Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Someone didn't like working at Gilead in Edmonton

Found on Glassdoor: 
Former Employee, more than 3 years
Toxic culture, terrible management
Feb. 18, 2022 - Research Scientist in Edmonton, AB


Decent compensation from a Canadian perspective. Better than most.

You will learn a lot because you have to do everything yourself.

Despite the management, most of the staff are excellent people and you'll love working with them.


Gilead is a company that pays lip service to its core values and claimed culture, yet does little (if anything) to uphold them, especially at the Edmonton site.

The Edmonton site, its process development department in particular, is dominated by a cut-throat culture, penny wise/pound foolish habits, scarcity mindset, fear-based (micro)management, and familiarity bias. Despite the name on the building, this is not real Gilead. It’s also not real pharma. The Edmonton site is treated like a second-class facility, and it's a wasteland of toxic culture, abusive and outdated management practices, and broken spirits. Some can tolerate it, but for many people of quality the only reason they work here is because there is nothing comparable in Edmonton, Alberta, or frankly most of Canada to which they can jump.

Also: you will quite literally be trapped at work on a regular basis due to freight trains blocking the ONLY EXIT from the newer campus buildings.

At the Edmonton site:

1) You will be swamped with pointless busy work that will distract from your goal of performing good science. The Edmonton site management refuse to hire people to handle lower-level tasks like stock room, consumables ordering, and other things, instead requiring people with advanced degrees to waste their time stocking shelves and moving plastic bottles around. This is a classic case of hiding costs by not measuring them.

2) You will observe a culture of bullying and intimidation. The primary motivator at Gilead Alberta is fear of screwing up, not desire to excel.

3) You will find out that “work lean” means “constantly understaffed”. Your requests for additional people on a project will be ignored. People will be moved without considering their development plan or soliciting their feedback.

4) You will be hounded constantly about pointless metrics so that management can feel accomplished in micromanaging you. You will be chastised if you don’t communicate every pen stroke to management. You’ll quickly realize that this micromanaging attitude extends to almost every aspect of work, with all decisions needing to be vetted by one person.

5) You will be treated like a second-class citizen, a worker for a CMO or other external organization. Gilead Alberta is looked down upon by the Foster City HQ and it often feels like people at Edmonton are not expected to be good scientists. The California HQ will see new initiatives and facilities to make workers happier, but not a penny will be spent on Edmonton because nobody cares whether workers there are happy.

6) You will see excellent people suffer because of poor managers who are never trained to improve, or who are apathetic, antagonistic, or motivated only by their own petty self-interest.

7) You will see obedience consistently valued over creativity both in hiring and in promotion.

8) You will see favouritism colour perceptions and influence promotion decisions.

9) You will see terrible workers coast by with few or no consequences. They will do such a poor job in the lab that they literally hamper progress on their projects, and yet nothing will happen. They will be shuffled to another program but will continue to poison the environment for years to come because nobody has the spine to fire consistent underperformers.

10) You will see endless initiatives claiming to want to do things such as eliminate bias, improve the employee experience, or encourage psychological safety go absolutely nowhere, with the explanation usually being something like “we did a training, so the problem no longer exists” or “we already do these things, no change needed”. Thus, nothing will ever change but management will pat themselves on the back for being so progressive.

11) You will see good ideas crushed to dust under the boots of technophobia and fear of change exhibited by site management. If any new idea costs anything or requires changes in a workflow you might as well forget about it.

12) You will realize that the culture is always reactive, not proactive. Investing time and research into new ideas is never encouraged unless it’s an EMERGENCY as required by a program, which means you’re learning under pressure, at risk, and without proper supports in place. By design. Every single time.

13) You will find little or no support for extracurricular initiatives until either the initiative accomplishes something for which site management wishes to take credit or it becomes embarrassing not to support it due to attention from corporate.

14) You will hear senior managers AT A SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATION say that conferences are “a waste of time” and that “you do not need to be a good scientist to be a good project lead”.

