How to Train Your Instrument Service Team in a Pandemic

Service engineers engaged in remote instrument training.

When the Spectrum Compact CE System launched in June 2020, all the instrument service engineers that are part of the Promega Global Service & Support (GSS) Team needed to be trained on using and fixing the instrument. This is a challenging endeavor in the best of times, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult. Thanks to the work of some dedicated teams and individuals, Promega service engineers around the world were able to receive remote instrument training. But how do you teach someone to repair an instrument when you can’t be in the same room?

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How the Pandemic Changed Us

This past year has been a challenging one for most of us. The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed the way we live. We are working from home, our kids are learning online, we can’t gather with friends and family, we are wearing masks, we no longer attend in-person events. All of this change around us has profoundly affected us in many ways.

We asked our Promega colleagues how the pandemic changed their lives and how they adapted. How are they feeling? What keeps them going? What lessons have they learned? And what good has come out of it? Here’s what they said.

Photo credit: Johanna Lee
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Exploring the Virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree with iGEM Concordia

Today’s guest blog about the 2020 virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree is written by Lancia Lefebvre, Team Leader of iGEM Concordia.

AstroBio database for differential gene expression

After a year of full-time work, I joined our team of 16 undergraduate students to live-stream the virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree from the isolation of our respective apartments. Together in a separate zoom call and Facebook chat, we fired off messages as awards were announced. ‘OMG Toulouse won best poster! Did you see Aachen’s project?’ Then came the Software Track award, our track, and boom! “Concordia-Montreal are the Software Track Winners for iGEM Giant Jamboree 2020!”

Firework and heart emojis exploded in our chat and on my zoom call, mouths gaped in shock and pride. Our AstroBio database for differential gene expression in microgravity conditions had won! Innumerable lines of code; hours of consultation with NASA bioinformaticians, bioethicists and coding pros; detailed graphic design; and most of all passionate teamwork had brought us this distinction. A gold medal and an inclusion nomination soon followed. This nomination we hold close to our heart as we continuously collaborate on a safe, warm and welcoming team structure. Supporting each other and working together are core iGEM values, which lead to collaborative and stronger solutions to world problems through the application of synthetic biology solutions.

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The Impact of Positive Self-Talk: A Next-Level Story

Today’s blog is written by Malynn Utzinger, Director of Integrative Practices, and Tim Weitzel, ESI Architect.

Last month in this series, we posed to you that the most important decision you’ll ever make is the one about how to respond to the circumstances of your life – the story you tell yourself when the rough patches of life show up. Because of our brains’ wiring, we tend to spin self-defensive and blaming stories as a first line of defense until we learn to pause, check in with ourselves, and cultivate a narrative of more generative possibilities.
This month, we promised you a next-level story that shows the outer impact that happened when one person changed his self-talk.

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Demystifying What It Means to Be Good Enough…

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Elizabeth Smith, PhD, Field Client Support Specialist at Promega

As a person of color (POC), I would like to share my story to raise awareness on how important diversity programs are in my community and how they helped to shape my career. My hope is that it will inspire the younger generation and provide insight into a different perspective. Growing up, I always felt like there was something great out there for me to achieve. As a young child, never did I imagine that I would have what it takes to obtain a PhD. This was not on my radar as a young student, and not something that I thought would ever be in my future. I did not see people that looked like me reflected in this space, so I never considered it early on.

I knew that I wanted to go to college with a science focus, but I did not really explore what life would look like or should look like after that. What I was sure of was being involved in science in some way. Whenever, someone asked my younger self, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer would always be, “A Scientist!” All throughout elementary and high school, I focused on science related courses and did very well. This enabled me to apply for and receive a full undergraduate scholarship.

At this level of my education, I felt like I had to prove to everyone, and even myself, that I belonged here. That I was deserving of this scholarship and placement at the university. That I was good enough to receive a bachelors.

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A Virtual Visit with the National Young Researcher of the Year

Gayetri Ramachandran taught her first university class during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the online course was successful overall, it was a strange experience to teach without being able to see the students.

Gayetri Ramachandran, the first recipient of the National Young Researchers Prize by Promega France

“If you’re giving a seminar and you can’t see the other person, it’s extremely difficult,” says Gayetri, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut Necker Enfants Malades in Paris, France. “If they’re sleeping, I can’t see them. It’s fine, you can sleep, but if I can’t see that you’re sleeping, then I can’t get that feedback in real time.”

