“My life and work are probably not completely balanced,” admits Diana J Gerbi. Gerbi generally works beyond 40 hours in a typical week. But she loves what she does, so the extra amount of work does not seem to bother her.
A senior technical manager at 3M Co., Gerbi knows what it takes to get her work done. And she is not afraid to go the extra mile to get it done right, even if it means she has to overcome obstacles, or push some boundaries. That determination has served her well in her professional achievements as well as personal endeavors.
In love with polymers
Born to a steel worker father and a homemaker mother in the Laurel Mountains of Pennsylvania, Gerbi was determined to make a successful career choice for herself at a very young age. Inspired by her 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Rankin, who made science, especially chemistry, fun, Gerbi decided to become a chemist, a decision she has never doubted.
After obtaining a master’s degree in organic chemistry and polymer science, Gerbi went to work for 3M Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota. To more effectively contribute to research and development at 3M, Gerbi, with the support of her employer, proceeded to pursue a PhD in material science from the University of Minnesota.
“If you are not well positioned to get the job you want, assess the credentials you need and go get them,” Gerbi recalls valuable advice she received early in her career.
The research experience Gerbi gained in the PhD program enabled her to make additional contributions at 3M, and the degree helped further her career advancement. In the following decades, Gerbi successfully led and managed multiple key corporate projects, which include a research program on nonlinear optical materials (a 3M crystallization experiment onboard a NASA Space Shuttle flight), and the development of adhesives and coatings for the electronics market. She also contributed to 3 patents along the way.
From the bench to management
Over the years, Gerbi’s responsibility at 3M gradually evolved from conducting basic research and technology development to managing research and development projects. Today she also helps foster research and development collaborations.
At her current position, Gerbi tracks metrics for key corporate projects. And she periodically communicates the progress of the projects with key stake holders, including management teams and decision makers from functional groups outside of Gerbi’s department.
While many scientists find people management draining, Gerbi enjoys it. In addition to her solid scientific background, she believes honesty and fairness have helped her to be a good manager. Plus, she “likes having a high level view of the company.”
Investing in others
It’s no doubt that Gerbi enjoys challenges. Yet, Gerbi is also passionate about developing others, especially the next generation of technical leaders.
“Diana is the one person I always seek out if I need advice, whether it's about professional development, managing people on my team, making the best science-based decisions, or just needing someone to bounce an idea off of,” says Fred LaPlant, a technical manager at 3M Corporate Research Analytical Laboratory.
“Since moving to management, Gerbi has become one of the primary advocates for personal and scientific development at 3M,” notes LaPlant. “And she has developed and promoted many of the tools that scientists are using to advance their technical and leadership abilities.”
In the past decade, Gerbi has extended her dedication well beyond 3M. As a co-chair of ACS’ Division of Polymer Chemistry Industrial Advisory Board, she tirelessly promotes networking opportunities, educational outreach, and award recognition for not only her coworkers at 3M but also members of the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry.
For her distinguished contributions to the chemical industry and the ACS community, in 2012 Gerbi was named an ACS Fellow, a recognition of which she is very proud.
A self-described boundary pusher, Gerbi never stops improving herself by overcoming challenges, at work and after work. To recharge, Gerbi exercises, reads, and dives into outdoor activities. Backpacking, canoeing, and Body Pump classes are her favorite activities outside of work. Challenges? Bring them on.
Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.