Ever Considered Being a Research Assistant?
Devin Fachko, Class of 2014, applied for many positions in the field of science before she found a job that she felt was perfect for her. Read about her experience as a Research Assistant at Oregon Health & Science University’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute here.
1) What did you do immediately after you graduated from Pacific?
I graduated from Pacific in 2014 and a month later started my graduate program in Bioinformatics and Genomics at the University of Oregon. I was at UofO for six months taking classes before moving to Eastern Washington for a nine month internship at the Pacific Northwest National Lab. I graduated with my Masters in October 2015 and started looking for jobs in the Portland area.
2) What is your job title and what do you do?
I am a Research Assistant at Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. I work in a brand new lab studying microRNAs and their role in viral pathogenesis, so I do a lot of wet lab benchwork with bacteria as well as building bioinformatics pipelines for data analysis. Because it is a new lab, I have also taken on much of the inventory record keeping as well as ordering new supplies when we are low.
3) When did you decide you wanted this job?
I had been applying to various research assistant jobs at OHSU for about eight months before the posting for my position popped up. I was casting a pretty wide net and applying to almost any research assistant position that opened up just to get my foot in the door, but was having zero luck. The posting for my position excited me though because it involved wet lab benchwork, which I wanted to gain more experience in, as well as bioinformatics work, which is what I received my Masters in. I applied on a Sunday and interviewed Thursday. After my interview, I felt so much more attached to the position than any other I had applied for that I knew it was the exact position that I was looking for.
4) Do you believe that your college education (both in earning a BS degree and moving on to graduate school) sufficiently prepared you for what you do?
Yes, I do believe that my college education helped prepare me for my job. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to do summer research while at Pacific and I learned a lot of the lab techniques and procedures that I am using every day. Without that experience, I definitely would not have landed this job. My bioinformatics background was a major factor in getting hired as well because bioinformatics is such an essential part of a lot of biological research. The great relationships that I formed with my professors at Pacific also prepared me, not only by making it easier to go to them for help outside of class when needed, but they also instilled a lot of confidence in me that I could be successful outside of college.
5) What do you enjoy most about your work?
I really love being around so many people who are dedicated to scientific research. There is some really awesome and exciting work being done at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and it has been really cool to learn more about it and be surrounded by all these amazing scientists. There is one lab that has been working on an HIV vaccine for years and years and they are now preparing for human trials, and it’s just very inspiring to see what can come of hard work and perseverance.
6) What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
The biggest challenge I face is definitely being unfamiliar with what my lab is studying. My previous experience had all been with environmental microbiology, but now I am learning a ton about virology, immunology, and there is a lot of basic biology that I need a refresher on. Much of the time I feel like I am drowning in new information and I am often very lost, but I have to remind myself that I have only been here a month and things will start to fall into place the longer I'm here.
7) Which skills or qualities would you consider most important for the work that you do?
I think patience and attention to detail are good qualities to have in research. Science takes a long time and it can be easy to forget about the big picture of why you're doing what you're doing. Science is also very repetitive and can get tedious when you have to pipette into a million tubes every day, but you just have to stay focused, remember the big picture, and cross your fingers that you get usable results.
8) What advice might you have for students interested in pursuing your line of work?
Do your best to go out and get as much experience as possible while in undergrad. My summer research experience played a big role in me getting into my graduate program (it’s also how I ended up hearing about my graduate program in the first place), and the techniques I learned that summer were highly applicable to my current job. However, I know that if I had a full year of experience, if not more, I would have been a better candidate for many of the positions I was applying for, even though I met all the job requirements that they asked for. Also, if you're looking at pursuing biology research, take some computer science classes and learn to code in at least one language. With the amount of data being produced from research projects, the need for people with bioinformatics experience is constant and it will look awesome on your resume and will open a lot of doors for you.
9) Do you have any specific goals or plans for your career?
Right now I am really just focused on improving my wet lab and bioinformatics skill sets and learning everything I can about how research works. I am still unsure what I would like to do long-term, but I'm hoping my experience at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute will help to answer that question.