|MadSci Network: Genetics|
Hi Robbie - Sorry you had so much trouble finding someone to interview! I'll answer your questions gladly, but you should know from the start that, although I used to work in genetic research, I don't actively work in this area any more. I still work as a scientist, and I did discover a gene - hope that's good enough for what you need! I did my best to keep my answers short, but this is going to be a pretty long post anyway - hope you don't mind! Anyway, here goes: 1. What is your job title? 2. Who do you work for? 3. How long have you worked in this position? I'll answer these three together. When I worked in genetic research, my job title was Research Assistant Professor. I worked in the Department of Pathology, Anatomy, and Cell Biology at Thomas Jefferson University Medical School, Philadelphia, PA, and I worked there for 5 years. for 3 years before that I was a postdoctoral fellow in the same department. In 1997 I left that job and became a Clinical Research Scientist for SmithKline Beecham, a large pharmaceutical company. 4. What are your primary responsibilites at your job? Although these jobs are different in many ways, my primary responsibility has always been to do research! My lab at Jefferson was interested in “craniofacial development” - how the head and face are formed in animals and humans. As a clinical scientist for a drug company, I work to develop new drugs to treat sick patients. In both cases, my job has been to help identify areas we needed to know about, design experiments that would help get information about these areas, and do the experiments (actually, in clinical research we get practicing doctors to actually do the experiments for us, since they involve treating patients! But we tell them what the experiments are and how to do them). After the experiments are done, I discuss the results with my colleagues and together we decide what they mean, and how we can use those results to plan the next experiments. So the responsibilities of both my former and my current job are pretty similar - it’s just the way of doing them that’s different. 5. What made you interested in the job? I was always interested in science when I was growing up, and biology was my favorite science of all. I guess I was in high school when I realized that I could be a biologist for my job, and after that I never thought about anything else. The funny thing is that I never liked dissecting or anything like that in my biology classes - I always hated the smell! But I was fascinated by cells, chromosomes, genes, and biochemistry - the chemical reactions that living cells do. That’s what really caught my interest. 6. What room for promotion or advancement do you have at this job? I think there is a lot of room for advancement in my current job. I think the opportunities at my previous job (working in the lab) were fewer - that’s one of the reasons I left! But any job in science is very competitive, and you have to work very hard and be very good at what you do in order to advance. 7. What training did you need for this job? After graduating from high school, I took a few years away from school, because I knew that if I wanted to be a biologist I would need to spend many years in training and I wanted to take a break first! So I joined the Army and worked there as a medical lab specialist - I thought that that would give me a taste of what it was like to work in a lab and I could tell if I liked it. I did! After leaving the Army I spent four years in college, then went to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in biology. After getting my Ph.D. I took a position as a “postdoctoral fellow” - this is extra training that Ph.D.s can take to help get experience as an independent researcher. Almost all biologists take this sort of training - it’s not as common in other areas of science. So counting college, grad school and postdoc, I was “in training” for 12 years! That's a long time, but it takes that long to learn to identify problems, think critically, and communicate results, which are the most important parts of a scientist's job. Compared to that, learning how to work in the lab was the easy part! 8. What do you like about your job? My favorite thing about doing genetic research in the lab was knowing that every day I had the chance to see something that no one on Earth had ever seen before. There is nothing that matches the feeling you get when you see something for the first time, and you know it’s your discovery, and for a little while you’re the only one in the world who knows that particular thing. Then you get to be the one who tells this secret to the world! Usually it’s just a little thing - big discoveries don’t come along all that often - but it’s your discovery! As a clinical scientist, the thing I like most is knowing that the drugs I help to develop can help millions of sick people get better and live healthy lives. I also enjoy working as part of a team - the people I work with in this job are the best! 9. What do you dislike about your job? There were two things I disliked about being a lab researcher at a medical school. First of all, as I said before, there’s not a huge amount of room for advancement, and there’s tremendous competition for the few positions there are. Secondly, you depend a lot on being able to get research grants from the government and other organizations that sponsor research, and those grants are very difficult to get. Without them, though, you have no way to do your research. A lot of very good scientists have had to leave the laboratory because there were not enough grants to go around. In my current job, working for a large company, I have rules I have to follow to do almost everything in my job. Sometimes the way I have to do a job isn’t the way I’d do it if I could do it the way I thought it was best to do. I guess that’s something I dislike about my job. But I understand that when you are on a team, and working with other teams, it’s important that everyone is doing things in the same way. So although I may not always like or agree with some of the rules, I know why we have them! 10. What do you see as your job 15 years from now? There are a lot of things I could be doing 15 years from now. I could be supervising a group of clinical scientists doing the same sorts of things I am doing now, helping to develop a new compound into a useful drug. I could be working in regulatory affairs, keeping up with government regulations on developing drugs and making sure the clinical trials teams design their experiments to follow these rules. What I would most like to be doing is looking at the different compounds that the scientists in the labs discover and helping to decide which ones would make the best drugs for the clinical trials teams to work on. PHEW! Long answer! But I hope it helped you out. I'm glad you enjoy science and hope you continue to enjoy it the rest of your life - even if you don't pursue it as a career, it's a lot of fun and very rewarding. It will also be important for you as a citizen to have a good understnding of science, because so much of our society involves the use of science and technology. Keep trying to get in touch with scientists in your area, and learn as much as you can! Best wishes - Wayde M. Weston, Ph.D.
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