15) You will see rules and protocols flouted when it’s convenient for senior employees, while lower-level associates get chastised publicly for minor infractions. You will see management skimp on equipment due to budgetary concerns, sometimes resulting in major issues, which they try to cover up to avoid embarrassment.

16) You will spend at least a single digit percentage of your waking life waiting for freight trains to clear a crossing, because one of the buildings was built with a single exit, across a train track, next to a switching yard. You will hear management claim to be doing something about this for years. Nothing will ever be done about this because the highest-ranking senior managers do not work in the affected building, and they also have not quantified the amount of time wasted, so to them the problem doesn’t exist and can safely be ignored. You, however, will scream into your mittened fist at 6:30 PM on a pitch-black Friday evening in mid-January when your toes are numb and you’re still waiting for the train to clear.

Advice to Management

The adage about people leaving managers, not jobs, could not be more true. The management in process development is incredibly toxic and desperately needs to change.

Start actually listening to employees instead of pretending to. Learn how to fire poor performers. Get rid of the abusive managers. Do something. Do LITERALLY anything!

This is a pretty impressive rant. I typically do not post such reviews, but it was so detailed that I cannot help but marvel at both its specificity and its depth. Best wishes to Gilead folks in Edmonton. 


  1. Sounds like my time at a few Thermo Fisher Scientific sites too. Good colleagues, terrible management with favoritism and retaliation despite corporate saying otherwise, constant penny pinching, extremely lean staff, no direction upward unless you're customer-facing.

  2. TBH, a lot of the points are similar to how things are at my university.

  3. Worked at that site for a bit. Agreed with most of the points, especially the train preventing people to go to work on time. Here are some of my observations at that time:

    They feed everyone well. Gotta love Bagel
    Tuesdays. Free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Free lunch for everyone when they have guest speakers, or visitors from the Foster City HQ.

    Can learn about various chemistry methodologies and instruments quickly.

    Company RRSP and shares for employees.

    Salary seemed to be competitive. Good benefits too. I heard the Research Scientists and the higher-ups have really good salaries. Everyone was striving to reach to that level.

    Seemed to participate a lot of charity work.

    Encouraged professional development by covering staff's tuition/course expenses completely, and even set an alternative work hours to fit your courses' schedule.

    Everyone seemed to be nice, but everyone was busy enough such that they prioritized themselves first.

    Seemed like a lot of the staff of higher seniority (not necessarily higher position) called themselves the "manager" even though they did not have that title. Some of them also power-tripped.

    Weird and inefficient documentation (SOP, forms, etc.) system: there were the Foster City documentations and there were the Gilead Alberta documentations of the same methodologies. It only took some inconsistencies to cause some confusions and issues.

    Some projects had unrealistic timelines and you could be the only person running the project with no assistance due to lean operations. You were expected to meet the deadline or risk the performance discussion. That means staying way past your office hours with no OT (only to keep track of the hours yourself and take time off later, only if you are actually free).

    I felt that the labs were University of Alberta like. After all, many of their management are from the U of A.

    Talking to some of the colleagues there, some seemed miserable because they were stuck doing the same job for many years with no growth. It was also hard to find a chem job in a large pharma in Edmonton that paid competitively like Gilead. I had worked in other smaller pharmas, and they did not pay as well. Oil & Gas / Petrochemical companies pay well, but only to permanent full-time employees; they usually hire contract staff with really low salary for a long time before they decide if it is worthwhile keeping you. Don't get me started about the salaries, the benefits, and the company culture of environmental/commercial labs! Therefore, many of the Gilead staff continue to do the same thing over and over again with no room to grow.

    Finally, most of the work there were like CMO-like; the manufacture for Gilead Foster City. Some R&Ds would be like method development to find efficient and feasible ways to fit their product APIs manufacturing. Same goes with analytical methods. Otherwise, many of the methodologies had already need developed; they just need to scale-up, test-run, validate, and proceed to manufacture.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20