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Lab Techs Working in the Trenches of Science

Medical researcher examining specimen in lab

The pharmaceutical industry in the US continues to grow. Many analysts believe continued and even accelerated growth for the life sciences category will be fueled by the emergence of biopharmaceuticals. According to a 2014 McKinsey report, “Biopharmaceuticals are among the most sophisticated and elegant achievements of modern science. Biopharmaceuticals could become the core of the pharmaceutical industry, but not without significant transformation in the laboratory and in strategy, technology, and operations.”

Who are these people?

As McKinsey suggests, finding the right people to manage this industrial transformation is critical to business success. At Aerotek we’ve been specializing in sourcing talented people for the life sciences industry for more than 22 years. Just as the industry evolves, so does our appreciation for the type of people suited to help our clients compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

In the past few years, the jobs market for this category has become as dynamic as the industry itself. A wide diversity of people are entering the industry as laboratory technicians. Some of the contractors we place as “lab techs” are on the fast-track towards a career as a scientist. Some People are eager to work in a science-related industry, with others seeking a new opportunity in a growth field.

Destined for science – one woman’s tale

Then there’s Catherine Murray. Catherine works at a global provider of drug delivery technology and development solutions as a laboratory coordinator. She inspired us with her story about how she got there, and where she sees herself going in her pharmaceutical research career.

Aerotek contract employee Catherine Murray shares her experience working with a recruiter to find a job as a lab tech

“I always knew I wanted to work in science somehow, and when I got to college, I started out as a forensics science major. I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t for me. I wanted a broader foundation in science. So, I switched my major to biology with a minor in chemistry and ended up getting my bachelors of science from Western Carolina University.”

She continued, “But, like a lot of us, my idea about what I wanted to be when I grew up goes back to when I was a little girl. I dreamed of being a veterinarian. By the time I got into my teens, I worried the additional schooling would delay starting my career. Then, in my sophomore year of college, I took a genetics class and fell in love with it. The body is so fascinating, especially when you learn how it works at such a minute level as the genome!”

The first job is the hardest

We asked Catherine about her experiences coming into the job market fresh out of college. “I was applying for jobs right out of school in the pharmaceutical industry and that’s how I connected with Aerotek. A recruiter, Joey Bastine, reached out to me and we started working together. I didn’t even know about the role some hiring agencies played in all this, and to tell you the truth, out of all the staffing companies I dealt with, none of them connected and stuck with me like Joey and Aerotek.”

“They placed me in the job I’m at now,” she continued, “a pharma company where the project I’m working on involves hemoglobin and oncology research. It’s extremely gratifying work, partly because it’s a personal thing for me. I’ve had too many family members get cancer, so it’s awesome to work on cancer treatments and prevention compounds. I really feel like I’m helping people get better, or even to not get sick at all.”

We asked Catherine how she’s adapting to her first job in the workplace. “I landed what has turned out to be the ideal spot for me. Like everything, when I do something, I really do it. So, to my delight, six months into my contract the company offered to hire me as a direct employee late last year. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, especially heading into the holidays!”

Challenging work

We wanted to know about the challenges Catherine faces on the job and how she deals with them. “Prioritizing work is huge part of the job. Luckily, I’m good at handling and managing stress. I played alto sax in marching bands for years. You get pretty good at coordinating the precision timing of a lot of moving parts. That’s how it feels sometimes on my job in the lab. My job is to organize the lab and become the extra pair of helping hands for all our technicians. When people start to get overwhelmed, my job is to spot this and help them out before it becomes a problem.”

When asked if she was finding her work rewarding, without hesitation Catherine said, “Yes. I love to get into the organizational stuff. The stuff that makes the lab work to optimal capacity. I really love the feeling that, I’m part of what makes large projects succeed.”

Profiles of a lab tech

Aerotek knows there are almost as many reasons for becoming a lab tech as there are lab techs. We asked Catherine if she’s observed anything close to a typical profile in the types of people attracted to the job. “In my experience a lot of people stumble upon the job. They’re not sure what they want to do, all they know is they really liked a science class they took in high school or college and are curious about the field. I know some people who get into this field because they’re looking for something different. And then there are the people on a path to being a research scientist. But that’s not how I got here.”

She continued, “I’m one of those people who is pretty thoughtful about my career path. I pretty much knew this was the job and industry for me back in college, when many of my professors were researchers working in the pharmaceutical industry. And I’m growing every day in my skills as lab coordinator, and next step up will be lab associate. That’ll be very cool since I’ll be responsible for my own projects. Looking up ahead, I’m excited about one day becoming a senior scientist, the highest level in the lab. At the end of the day, working on research projects that end up saving some people’s lives and keep others from getting sick, that’s about as rewarding a career choice as I could ever imagine making.”

Career advice

Even though she’s barely into her mid-twenties, we were curious to know if Catherine had any advice to offer young people considering a career working in the life sciences.

“I’d tell young people curious about science to take as many different types of classes as you can. That’s the best way to figure out what it is you’re most passionate about. I’d also recommend doing what I did which is to start out as a contractor in the industry. It’s a great way to build your skills while working on a mix of different projects. It ended up being an ideal way for me to find out not only what I liked to do but also what I was good at doing!”

It's working with people like Catherine that make what we do here at Aerotek worth getting up for each morning. If we can help you explore opportunities working in the world of life sciences check out our current openings, or create or update your career account.

Catherine Murray appears courtesy of Account Manager Stephen Williams and Account Recruiting Manager Joey Bastine.