Earlier this summer, Gayetri had another opportunity to give an online presentation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel plans, she was scheduled to visit the Promega Headquarters in Madison, WI, to tour the facilities and meet with R&D scientists. Instead, Gayetri presented her research to a group of Promega scientists in the first Promega Virtual Customer Experience Visit.

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7 Tips for Creating an Individual Development Plan

Today’s guest blog is written by Jayme Miller, a Human Resources Generalist at Promega, who has some tips for creating an IDP that will help you achieve your goals. Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are common career development tools used in industry, and there has been a push for PhD programs to incorporate career development tools such as IDPs. By creating an IDP, employees and students both have a formal way to communicate their career goals and help them stay on track.

There is one question I am frequently asked by candidates during the interview process—“Is employee development a focus at this organization?” Employees frequently tell me they are looking for employers and opportunities where they will have the ability to learn, grow and develop. While that all sounds great, it is important to have an upfront and transparent discussion about roles, responsibilities and expectations when it comes to employee development.

Many organizations indicate that they have an employee development “program” at their organization, but when they begin talking about their program, they describe their performance management process. Often, they will describe how employees are evaluated and provided feedback from their manager. Feedback is a key component for employee development, but it is up to the employee to use that feedback to create action items that will give them the opportunity to learn and grow.  

Often employees believe that employee development is something provided by companies to employees, that it is something that employers make happen for employees. Good organizations will offer continuous learning opportunities and a feedback culture that allows employees to learn and grow. However, no employee development program will work for an employee who is not fully engaged in their own development and does not take ownership over the process. It is ultimately the employee’s responsibility to ensure they are actively taking the steps to develop within their role and within their organization.  

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Tips for Attendees: Making the Most of a Virtual Conference

Today’s blog was written by guest bloggers Tara Luther, Marketing Specialist Genetic Identity, and Allison Suchon, Manager of Tradeshows and Events at Promega.

2020 has been a year of changes for all of us. We’ve learned how to keep in touch while physically distancing. We’ve learned how to work from home with furry coworkers who encourage us to break from the traditional 9–5 routine. We’ve learned how to make changes to our labs to stay safe and productive.

For many of us, this will also be the first time that we attend a virtual conference. While it’s easy to focus on what we’ll be missing by not gathering together, there are advantages to moving to the virtual space. By making the most out of your virtual experience, you’ll be able to walk away with valuable insights, a robust network, and insights that you can use in your own lab.

To help, we’ve put together a list of tips that will help you maximize your experience at any virtual conferences you attend.

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Working Through Change: Quality Assurance Insight on Change Orders and Life

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Erin Schuster, Quality Specialist at Promega.


Change is not easy. It can be challenging and even frustrating at times. Yet, the outcome of change can be incredibly beneficial and rewarding. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are finding ourselves in out-of-the-norm situations and circumstances. Change may be exactly what we need in order to adapt and move forward.

Erin works from home during the coronavirus crisis.

As a quality assurance specialist, I’m very familiar with the processes that can be associated with change. In order to make changes related to the design, manufacture or testing of medical devices and related products, an organization must have clearly defined expectations and instructions within Standard Operating Procedures. Procedures are a key component of the quality management system. Not only do they communicate best practices, but they’re required for compliance to applicable regulations and standards. These procedures, regulations, and standards help ensure products are safe, effective and of high quality.

Unlike changes to medical devices, the process to make life changes does not have a standard operating procedure. Best practices may vary from person to person. There are no regulations or standards to follow. Left to our own devices, we may procrastinate and never quite get around to making the change. Or if unsure of how to even begin, we may feel anxious and overwhelmed, giving up before even starting. I have experienced both scenarios and know I will again.

I am a quality assurance specialist, and I am also a human being. I have made many changes to myself and aspects of my personal life, as well as having supported many change orders and product changes throughout my career. Reflecting on these experiences, I realize there are universal themes within the change control process and change orders that can be extended to any kind of change.

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Jon Campbell Is Challenging Classic Models of Metabolic Disease

Jonathan Campbell, PhD, asked me to write that he is taller and a bit more handsome than most scientists. I will neither confirm nor deny those assertions, but I will acknowledge that Dr. Campbell has a unique way of describing his recent collaborations and research on metabolism and Type 2 diabetes.

