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Career spotlight: associate director of R&D
Takara Bio is an innovative and growing company, and we are proud of our friendly corporate culture in which creativity, teamwork, and intellectual diligence are recognized and rewarded. Through our series of blogs highlighting people who have found careers at Takara Bio, we hope to show you what it's like to be a team member contributing to the advancement of "good science."
So, what does good science actually mean? First off, our mission is to provide our customers with best-in-class products, expert support, and superior value, which empower them to overcome technical hurdles and focus on the advancement of scientific knowledge. At the root of good science is our dedicated and talented R&D team that develops these class-leading tools and innovative technologies to address the unique challenges faced by our customers. The expertise of this team covers an impressive range of research areas, such as NGS library preparation and automation, gene function, cell biology, and protein purification. While product development can focus on one area, we know that our customers working on a particular application need tools from multiple product areas, and these varied needs foster a work environment with a strong spirit of collaboration.
In this interview, we'll hear from Dr. Magnolia Bostick, associate director of R&D, who leads these impressive efforts.
When did you find out you wanted a career in science?
I participated in summer internships at the University of Southern Mississippi and Georgia Tech during my undergraduate education. I was able to work with graduate students in the lab and present my work. I was captivated by the scientific method put to action, the day-to-day problem solving, and the collaborative interactions between scientists.
What is your training background and how did you get started at TBUSA?
I graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry (with a minor in Chemistry) from Louisiana State University. I decided to take a year off and applied for graduate school. I ended up in California to attend UC Davis, and I graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2005. Next, I was a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA from 2005 to 2011. I was limited by geography; my husband had a job in the Bay Area and did not want to move! Fortuitously, I found out about a job at TBUSA through a friend and soon after started working as an R&D scientist.
What made you interested in your current role at TBUSA?
When I started, I noticed a big difference in experiment duration between academia and industry. I'd worked in Arabidopsis for years, and the two-month generation time meant that experiments moved slowly. I had done a lot of biochemistry and molecular biology in both graduate school and during my postdoctoral research, and the fast-paced nature of those experiments always excited me. Working in the industry was a way for me to use my molecular biology skills but have shorter projects. Design, experiment, perform, get results, repeat—on the order of 1–2 days.
I worked my way from an R&D scientist to a senior scientist/group leader, then to the associate director, overseeing the NGS group. When I first came to TBUSA, we were starting to expand the NGS product line. I had some experience with Illumina sequencing from my postdoc, and with that and my molecular biology background, these projects were a good fit. I have spent the last 7+ years expanding our NGS portfolio and currently run the NGS-RNA product development group in R&D. Being included in every step of the process of product development, launch, and support is something that engages me tremendously.
What do you enjoy about your role? (What keeps you interested?)
My role at TBUSA is so multifaceted; two days are never the same. I like all aspects of my job—mentoring scientists; discussing products with customers; organizing and presenting my experiments internally to Operations, Marketing, and R&D; discussing where the market will go and what products to make; and attending meetings to network with scientists who are developing new technology or using technology to push the bounds of knowledge in their field of expertise. I like that I get to focus in on the details sometimes and look at the big picture at other times. I like that I'll have small meetings to discuss technical issues with other R&D scientists and the next day I'll present my work at a conference to a room full of 200 people!
What kinds of interactions do you have with customers, and how do you help them solve their research challenges?
I work with customers regularly. I train our tech support scientists to address common problems, but if something is unusual, they ask me to provide more support. Sometimes this is as simple as looking at a Bioanalyzer trace and confirming that the profile is good. Sometimes, it is quite a bit more complicated and takes an understanding of how the customer did their analysis, what their expectations are, and how we can give appropriate advice. I occasionally work with customers to go "off protocol." If they want to use a different kind of input, enzyme, primer, or protocol, I can advise them as to whether those changes might work within our kit or what changes they may want to make. Finally, I work in the field with the sales team and at meetings to present launched kits and application data, as well as on-the-spot troubleshooting.
What is it like interacting with your team? What other teams do you interact with, and why?
I interact with nearly all departments. My regular interactions are with all of R&D (including engineering and bioinformatics personnel), Operations (quality assurance, quality control, and manufacturing personnel), and Marketing (product managers, technical writers, graphic designers, and technical support scientists). I have an open-door policy with my team. I think that many questions are best answered in person and I see no need to wait for individual meetings to discuss questions or results as they arise. I do meet with each of the scientists that report to me once a week or once every two weeks. I also meet with the entire team once a month, during which one of the research associates presents on their work.
Tell us about an exciting project you're working on.
My team and I are working on a myriad of kits for single-cell RNA-seq analysis. We are pushing the technology for sensitivity for full-length mRNA and pushing the scale of single-cell experiments with full-length mRNA coverage. In addition, we are expanding our reach with immune repertoire profiling.
What do you think sets Takara Bio products and services apart from other companies?
There are so many things. For one, as a molecular biologist who makes NGS kits, I have access to all of the Clontech- and Takara-brand enzymes that have been developed throughout the years. Besides, we can make changes to manufacturing, QC, buffer composition, or any other aspect of an enzyme to optimize it properly for the kit we are developing. Secondly, working on kits for single cells means working with...cells! We have a top-notch cell biology group who are experts at sorting single cells and help me identify ways to keep cells happy as they go through the library prep process. Finally, we get close interactions with all of the different research groups through weekly meetings where the scientists present their ongoing work. This exposure to other priorities, ideas, problems, solutions, and concerns pushes all of our work.
How does Takara Bio support you and other women in science?
As long as I have worked for Takara Bio, there have been women in positions of power. A woman is the president of the company, and women are nearly half of the senior staff and run major departments, such as Operations and Business Development. Half of the lead scientists in R&D are women, and both men and women benefit from a flexible work schedule, which accommodates working parents.
What do you like about our company culture and working/living in this area?
In addition to the stimulation of the R&D environment here, I benefit from the geography. I can attend seminars at Stanford, UCSF, and UC Berkeley. I can collaborate with scientists at companies or academic institutions locally. And finally, because so many conferences are in San Francisco, many scientists come to the area. We have scientists visit our site regularly to present on their new work, which is mutually beneficial.
Thank you for enlightening us on your career in R&D management, Magnolia.
Stay tuned for more career spotlights!
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