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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A Quick Guide To Finding That Next Step After A Post-Doc

On February 13, 2020, a group of post-docs from the University of Wisconsin – Madison had the opportunity to spend a day at the Promega headquarters in Fitchburg, WI. Throughout the day, the group heard from a list of speakers including Tom Livelli, VP of Life Sciences, and representatives from Technical Services, Sales, R&D and Marketing. The day concluded with a tour of the Feynman Manufacturing Center, where attendees saw production and packing lines, as well as training and QC labs.

Promega employees and UW Post-Docs having lunch

On February 13, 2020, a group of post-docs from the University of Wisconsin – Madison had the opportunity to spend a day at the Promega headquarters in Fitchburg, WI. Throughout the day, the group heard from a list of speakers including Tom Livelli, VP of Life Sciences, and representatives from Technical Services, Sales, R&D and Marketing. The day concluded with a tour of the Feynman Manufacturing Center, where attendees saw production and packing lines, as well as training and QC labs.

“It’s always encouraging as a scientist to hear about how each person is different and how they’ve had different twists and turns,” says Alexa Heaton, a post-doc studying immunotherapy interactions in mice. “It’s great to hear from such a range of people and the different job types I could consider.”

To recap the day, we’ve captured a few of the biggest takeaways below.

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Tales from the Trenches: Career Growth in Biotechnology

Building a successful career in the biotechnology industry is really just a series of transitions from one role to another. But the devil is in the details—when to make a change, how to create opportunities and who can be your champion as you pivot. So how do you navigate these factors to keep your career goals on course?

Bob Weiland answers a question posed by Michele Smith at the MS Biotech Alumni Symposium.

I recently attended a symposium (presented by the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program, of which I’m an alum) that addressed this topic through the lens of one individual with a storied career in the industry. Bob Weiland currently serves on the Board of Directors for CymaBay Therapeutics. He has held various roles, from sales and marketing to operations and strategy, within large, established companies (Abbot, Baxter, Takeda) and smaller ones (Pacira Pharmacueticals). He drew on this wide-ranging experience to provide advice to professionals at all career stages.

Bob began the talk by declaring that there will be points in your career when you reach a “hard spot” and will need to transition, whether to a new role, company or even industry, to meet your career goals. He suggested a good starting point is simply to be thinking about making a change. But in the same breath he emphasized, “What are you doing about it?” He identified four distinct actions that you can take to ensure role changes and career transitions support your professional growth and development.

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A Conscious Decision to Change Careers Should Not Be Mistaken for Failure

A recent PNAS article tracked the careers of scientists in three different fields based on research paper authorship. They found that, over a 50-year span, there was a dramatic reduction in how long scientists remained in each field, which they termed “survivability.” More than half of the scientists that started out in the 1960s published in their field for an average of 35 years, while about half of scientists starting in the 2010s published in their field for an average of 5 years1. Tracked academic researchers were classified into three categories: transients (authors who had only one publication during their career), dropouts (authors who stopped publishing at various career levels), and full-career scientists (authors who continue to publish in the field). Overall, the data showed that there are an increasing number of transients that contribute to scientific papers. Thus, the authors of the PNAS article concluded that the demographics in those academic fields are shifting toward scientists who leave the field quickly. The observed increase in the number of scientists who are temporarily in academia makes sense, given the number of PhDs relative to the limited number of faculty positions and permanent staff scientist roles. However, the terms “survivability,” “transients,” and “dropouts” give the impression that leaving academia means that these scientists have ended their career or failed.

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Biotech Manufacturing: A Good Machinist is Critical for Your Laboratory Reagents

Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.
Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.

It can be easy to forget that Promega is a manufacturing business. Hidden within the well-designed walls of the company’s cGMP Feynman Center, as well as in other facilities on the Madison campus, technicians operate hundreds of machines that manufacture, dispense and package Promega reagents day in and day out. Keeping those high-tech machines running at peak performance is critical, requiring immense skill, precision and even artistry. That’s where Promega Machinist Technician Travis Beyer comes in.

“I get to make stuff,” says Travis who is not afraid to show his enthusiasm for his craft while describing the best part of his job. “There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.”

 I get to make stuff. There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.

The da Vinci Center, another artfully designed building on the Madison campus, houses the Promega machine shop where Travis does his work designing or improving on parts for newer manufacturing equipment or reverse engineering broken or worn parts no longer available for older equipment that still serves its purpose. He makes every machine part imaginable from drive shafts to sensor brackets to filling forks, and his work is critical to manufacturing businesses like Promega, where a downed piece of equipment can cause costly production delays.

An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.
An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.

As he explains, not many manufacturing companies the size of Promega have a fully capable machine shop. They usually send out their work, meaning longer lead times and more expense. But, as its distinctive architecture suggests, Promega is not like many other companies. Continue reading “Biotech Manufacturing: A Good Machinist is Critical for Your Laboratory Reagents”