relationship with my son. We mountain bike and snowboard together.  He is a history savant, and I am always learning about the past from his perspective.  He allows me to tutor him in chemistry, math and Spanish though.  He sees me as valuable in those areas. Those are the things that I value and that I will look back on when I'm older and think, “Wow, I'm really glad I had that time with them.” 

It took me a while to figure out that life balance is so important. I was always so driven and thinking “Go to work, do better, make more money. If you do well, you're going to make more money. If you produce more, you're going to make more money.” I was using that as a way to gauge success when that's really not the case. Yes, you need to have money, you need to live, but success is measured by, in my mind, by the people that you touch, the people who touch you, and the memories that you create together. 

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that you feel have helped you become the successful scientist and person you are?  

One of the challenges that I've faced is not having a PhD.  But I think I made it significant by judging myself for not having one. It wasn't just the external, it was more internal, which was limiting me. If you're good at what you do and you love what you do, that's what's going to show. That level of confidence means everything. If people had more belief in themselves and their abilities and weren't so worried about making a mistake, I think that people would go further. As soon as you take off the brakes, it’s endless, what you can do. You have to believe in yourself and trust yourself too. Trust your gut. Don't go against your gut. 

How has Studylog impacted you or your team?  

The one thing I'll say about Studylog is that I'm so excited to work with it again because it really is the best program out there and I've always believed that. When I worked with it at Novartis and then moved to the in-house support that we had, it just wasn't the same. It's going to make so much more available to us. We are a team of two and we're going to be able to produce like a team of four or eight because of this, so it's really going to help us, from data capture, end-to-end study, and being able to confidently rely on it, store it and use it. The biggest thing for me is recording the data and making sure that it's accessible for when I need it down the road. That's one of the things that I've faced with the last couple of years doing all these filings for the investigative new drug applications, and interfacing or inter liaising with the FDA. They want to see the actual raw data and going back and trying to find it can be challenging at times so I'm looking forward to having that layer of organization. It's going to be great. 

What would you say to people who prefer to use Excel because it is free?

Good luck. No, I mean, I would say to take a hard look at copy and paste errors and how much time you are going to have to spend to go back and double and triple check your data. You can't trust Excel. Excel is great with respect to getting a formula to do multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, things like that. You can do a lot of calculations, but you can mess things up. I did that. One thing that I did that resonates with me, and it's minor, but caused a lot of problems, is that we had a syngeneic cell line B16s and there are 3 derivatives F10, F1, & there's F0. They are similar but slightly different. And someone, made the mistake of dragging down the column from the B16F10 and we lost all of the reference data for cell lines that were from the F1 versus the F0. We had profiled each cell line for RNA, DNA and protein expression and it was all now lumped under the F10. So we lost that granularity, we lost that level of detail. That's just an example of how you can really mess yourself up with Excel if you're not careful. We probably spent a good week trying to figure that out by going back to all the old spreadsheets so I could compare and re-align the data as much as possible. And still the confidence in the data wasn’t there. You can go back and try to piece it together as much as you can, but you'll never have the confidence because they've been compromised. With Excel, you're just going to compromise your data.

What is your favorite Studylog feature?

Everything! I struggle to pick just one-how about my top 3 features which are: the randomization, the caging and the all-in-one reports. All of these features save me so much time and eliminate redundancy in data capture and entry.  Then the overall reason to use Studylog is the data integrity and the continuity of the program. That's what I really like. 

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the lab? 

What don't I do? I'm an avid snowboarder, so I'm up as often as I can. We usually go to New Hampshire to go skiing or snowboarding every weekend. It's so close right now, it's 2-4 hours away so it's pretty easy to get to where we want to be. I'm also an avid mountain biker all year round. So in fall, spring, summer, and winter, I have a fat bike that I can ride in the snow with, you can find me on the trails.  I race and also help coach the local youth mountain bike team so that is quite fulfilling.  I found such a strong and fantastic community out here. That's probably my number one passion but rivaled by snowboarding. My son mountain bikes and snowboards with me which makes it even better!