Alumnus Leverages Stevens Experience and Love for Biologics to Build a Successful Career in Biopharma Facility Management
Joe Shiminsky ’04 M.S. ’07 credits the Stevens co-op program and a chance encounter for starting him on a more than decade-long career path in the pharmaceutical industry
Joe Shiminsky ’04 M.S. ’07 loved math and science in high school, so engineering seemed like a good major to choose when considering his college options. Stevens Institute of Technology, with its top-notch reputation in the field, was just far enough from Shiminsky’s childhood home of Dunellen, New Jersey, to get away, he said, yet still close enough to maintain important family ties.
Shiminsky completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering at Stevens. But he credits the Cooperative Education Program specifically for ultimately leading him to his current position as senior director of manufacturing at global pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol Myers Squibb.
Unlike so many people, said Shiminsky, “I can honestly say I look forward to going to work every day.”
Finding direction through co-ops
Shiminsky’s first co-op experience was with Johnson and Johnson, where he had the chance to try his hand at analytical chemistry in a state-of-the-art lab. His second co-op job was with biopharmaceutical manufacturer ImClone Systems.
“ImClone is where I began to build a foundational understanding of biologics manufacturing,” Shiminsky said. “I had the opportunity to learn all of the unit operations and to interact with the engineers and scientists to really develop critical skills. This experience allowed me to get my first job after graduation without even needing a formal interview.”
Co-ops did more for Shiminsky than just provide him with skills and contacts in the field: they also helped him gain insight into his own goals and career preferences.
“The [Johnson and Johnson] experience made it clear that working in a lab setting was not what I wanted to do,” he said. “The work was too repetitive, and I did not think it would provide me the opportunities to really expand on engineering problem-solving.”
In contrast, Shiminsky fell in love with biologics processes while at ImClone. He also saw that biologics offered many different types of engineering opportunities to chemical engineers, which also made the specialty very attractive as a career path.
Hard work and good luck
Shiminsky spent four years at ImClone, commuting from his parents’ home. While heading to a job interview at another company, he happened to run into an acquaintance — a former ImClone executive who was now at Bristol Myers Squibb. Shiminsky followed up on their brief conversation and soon found himself working at a brand-new Bristol Myers Squibb facility in Devens, Massachusetts.
Having discovered that curiosity and hard work helped him climb the ladder at Imclone, Shiminsky put the same tools to work at his new job at Bristol Myers Squibb.
“The skills I learned from ImClone allowed me to be effective at providing technical support for the start-up of the state-of-the-art Bristol Myers Squibb large-scale cell culture facility,” he said. “This position gave me a chance to manage one or two people while continuing to exercise my technical skills and building my management tool kit.”
Seven years later, an opportunity presented itself to which Shiminsky immediately said yes.
“I had the opportunity to move into a higher-level role to help start up another manufacturing facility on the same campus and manage a larger team that was responsible for technology transfer and technical oversight of the process,” he said.
Shiminsky’s experience up until this point had involved managing technical employees, but now he was challenged to manage a manufacturing operations team.
“This gave me the chance to really flex my leadership tool kit and understand the different management styles that were needed to be effective,” Shiminsky said.
A dream job
Today, Shiminsky is the head of manufacturing for the Bristol Myers Squibb single-use clinical commercial launch manufacturing facility, also located in Devens. Smaller and more agile than the previous facility, it is ideally sized to rapidly transfer and produce small-batch medications for clinical trials and specialized biologics designed to extend peoples’ lives and improve their well-being.
“We manufacture protein-based therapeutics such as antibodies, fusion proteins and bio-specific proteins,” Shiminsky said. “These are targeted therapies used for the treatment of many different diseases such as cancer.”
He also finds the process of drug discovery both exciting and meaningful, he said.
“We are the only manufacturing facility approved to manufacture Opdualag, which is used to treat melanoma. I started working on that in 2016, and it was awesome to see it approved in 2022. Now the facility I manage supplies the market with that drug. I love being able to work with all of the teams at BMS to get these life-changing products to the clinic and to patients.”
Shiminsky sees the field of biologics as a great path for young chemical engineers. There’s tremendous competition for well-qualified job candidates, he said, and the opportunities are wide-ranging.
“There are all different kinds of jobs available. You can start as an operator or junior engineer, and within a year or two get a promotion and pivot into many other roles available at pharmaceutical companies similar to Bristol Myers Squibb,” Shiminsky said.
Advice for Stevens students
To current and prospective students, Shiminsky highly recommends being proactive and making good use of the Stevens co-op program.
“When you’re at school, you may not be sure if you should do it. But [co-op] gives you that real-life experience and makes you a much more attractive candidate when you graduate,” he said.
Once you land your first job, he added, it’s up to you to take advantage of opportunities as they arise — and to make opportunities when you can.
“No one else is going to develop you,” he explained. “You have to learn that you own your own development and your own destiny. That continues to expand your knowledge and build your foundation.”
Shiminsky has been proactive throughout his career, starting with his co-ops and continuing to the present day — a quality which he says leads to more open doors.
“When people see you’re asking questions and taking on more work, you start to get more opportunities,” he said. “Even now, every day is filled with challenges for me to continue to learn and grow from a technical and behavioral standpoint.”