Alum Sonja Tong to Speak at 2023 Convocation.
Alum Sonja Tong to Speak at 2023 Convocation
The 2005 SPH graduate and executive at Gilead Sciences, will serve as the alumni speaker at Convocation on May 20.
Sonja Tong (SPH’05), executive director and chief of staff for Regulatory Affairs, Patient Safety, Quality, and Medical Affairs at Gilead Sciences, has been selected as the alumni speaker for the 2023 School of Public Health Convocation.
Tong graduated with her BS in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was living in Boston and working as an associate in the Regulatory Affairs department of the biotechnology company Genzyme (now Sanofi) when she enrolled as part-time student in the MPH program at SPH. She went on to work in regulatory affairs at Indevus Pharmaceuticals and Cubist Pharmaceuticals while taking classes in epidemiology and biostatistics in the evenings.
“I remember the courses I was taking filled a lot of gaps in what I was working on in my professional life,” says Tong, who focused on drugs in clinical development during her early career. “There wasn’t any specific class or project that we did where I had that ‘aha!’ moment—it was this more continuous [process] over many nights in class where I realized, ‘Oh, that’s why we do it this way. That’s why this study looks like this. [That’s why] you report results this way, and not that way.’ I think it brought meaning to what I was doing and what I was seeing.”
The majority of Tong’s career has been spent writing product labeling, which she describes as the folded paper that comes with a prescription from the pharmacy and contains very fine print. Product labeling tells the physician and patient what the product is for, how to use it, safety considerations, and major research findings on its effectiveness and other characteristics. Whether she is writing labels or managing teams, Tong says that the perspectives and technical skills she gained during the MPH program help her to effectively communicate with a variety of audiences.
In Tong’s current role at Gilead Sciences, a San Francisco Bay Area biopharmaceutical company, she is involved in both regulatory affairs and medical affairs. The two groups at Gilead encompass almost 2,000 employees globally and have a broad scope: regulatory affairs interfaces with government health agencies around the world, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, and medical affairs connects with healthcare providers, as well as conducts outreach to specific patient populations, such as those living with HIV, hepatitis, or cancer.
Tong credits her success in her industry in large part to her MPH, and while she prefers writing to speaking, she says she is honored to be giving a speech at Convocation. She had already taken a job in California and was on a plane west at the time of her own ceremony.
Despite living thousands of miles from Boston, Tong says she is more active now in the SPH community than ever before. As a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, she enjoys keeping up with SPH affairs, providing her input on future directions for the School, and meeting other folks in her industry through the SPH alumni network. In her speech to the Class of 2023, she plans to encourage graduates to stay connected and give back.
“Culturally, where I come from, education is super important,” says Tong. “Having an MPH is an investment in yourself, it is an investment in your future, and it is an investment in the community.”
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