This week’s employee spotlight features another former BenchSci user turned BenchSci team member, Justin Balsor. As an Enterprise Scientific Liaison on the Customer Success team, Justin works with users of our platform to help them get the most value out of our technology. He was gracious enough to share his story about how he got where he is today and the fulfillment he feels at seeing the results of our efforts to empower scientists.

What was your area of research for your Ph.D.?

My area of research for my Ph.D. was exploring the mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and finding ways to harness that potential to better our understanding of the developmental visual system. This knowledge is helpful when studying disorders like Amblyopia or macular degeneration, or even just for understanding the deterioration of vision that accompanies old age.

Why did you choose BenchSci?

BenchSci actually helped me out of a bind during my postdoc. I’d been struggling for months to find an antibody for an experiment, and thanks to the help of BenchSci’s platform, I was finally able to find a good candidate. 

So, when I had the opportunity to join the company, I jumped on it. I truly believe in our mission to help scientists get novel medicine to patients faster. Plus, I was really excited at the prospect of helping scientists through effective communication and getting to see the results of our efforts as we empower them to move stuck projects forward and accelerate their research.

What’s the most common question scientists ask you?

Lately, the most common question scientists ask me is something along the lines of “can I use BenchSci to do X?”

By that, I mean scientists who use the platform are now seeing the massive potential of what we've built. They're really very clever and effective at what they do, and they're looking for other ways that they can apply BenchSci in their workflows. Our technology is great at helping to source reagents and uncover novel insights in papers, but some scientists are actually using our platform in other really interesting ways. That's why it’s also one of the most exciting questions that I get asked.

What is the biggest misconception about your job?

I imagine folks think I just sit and run demonstrations for scientists all day. I do walk them through the platform, but really the job is much more than that. Between running demonstrations, we’re really the gatekeepers of the relationships between our scientist users and BenchSci. Liaisons serve as the owners of those relationships. 

We're a conduit coming directly from the people who use our platform. We take all of their feedback about how our technology is helping them effectively and what features they’d like to see implemented or improved, and we ensure that information gets to the right people at BenchSci. Then, we’re the ones who present platform updates to scientists not only to emphasize the value our technology can bring to their day-to-day life but also to highlight how their feedback has shaped BenchSci for other users.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on at BenchSci so far?

It’s probably a bit of a toss-up. I enjoy really getting my hands dirty with some minutia—coming up with clever ways to automate something or offload some of our responsibilities to computers to make my teammates' lives a bit easier. But also, one of my favorite projects we’re currently working on explores some big ideas about how to really present the impact of BenchSci to users across all of our accounts. So, somewhere between that ideation and getting into the small level, nitty-gritty stuff.

Members of the Customer Success team having fun on a video call

How do you collaborate with and stay connected to your team members in a remote-first organization?

I collaborate and stay connected with the Scientific Liaison team in many different ways. Aside from the standard Slack channels and occasional fun in-person activities, we have regular meetings with our team, which we'll usually kick off with a fun fact or something interesting that we've learned about the industry.

We also make it a point in some of our meetings to schedule activities that are purely for social purposes. For example, we have a recurring meeting every Friday, which is basically just an “Office Hour” where we can come on online to get some work done. We have music playing, and we get a chance to work alongside a colleague, almost like in an office environment. It's a good opportunity for new folks to raise questions that might not have a place in other meetings too. 

Taking it a step further, we have a recurring lunch hour where shop talk is strictly forbidden. Sometimes we play a game, sometimes we just talk, but we're specifically not allowed to talk about work. It's just a safe space for us to socialize with each other over lunch.

What are three words you would use to describe our culture?

The three words I would use to describe our culture would be ambitious, supportive, and collaborative.

What’s your favorite experiment to run?

A quick bit about me: I'm a dad of two twin boys. They're toddlers now, and so my favorite non-science experiment to run is to give them both the same situation and watch them react in completely different ways. 

But my favorite actual science experiment was during my postdoc when we had to transfect this primate model to study a certain population of cells. We were trying to transfect these cells in the visual cortex of the brain with a virus that would essentially make them light up when they fire.

We then put this animal under a 2-photon microscope to see if we could make those cells light up when we presented the animal with stimuli. It was pretty otherworldly to be able to literally see into the brain of this animal and observe the effect of what I was presenting to it in the external world as those cells fire in response to my stimulation.

That was something that not many people in the world have done, at least with that specific animal model, so it was pretty cool.

What is your favorite science fact?

It's kind of an anecdote, though it's been somewhat verified. Two very famous scientists in visual neuroscience—David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel—were trying to study how neurons in the visual part of your brain fire in response to the stimuli that I was just talking about.

They stuck an electrode in the brain of this anesthetized animal, and they presented it with all these different stimuli. But this was back in the fifties and sixties; we didn't have computers, so when you wanted to present a slide, you had to actually put a slide into a projector. They tried all different shapes and colors and things, and nothing was making those cells fire until one of the slides cracked as they removed it.

Coincidently, the specific orientation and movement of that crack caused the cells in the brain to light off like fireworks. And the way they knew was that they had actually rigged up this sound system that sounded like fireworks crackling. So these cells start going off like crazy. The only reason we made this huge leap in our understanding is because of that slide cracking as they took it out of the projector.

It’s a pretty cool accident that we have in our history books that resulted in an important discovery about how the brain works.

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Written By:
Justin Balsor (he/him)