At BenchSci, we’re all about empowering scientists to develop medicine more effectively and efficiently. And we wouldn’t be where we are without the hard work and dedication of the many Ph.D. scientists on our team. We want to highlight some of their contributions and get their perspectives on what it’s like to be a scientist at BenchSci, working to help other scientists find the information they need to run more successful experiments. To start, here’s an interview with Claudia Hung, Ph.D. and Scientific Support Specialist on our Customer Success team.
Claudia, what were you doing before joining BenchSci?
Before I joined BenchSci, I worked in an academic lab. I completed my Ph.D. at McMaster University researching Huntington’s disease and cellular mechanisms in neurodegeneration and stuck around afterward to finish up a few projects. Throughout my time in academia, I also spent a lot of time mentoring students for the university’s microscope facility, which was affiliated with our lab. I created training material and handled in-person training sessions to teach students how to use the microscopes for their research and encourage them to take advantage of the facility. When a student was interested in using a type of microscope for a certain technique, the request would often make its way to me. My transition time between grad school and BenchSci was a bit like doing a post-doc while also performing research assistant duties and helping run this facility.
Why did you choose to look outside academia?
In academia, many projects or experiments that you want to work on may hit roadblocks because of deadlines or lack of funding. As a grad student in the lab, you’re responsible for many things—including developing new hypotheses, applying for grants, presenting your work at conferences, designing and executing experiments, and hopefully at the end of all that, writing your findings into a publication. The pressures of publishing are something that many scientists are aware of and were one thing that held me back from pursuing a career in academia. I learned a lot from my Ph.D. studies and developed a great network of friends and collaborators throughout, but I felt I was ready to leave that and explore the world of science outside of academia. I was interested in finding opportunities where I could utilize my skills and experiences in a different environment.
I considered either staying in research—but in an industry setting rather than an academic one—or looking into other avenues where I could still be somewhat attached to research, like maybe at a funding agency. I realized that I liked thinking about experiments, hypotheses, and research methodology from that external perspective. So, finding a job where I got to do that and would still get to keep up with current research was definitely my ultimate goal after my studies. And along came BenchSci, where I get to do just that and so much more!
How did you first hear about BenchSci, and what attracted you to working here?
I wish I had known about BenchSci during my studies—it would’ve been very helpful for me. I came across it during my job search, though I had also talked to a mentor of mine who mentioned there were some interesting opportunities at BenchSci, and thought the company sounded interesting and could be a good fit for me.
So, I utilized my research skills; I did a deep dive into BenchSci and learned all about it. What stuck out to me about the role I’m in now—Scientific Support Specialist on the Customer Success team—is that I still get to talk to scientists, and I have opportunities to integrate my experiences with knowledge translation. A lot of the stuff I did for the microscope facility and with students involved taking what I know and figuring out how to convey that knowledge and the nuanced principles of those techniques to them. Being able to convey information to fellow scientists was a part of the job description—helping users with the BenchSci platform and maintaining instructional content on our knowledge base, so it was definitely in the realm of things I enjoy doing. My role also provides me with lots of variety. In my first meeting with Duncan, who is now my manager, we talked about the idea of wearing a different hat every day—or multiple hats a day—and not feeling like you’re stuck doing the same tasks over and over. I really enjoy the range and variety in the types of projects I work on.
Another thing I found appealing is the start-up life; getting a sense of how all the different aspects of a small company work, seeing how different teams work together, and just being immersed in all of it. I definitely love it. I’ve worked here for seven months, and I’ve learned so much about so many different things across many disciplines. I did a lot of microscopy work during my research and consider myself to be relatively tech-savvy, and now I get to learn more about what’s involved in creating and maintaining the BenchSci platform and database from engineering and web design perspectives.
What’s your favorite thing about working at BenchSci?
I think it’s everyone’s collaborative nature and that everyone takes full accountability for their roles and tasks. Everyone is also so friendly, and our company culture encourages us to hold each other accountable. I like working in a fast-paced environment with others who enjoy it too. Things get done around here, and people work hard with efficiency—if someone says they’re going to do something, it gets done, and it gets done well.
