PNAS: Will Hendrick, (Former) Biomedical Technician

(This post is part of the new round of interviews of non-academic scientists, giving the responses of Will Hendrick, who worked as a lab tech before returning to school. (This may seem like an odd inclusion, but there are people who do this sort of thing forever, so I think it's valid.) The goal is to provide some additional information for science students thinking about their future careers, describing options beyond the assumed default Ph.D.--post-doc--academic-job track.)

1) What is your non-academic job?

My official job title was 'Biological Materials Technician', and I worked for TechLab, Inc. TechLab produces rapid diagnostic test-kits for a variety of intestinal diseases, with the largest being Clostridium difficile Associated Diarrhea (CDAD). My primary job was to screen incoming biological materials for acceptability. This typically meant screening antiserum for immunoreactivity against the appropriate antigen, and examining cross-reactivity of the antiserum with inappropriate antigens. As time went by, I branched out into some very minor Process Development (improving in-house screening assays), purification of antibodies, and growth of C. difficile and purification of it's toxins.

2) What is your science background?

I have a B.S. in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech. I graduated in 2009. I am also currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Microbiology.

3) What led you to this job?

I had a dishwashing job for about a year in the biochemistry teaching lab. My professor saw that I had a good work ethic (it takes motivation to scrub test tubes at 7AM), and that I was doing well in the course. He is friends with several people who work at TechLab, and put in a good word for me. I was offered a job shortly after that. So, essentially, networking and taking a 'crap' job seriously.

4) What's your work environment like?

I spent approximately six hours out of an eight and a half hour work day at my lab bench.

5) What do you do in a typical day?

A typical day would consist of screening antiserum by Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay (ELISA) and Crossed Immunoelectrophoresis (XIEP). As time went by, I took on additional duties, such as growth of bacterial cultures and purification of proteins, both of which vary greatly from day-to-day.

6) How does your science background help you in your job?

My biochemistry degree helped me to understand the underlying principles in both the screening assays I used and purification techniques. For example, why does Protein X bind to resin Y in Buffer Z, but elute in Buffer B? Things of that sort.

7) If a current college student wanted to get a job like yours, how
should they go about it?

Networking, and taking any and all jobs, no matter how unglamorous, seriously.

8) What's the most important thing you learned from science?

Negative results can be just as informative as positive. And, ultimately, biological materials never, EVER, behave the same from day to day or batch to batch. The organism always wins!

9) What advice would you give to young science students trying to plan
their careers?

While at your university, talk to your professors! If you show genuine interest and ability, they may know of opportunities for you!

10) (Totally Optional Question) What's the pay like?

I made $30,000 per year, salary.

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