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Case Study: Stephanie

Personal details
Degree:BSc (Hons) Cell Biology and Pathology Profile picture
School(s): School of Biology
Year of Graduation:Jun-2007
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Source MDx
Job title: Research Associate
Occupational Sector: Science Research
What has been your route to getting your current position?

Kelly Scientific- a national recruiting company for scientific positions

Application Process
Sent in CV and covering letter, followed by a phone interview with the recruiter in charge of filling the position at Kelly Scientific, followed by an on-site interview at the company.

Selection Process
On-site interview at the company, from 9am-2pm, with the Executive Vice President, the Vice President of Laboratory Services, two panels of Research Associates and the Vice President of Finance and Administration. It was a very long and tiring day, and it was a bit of a challenge to not repeat myself over and over to my various interviewers. My tips would include brushing up on your knowledge of the company, staying calm, maintaining eye contact and being friendly and personable. Landing a position is as much about your people skills and ability to get along with others as it is about your technical skills.

What does your job involve ?
A lot of time in the beginning was devoted to training on the various Standard Operating Procedures and automated platforms. I then shadowed one of the Research Associates who had been with the company for 8 years and began helping her with her projects and honing my techniques. It’s been a year and a half now, and I am “Project Lead” on one of our prostate cancer studies. I am responsible for all the paperwork and administration, as well as the bulk of the lab work that comes along with this project. It’s a challenge in organization and managing people (and time!), but very rewarding.

I tend to work more that my salaried 40 hours/week, which is because I want to do well and be successful. It’s not a requirement of the position, and certainly there are people who work exactly 8 hours every day with the mindset that whatever isn’t finished can be tackled tomorrow. I think that in the bigger picture, I have been rewarded for my extra efforts with increased pay and an exceptional performance review.

Bearing the above in mind (managing people and working beyond expectations), there is certain to be competition between colleagues in the workplace, and while it is absolutely essential to maintain friendly working relationships, it can be difficult to be friends on a very personal level with colleagues. There will be plenty of people with whom you get along very well, and plenty of people with whom you won’t. But I think it helps to develop a bit of a thick skin and to put ego aside and do your part to participate in the team for the success of the company as a whole- and from that your individual success will be recognized.

What are the best bits of your job ?
A Day in the Life of ...

Get up and get ready for work

8.30 Arrive at office, go through e-mails, make coffee for the office, meet with colleagues to coordinate schedules so nobody will be stuck waiting for any of the automated platforms.

9.30 Defrost samples (e.g. cDNA previously synthesized from RNA extracted from whole blood of prostate cancer patients) and set up lab bench for work. Organize paperwork for the samples to be processed, create a schedule of tasks and timing for any colleagues assisting with the project

10.30 With samples thawed and ready for use, begin lab work (e.g. dilute cDNA and distribute into appropriate aliquots according to previously prepared calculations and layouts for loading onto Real-Time Quantitative PCR gene panels)

12.00 Break for lunch

12.30/1.00 Head back into the lab to finish lab work (e.g. use the automated liquid handlers to load the diluted cDNA into 96-well gene template plates, and convert to 384-well qPCR plates

3.30 Prepare calculations and layouts for the next day; review gene expression data generated from previously-run qPCR plates and enter into LIMS (laboratory information management system)

5.00 Go Home. Or, if there are administrative tasks needing attention, I stay late to work on those. We have an extensive LIMS system and a lot of required paperwork because every sample must be traceable and auditable from receipt of the whole blood or tissue sample, all the way through to the generation of qPCR gene expression data. Often times in the middle of a large project such as the one I’m currently working on, lab work takes up so much of the day that the paperwork and admin tends to get neglected, so I try to stay late or come in early or on the weekend to catch up.

Why were you successful?
If I had more work experience, specifically during summers off from university, I would have been a more appealing candidate for a Big Pharma company, and consequently would probably be earning a higher salary. That said, working for a smaller company allows me many opportunities to work “above my level” on challenging projects that I wouldn’t have a chance to see in a larger company. I think my degree from a top university (St. Andrews) was very helpful, as was completing an Honours research project and dissertation (not as common in the USA)
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?