Our Stories

Tooling Up to Fight Brain Tumors

Sadie Tierney channels personal grief into new career path

Sadie Tierney
AbbVie Commercial Leadership Program- Business Development Hepatology

Vanderbilt MBA 2018

When her father died in 2012 of an aggressive brain tumor, Sadie Tierney reassessed her “great but relatively passive” life. “After going through such a tragedy,” she says, “it was difficult to wake up every day and be passionate about selling laboratory equipment” (her job at the time).

As part of her journey, she began traveling more. She took up SoulCycle. And after setting a goal to work for a company making strides in brain tumor research, she decided to pursue an MBA, hoping to augment her degree in biology with the business knowledge she lacked.

Ready for a change after a decade in San Francisco, Sadie searched for a city “that was not too big but not too small” where she could continue her education. She also wanted a school with a strong health care network. Vanderbilt met both criteria.

When she visited campus, she says, “I sat in on a class and met with a second-year over coffee. I instantly felt at ease. I didn’t feel the stress or stiffness I had felt when visiting other schools." 

That sense of community only grew stronger. In just her first few months in the program, she says, “I have seen this group of strangers help and support each other in ways I didn’t expect. When I was out of town during winter break, there was a water leak in my apartment. Several of my classmates moved all the furniture for me while I was on the other side of the country.”

As part of her course work, Sadie was able to work on an independent study project to develop a strategic and marketing plan for a local biotech company in the precision oncology space.

As she entered her second year, her goal was in sight. Over the summer, she received an internship in Chicago with Abbvie Pharmaceutical. The company is developing a drug, now in Phase III clinical trials, that targets GBMs — the type of tumor that took her father’s life. “One might say the stars have aligned,” Sadie says.



Fun Fact: Sadie’s experiences range from volunteering on a suicide prevention hotline to working as a surgical assistant at a hair transplant office in San Francisco. “I can explain what is happening with Trump’s hair,” she says.

“One might say the stars have aligned.”