Dr. Rani Sellers ’83

This season, BYSO alumni spotlights will feature alumni who are doing essential work during this time of crisis. Dr. Rani Sellers, PhD, DVM, ’83, Viola, has been a Vaccines Therapeutic Area Lead in Drug Safety at Pfizer Inc. for over 5 years, and most recently worked on the COVID-19 vaccine. Since its approval for use in December 2020, hundreds of millions of doses have been administered in the United States and around the world, and was recently approved to be administered to adolescents 12 through 15 years of age.

BYSO performance from 1983.

Rani recounted her time working on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as extremely stressful, but also very rewarding. “My time at Pfizer progressed from a relatively basic assortment of vaccines to this COVID vaccine project. It was absolutely the most fast-paced, exhausting project I’ve ever worked on in my life – the time from start to emergency use authorization was 9 months, and we were all working double-time to try to get a vaccine to help end the pandemic.”

“To be honest, when we first started, I was worried that a vaccine might not even be possible. But, it’s incredibly rewarding to see how well it has worked! I feel so honored to have played a role in helping get through this devastating pandemic. It was definitely a high point in my career.”

Rani’s role in Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine development was to make sure that the vaccine was safe and effective for use in people. “The fact that we ended up with a vaccine that was over 90% efficacious is really an amazing accomplishment and a very rewarding outcome!”

Rani noted the overlap in interest between individuals who are drawn to science and to music. “Music and science are both very integrative. Music is taking many parts and bringing them together to make a story. Science is like that, too – you might work in one specific area, but all of it has to come together to create something bigger. Both musicians and scientists think through the process, think about how the pieces fit together, and see the bigger picture.”

Rani continues to give back to BYSO in order to help the next generation of student musicians. “For me, the opportunity to play music at such a high level without support from (G)BYSO wouldn’t have happened. Money shouldn’t be a limiting factor for kids who have the passion or talent for music, and BYSO provides that for them. I benefited from that myself at a young age, and I would like to see that continue on.”

“It was certainly a very important part of my life, so I hope that people continue to fund programs like BYSO. It’s a great outlet for kids – the high school years are tough, and music gives you the chance to get out of your own head for a bit. You’re thinking about the music, and you’re fully present during rehearsal. For kids, that’s really important. I really commend the ongoing work of BYSO.”

Rani encourages our current BYSO students not to give up. “Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go your way. Sometimes things go well, and other times they don’t. But when they don’t, think of it as a character-building experience, and an opportunity to get better and move forward. Most of us who attend BYSO don’t give up easily, and this mentality will carry over into other areas of your life.”

“Pick yourself up and keep going. Do the best you can – whether it be contributing to making the best music possible, or the best vaccine, the idea is the same.”

Are you, or someone you know, a BYSO alumni with a cool or interesting story or life update to share? Contact Jessica Chen, Development & Alumni Relations Associate!