“The rest of the world has been thinking that it’s almost like the emperor has no clothes,” he says. “But we’re the guys who came right in and said ‘Hm, that dude’s naked.’”

Lumit Immunoassays give Jon Campbell's lab better results with an easier workflow.

On March 13, only a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread shutdowns in Wisconsin, Jon visited the Promega headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin to meet with R&D scientists and discuss opportunities for new technologies. Over the course of a few hours, Jon and his collaborator Matthew Merrins, PhD, demonstrated how their research challenges dogma and could fundamentally change our understanding of postprandial metabolism. For five decades, the paradigm of glucose control focused on a model that positioned insulin and glucagon as diametrically opposing forces to raise or lower glycemia. As Jon states, things did not always add up.

“For years, everybody has been saying ‘Glucagon is the antithesis of insulin,’ right? Insulin is a good guy. It makes glucose come down. Glucagon is a bad guy. It makes glucose go up. And these two are in this cosmic battle against each other over the control of glycemia. Well, we asked, ‘Why do the beta cells that secrete insulin have glucagon receptors?’ And as you follow the breadcrumbs, you find that these two things are actually working in cooperation. Without that cooperation, the whole thing falls apart,” Jon says.

The Incretin Effect

In addition to exploring the complex biology of glucagon, Jon’s lab studies the Incretin Effect, a mechanism by which the gut influences the secretion of insulin in the pancreas. Past research revealed that rises in blood-glucose matched closely whether glucose was administered orally or intravenously. However, the amount of insulin secreted was 3—4 times higher following oral intake. This is a result of the actions of GLP1 and GIP, the two major human incretins. GLP1 and GIP bind to G-protein coupled receptors in the beta cells of the pancreas to induce insulin secretion. Insulin then acts to promote glucose uptake, reducing glycemia. Many researchers believe that dysfunction of the incretin mechanisms contributes to the reduced insulin secretion seen in individuals with Type 2 diabetes.

“If we can understand the mechanisms of the incretin effect,” Jon says, “We may be able to understand the pathophysiology driving Type 2 diabetes. My hope is that people are going to realize that diabetes is not just a glucose disease. Maybe we have been looking at this too much from a glucose-centric viewpoint. Clearly, glucose is a big problem with diabetes, but it’s not just glucose. This is a metabolic disease, and in order to understand how to fix a metabolic disease, you need to look at all the metabolites and the way overall metabolism is dysregulated.”

Research on the incretin effect has already supported the development of two new classes of drugs for Type 2 diabetes: GLP1R agonists and DPP4 inhibitors (DPP4 is an enzyme that degrades GLP1).

“We collaborate with industry quite a bit, especially pharmaceuticals. We are helping them understand the mechanism of action by which their drugs may work, and that funding has allowed us to expand and grow our program a lot in our first five years. I like to bridge that line between basic and translational science—translating basic science into the clinic.”

The Search for New Technology

Jon wasn’t visiting Promega in mid-March with the goal of seeing the world before COVID-19-related travel restrictions were announced. He’s constantly looking for new collaborations in which both parties can bring something unique to the table. Jon was one of the first to try the new Lumit™ Insulin and Glucagon Immunoassays, which he says are easier to use and have produced better results in his work with glucagon than radioimmunoassays or ELISAs.

“People like Promega scientists say they have a new technology, and they’re looking for someone to try it out it in real-world situations. I don’t have that kind of technology, but I know how to apply it, so there’s a lot of value there. It’s a no-brainer to talk to people about how we can find synergy when the two of us both bring something like that to the table. For some applications, the Lumit™ assays are blowing out whatever we can do, and they’re also incredibly easy to use. So that was a significant improvement in our workflow.”

When asked what he hopes to accomplish in the next few years, Jon similarly points to innovative technology and techniques.

“We have to say, ‘What’s the next innovative step forward, and what new tools can we bring?’ We need to figure out new ways to interrogate the systems that we’re interested in. Then we can start to strip away new biology. If we ask the right question and we answer definitively, we’ll end up with three more questions. Which is great, because we’ll always have more work to do.”


Lumit™ Immunoassays provide a simple and fast alternative to conventional immunoassay methods including sandwich ELISAs and Western blots. Learn more here.

Working on diabetes research? Read more about Promega assays to measure insulin activity in real time.