I also love that I still feel immersed in research. I get to write articles for our knowledge base (flexing those manuscript writing skills), and talk to scientists about their research in different fields of science. I also get to contribute to how BenchSci’s platform and technology evolves. As we look into adding or updating features, I get to share ideas from my perspective as a scientist, which helps us build a better, more intuitive solution.
Then there’s the transparency at BenchSci, which is one of our core values. Everyone’s very transparent about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. It makes it so much easier to understand the big picture at the company and helps everything run a lot smoother.
Why is empowering other scientists to make discoveries important?
Research doesn’t happen in a void; scientists read publications every day across different research fields and share findings with other scientists to stay on top of recent discoveries and research techniques. It’s not just about the hypothesis; the methods—how you logistically perform the experiments—can be just as important. Research can be tough sometimes, and I’m no stranger to failed experiments. You may come up with good hypotheses but can still struggle with the execution of the experiment. Having the proper tools can often be critical to getting it right. If an experiment fails, you might think the hypothesis was wrong, but that might not always be the case. Several factors could have been responsible—for example, using an ineffective method or an inappropriate reagent or model system. Finding appropriate reagents and model systems for experiments can be really challenging and can take a lot of time and effort, so, I think helping scientists establish a more effective starting point with BenchSci can be incredibly helpful for them.
You may also run into a string of failed experiments and spend a lot of time (sometimes months or even years) trying to troubleshoot your experiments and hypotheses. You may hit some dead ends, and you don’t really know why. That’s where BenchSci can be so valuable—it sets you up for success by enabling you to hunt down the information you want (and need) much quicker and easier.
How do you foster your inner scientist in your current role?
When scientists reach out with questions about how BenchSci can help with their experiments, such as how to find the most relevant products and data, I start by querying BenchSci on my end with their experimental context in mind to better understand the root of the question. Depending on the question, I also dig through papers of interest associated with that target or disease for more context that I can quickly find using BenchSci.
I try to consider the question behind their question; why are they having trouble finding the information on our platform? Maybe it’s a simpler situation where I can step in and help them understand our platform better, or it’s something we can improve on our end. When I dig into a question from a user, I get to put on my scientist hat.
We also have weekly meetings with other scientists in the Customer Success team and across teams where we sometimes just talk about interesting science things. One of us might bring up a user scenario, and the group will go into an in-depth discussion about different experiments and methodology, which is always fun.
I feel like, in a small way, I get to contribute to the research projects of other scientists. I get to be involved in the discovery phase of designing experiments. It’s nice because in grad school, yes, the hypothesis is important, but you end up spending a lot of time trying to execute your experiments under rigid timelines. At BenchSci, I get to enjoy thinking about cool techniques, experiment ideas, and also how our applications and technology factor into how scientists conduct their research, without actually being on the bench myself.
How do your scientific experiences contribute to BenchSci and biomedical research in general on a daily basis?
It’s interesting that even though scientists working at BenchSci have varied experiences in different research fields or institutions, we still have very similar approaches to designing or executing scientific experiments. This helps build my confidence in how I approach things and allows me to anticipate how other scientists would expect something to be laid out on our interface or what results they would expect for a given query. I’m able to leverage that scientific approach to help users and to provide insight to our team.
I generally try to provide a combination of written information and supporting visuals to address the question, so the knowledge translation experience really kicks in. We want to help scientists with their experiments and their research, so we do everything we can to guide them and make the most out of their use of BenchSci. Also, when I communicate with our users, they may provide feedback for us. A scientist might be facing a unique challenge on the platform or make valuable suggestions for improvements or new features. I help relay that information to the broader team. Understanding the nuances of the feedback provided by the scientist is really important in evolving our platform and technology.
On the Scientific Support team, we’re always thinking about how we can improve our knowledge base to help users. We evolve our list of articles to ensure they are comprehensive and up to date. When we launch an update or a new feature, it’s also a part of my job to anticipate what kind of reference material a user may want to see.
Overall, I use the wide range of transferable skills that I acquired throughout my Ph.D. studies every day. Working at BenchSci has been very fulfilling, and I’m lucky to be a part of such an amazing team!
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