UCI Affiliation: PhD & Postdoctoral Alumna, Neurobiology & Behavior
Current Position: Clinical Genomic Scientist I at Ambry Genetics in Aliso Viejo, CA
Current Industry: Biotechnology, Genetic Diagnostics
What is your current position and what do you like most about it?
I evaluate the new literature that proposes gene-disease relationships to determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to be diagnostically relevant. So I’m not doing bench science but a lot of reading on new findings and then scoring them to see if they are sufficient evidence.
What skills do you use on a daily basis in your current position?
I learned in grad school how to organize and lead groups to work towards a goal despite having different opinions. I get to use that a lot in industry because I am trying to bridge a lot of people in different projects and different departments. It’s also a valuable skill to know the experimental methods they’re using in scientific publications. I also understand their conclusion and what they’re trying to hint at that could be done later. That’s the specific utility of having a PhD in my position. Although I’m not designing experiments, I’m testing published experiments against what I think they should be.
Did GPS-BIOMED activities enhance these skills?
I really liked the science communication course with Sandra Tsing Loh. I think it helped me hone my job talk because I was able to start off with a more dramatic introduction and emphasize why it was important to do this research in addition to just the super detailed data.
The regulatory affairs course in particular was very beneficial for me to have on my C.V. or resume because it showed employers that I was committed to expanding my skill set. I had that on the top of my resume along with my other education and that was super helpful.
How did you obtain your position? Which people or experiences helped more than others?
I was the postdoc representative for my department and helped organize the department retreat. As part of that, we decided to have a breakout session featuring alumni working in the biotech industry to come in and talk about their experiences. We had one person from Ambry Genetics come in who was actually a former student of the department chair. She was so enthusiastic about her job and the company and said that she felt like she was still doing science. So, I applied and got invited for an interview. When I went in, I told them [who had told me about the position] and I believed that helped.
What went into your ultimate decision to select your current position or career path?
When I went to grad school, I was interested in academia because at that point that was the main path that I knew about. When I was a postdoc, I did some soul searching and decided I could still be a scientist even if I didn’t do bench work. I was no longer aiming to stay at the bench so when I started looking for a job, I applied to a lot of different things that were relevant to my experience.
What advice would you give to participants who are new to GPS-BIOMED or who are beginning their career preparation?
The thing that made the most difference was volunteering to be a postdoc representative, organizing things and going out of my way to get involved. You gain exposure to more people and you develop stronger connections with them if you’re actually leading a project, rather than if you’re just attending a seminar.
Another thing that I learned to do at the beginning of every quarter, was to determine three goals, write them down, and write down what it would take to accomplish them. I would create a contract with my mentor so that whatever I was working on that quarter, I had a realistic expectation of what I could get done. That really helped me set long term goals, break them down into smaller pieces, and then achievable steps.
Working with other people is important. We look to hire somebody who we won’t mind working with. The philosophy that has benefited me the most is remembering that it’s always worth going up to somebody and introducing yourself. Even if you feel intimidated because they are a fantastic researcher, they may have some cool hobbies/interests that you can chat about. It can help develop a great connection. Now that I’m in industry, the ability to express myself and talk about science has been hugely beneficial. So, don’t be afraid to approach people because that can lead to new things like a new job or a new career. Don’t be afraid to take risks.