Cross-Country Career Shift
Helen, who split her childhood between Pennsylvania and Alabama, studied chemistry as an undergrad at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and then again for her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina (UNC). She developed expertise in both biological and physical chemistry along the way, and that experience, as Helen was wrapping up her doctoral program, helped her land the position with BD at its research center in Research Triangle Park, just down the road from UNC.
She would end up working for BD for two decades, with her research focused on developing diagnostic tests for infectious and chronic diseases. One of her favorite projects was the BD ProbeTec ET™, a nucleic acid amplification system used to detect chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other STDs. “A lot of times you work on something and it doesn’t actually go anywhere,” says Helen, “so that was nice in that it became a product.”
After relatives in Seattle coaxed Helen to add the Pacific Northwest to her search list for new job opportunities, Helen discovered an intriguing opening in the FlowDx group at IV Lab, which was hiring several scientists with experience developing assays—laboratory procedures, in this case, designed to detect malaria or TB. It was a perfect fit for her.
Helen has thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far, very much including the collaborative atmosphere at the Lab. “I like that everybody is willing to share knowledge and advice,” she says. “You have such a different group of people—biologists with experience in tissue culture, and engineers—and the engineers will suggest something that the biologist just wouldn’t have thought of, and vice versa. You’ve got that cross-pollination. Because the engineers are in the building with us, you’ve got that conversation going.”
Life at the Lab has also rekindled the more playful side of science for Helen—the simple joy of discovery, she says, you often see in 8-year-olds when you’re explaining something cool. “There’s a giant [Babbage] calculator downstairs, there’s literally a rocket engine, there’s the [dino] tail. Sometimes science is just fun!”