Meet Beth Walczak, Scientist at BD Genomics


Beth picture

Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

My daily activities are centered around product development for a yet-to-be commercialized single cell genomics platform. This includes molecular biology bench work, data analysis, and almost daily planning/data sharing meetings with a multidisciplinary team of engineers and scientists. The atmosphere is fast-paced and very collaborative with a ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach. Everyone on our team has very distinct expertise and experiences that help drive the project through its challenges quickly. This is very different from my grad school experience, where I was solely responsible for driving a huge project that crept forward in tiny increments.

How did you get your first job out of academia?

*Drum roll*…Networking! I took advantage of networking opportunities through groups like Association of Women in Science (AWIS) and Women in Bio (WIB). I had a great mentor through the Stanford/AWIS mentorship program who put me in contact with people working science in different capacities. I met a lot of wonderful people who were more than willing to meet for coffee/lunch and informational interviews. One of these lunches brought me together with a fellow AWIS-er who had biotech start-up experience. As luck would have it, her company had an opening for the kind of position I was looking for, in a field I was very interested in. She gave me some resume advice and her boss’s email address. Shortly thereafter I had an interview and joined the start-up as employee number 30. The company was acquired a few weeks later, so I quickly became employee number ~45,000. Needless to say, it’s been a very interesting experience.

Tell us about your academic background 

I studied Microbiology and Genetics at Michigan State and then obtained a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan.  For my thesis, I studied how different cell signaling pathways turned genes on or off in stem and progenitor cells of the adrenal gland in mouse models. Mouse adrenals are tiny and don’t lend well to technologies that require a lot of starting material (next-generation sequencing methods used in those years). I faced a lot of technical setbacks and spent most of my time troubleshooting for methods development. While the challenges I faced were frustrating, it was the first glimmer that product and assay development is where my passion is. As much as I was interested in the question behind the science, I was more interested in developing methods that made research possible. Despite wanting to leave academia, my thesis committee encouraged me to do a postdoc to ‘leave my options open.’ I was relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area and was fairly naïve about all the different kinds of opportunities out here. For me personally, a short postdoc was a good idea because it gave me a chance to learn a new field, expand my skill-set time, build a network and explore job prospects locally.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

Everyone says “Network!” and I couldn’t agree more. In addition to that, highlighting what you’ve gained from the rough spots in your training is equally important as discussing all the great things you’ve accomplished. For example, I spent two years in grad school working very hard on a project I had to shelve because of insurmountable technical issues. From that experience I gained resilience and incredibly valuable assay development skills that helped me land my current job.

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