By: Negin Vatanian.
I love writing and I take advantage of any opportunity that comes on my way. So it was normal to respond to the email sent by HBN calling for writers. For my first assignment I got to write about myself, my education and work experience. I thought that would be easy, but as I started writing I didn’t know what to write and how to explain my moves from one country to another one. I consider myself a UN ambassador as I was born in one country, am a resident of another, and live in a third. Every time I moved I had a big shift in my career and life, but I have always stayed in the field of science. I work in a variety of positions in biotech and pharmaceutical industries from QC and research to lab management, to quality assurance and regulatory affairs as well as clinical studies and tissue banking.
After I received my BSc in Applied Chemistry, I started working in a chemical company, manufacturing personal care products, household cleaners, and detergents as a QC Associate. My job was to make sure the manufactured products would meet the established criteria and standards. As soon as I learned the basics of detergents and how to formulate them, I started doing research to improve their properties and quality. In the five years working there, I learned about a vast array of household cleaners and personal care products, and I was able to develop a new formulation of concentrated dishwashing liquid with three times more anionic activity, as well as develop several new and improved skin care products by adding botanical and natural extracts, and compounds. My next chapter started when I immigrated to Canada. I thought I would be able to get a job related to my previous experience within a few months, but the reality was different. It took me a while to understand and accept that my education, work experience fluency in French and English would not get me the position I wanted. So I took a job in the floral department of a grocery store in order to pay my bills and to figure out the next step. After a couple of months, I got a temporary job with a pharmaceutical company as a document control specialist in the QA department. My main job was filing the patients’ requisitions, preparing study documents, participating in incoming audits and preparing documents to be archived. Due to the terms of my contract, I decided to keep my part-time job as a back up until I secured a more permanent position. Working seven days a week was not something that I could continue, so I decided to go back to school on a part-time basis to increase my skills and knowledge. I joined a part-time program on regulatory affairs and quality assurance in pharmaceutical companies and quickly became a permanent employee. This gave me the courage to quit my part-time job. I became a full-time employee and a part-time student. Within a year I moved to a lab in the same company dealing with the clinical specimens and their associated data. My job was to work with the specimens and data from clinical studies including: Receiving and processing the specimens and data, preparing them internal testing, short and long term storage, as well as preparing small and large shipments for outside testing. What I was learning at school helped me expand my job skills, and halfway through the program I started to work for a medical device company as a liaison between quality assurance and regulatory affairs. I was responsible for managing all departmental documents, developing product manuals, inspecting production line and performing internal audits, as well as releasing raw material and finished products.
With two more courses to finish my program, I decided to take a break and come to the US to visit my family. This trip was a turning point for me, and put me in the right place at the right time. I received a job offer as a contractor with a tissue bank program at an Army hospital. I found this program very interesting and it was a good opportunity to use my past work experience. Despite not having finished my degree, I decided to accept this position and moved to the US. My job was supposed to collect specimens, process them, and manage the lab. However, what I didn’t know was that the program was in its early development. For the next two years I was working on acquiring space for lab, getting the protocol approved, setting up the lab, working with the vendor to develop an inventory system for managing the collected specimens, and getting the required lab equipment and supplies. At the same time, I wrote more than sixty SOPs and procedures covering every aspect and process of the tissue bank. I also started my MSc in Biotechnology with Johns Hopkins as a part-time student. After two years, I decided to move and I got a job as the lab manager of a small start-up biotech company. As the company was fairly new, none of the labs were functional. As part of my job, I started setting them up, getting all equipment and supplies. Within few months, the labs were ready for work. During this time I developed a Quality Control and Quality Assurance System with more than thirty SOPs and templates. But after one year the company lost its funding and had to close down. I was lucky that I got a similar position with a company located right next door. My primary job was to manage daily activities of the company. In addition, I also had a few projects of my own: (studying the cell death effects of several natural compounds on various cancer cell lines and fractioning them to discover their most active ingredient; performing SiRNA studies to learn the effect of different genes on wound healing procedure, and performing high-throughput drug screening assays using robotic liquid handling equipment.) After two years, the company started having financial problems and my hours were cut. I took advantage of my reduced work hours to enroll in more courses at school. This meant I could finish my degree sooner. In the summer of 2009, I received a call from my previous colleagues at the tissue bank. The tissue bank was operational and they were looking for someone to run the lab and manage the specimen collections. So I moved back to where I had originally started. However, the difference was that I had gained a different perspective on specimen processing and lab management. I started working at the tissue bank and using what I had learned in the past few years to improve the lab’s tissue collection and processing. I was also customizing and optimizing specimen collection and processing for several sub-studies. After I finished my MSc in biotechnology, I decided to start an accelerated MBA program. After the first course, I realized that I am not boardroom type, but I still decided to continue and finish the program. After finishing my MBA, I decided to go for a PhD. My first choice was a university in Canada so I applied and got accepted. I quit my job, packed my stuff and moved back to Canada, but nothing went according to the plan: I couldn’t secure an advisor or funding, so I couldn’t start the program. I decided to try one more time. So I re-applied and decided to work while I was waiting to hear from the school. I went for countless rounds of job interviews, took various tests as part of process and was one of the two top candidates, but didn’t get the job. When I couldn’t secure an advisor for the second time, and also couldn’t get a job, I decided to come back to the US. I packed whatever I hadn’t unpacked and moved back. When I got here, I had two job interviews lined up, and within a week I got a job offer as a QA Manager with SAIC for one of the NCI offices. I take care of the CAPA and NCR activities and deviations. I also perform site audit and training visits, and help the subcontractors to prepare, improve and implement their quality systems.
My moves have shaped my work and education and vice versa, and I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t moved at all or so much. However, I am grateful for what I have accomplished and for the variety of the things I have learned and performed; and I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life, wherever it may be.