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Career Development Story: Anja

Anja - Specialist, Right to Operate, Penzberg

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What was your first role at Foundation Medicine, and how has your career developed? 

I started working at Foundation Medicine GmbH a year and a half ago in the lab as a Molecular Technologist II. The first methods I was trained in were part of the “downstream process,” which includes everything from library preparation to sequencing. The on-the-job training I received from my colleagues and my supervisor was very thorough and efficient, so I was able to work independently very quickly. The close exchange with my colleagues also meant that I soon  felt part of a great team. After I became comfortable performing the methods of the “downstream process,” I began observing and performing methods of the “upstream process” (which includes histology and several extraction methods).

I soon became involved in drafting a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for equipment which updated the existing ones. As it turned out, I really enjoyed working on these documents. That came as a surprise to me, because until then I was quite sure that nothing could make me as happy as working in the lab. Of course, “working on documents” may sound a little dry at first, but it involves a lot of communication and discussion across several departments and, sometimes, across all sites, as well. My supervisor also noticed that I enjoyed my work outside of the lab. When the position as RTO (Specialist, Right to Operate) opened in Penzberg, I was able to reduce my time in the lab so I could take the position as one of two RTOs at our location.  

What skills did you hope to learn with your switch to your new role?   

Being an RTO requires working closely with Quality Assurance (QA). I anticipate learning to see things not only from the lab perspective, but also from a QA perspective. I’ve already experienced that some things may seem superfluous from one perspective but become a lot more important when you look at them from a different angle. I’ll also support internal and external audits and help with the follow-up. This means I’ll gain a deeper understanding of the regulatory aspects that guide all our lab processes.  

What kind of support did you receive to make the transition? 

When the RTO position opened, I wasn’t sure if ending my work in the lab was the right thing to do. I was able to discuss this openly with my manager and in the end, we found a way to reduce my working hours in the lab so that I could take the RTO position but still be a part of the lab team. The RTO position was newly established in Penzberg, so I wasn’t completely sure which areas of work and responsibilities it might include. To provide me with a better understanding, the RTOs in Cambridge and Research Triangle Park (RTP) set up a meeting and talked about their day-to-day work. Seeing how diverse their work was and also how they supported each other helped influenced my decision. And that support hasn’t stopped since. On the contrary, it is only with the ongoing support of my colleagues that I’m able to balance my time in and outside of the lab. 

What are some challenges on the Right to Operate team?

As Specialist, Right to Operate, I feel like I am the bridge between two worlds. On the one hand, I still need to know all about the lab processes. That is relatively intuitive now, since I began my work in this area. On the other hand, I’m now strongly representing the regulatory aspects which set the guidelines and the boundaries of how routine lab work takes place. It’s like two hearts beating in one chest and it’s within my responsibility to help them get in sync. An additional challenge that I appreciate is being only one of currently two RTOs in Penzberg. The two of us have to collaborate while also navigating independent work. . At the same time, it gives us a lot of opportunity to shape our job profile and inform where our main focus should be in order to deliver the greatest impact. 

How has leadership supported the combination of mobile and on-site working? 

The team in Penzberg is relatively small compared to the sites in Cambridge or RTP, and most of us have a project that requires some office time. When the pandemic began it was inspiring to see that our leadership always seemed to be one step ahead. For example, when we had to divide the lab team into two groups to minimize our social contacts and therefore our risk of infection, all of us were already equipped with a company-owned laptop. During this time, we worked one week on-site in the lab and one week from home. Fortunately, after a while it was possible to soften this strict division. Nevertheless, we were strongly encouraged by leadership and by our direct managers and supervisors to work from home whenever possible. When necessary, we were even given the opportunity to take office equipment home with us or purchase office equipment for our personal use and get reimbursed.

Although the beginning of the pandemic was the driving force that enabled mobile working for many, this offer will not cease to exist with the end of the pandemic. After a survey showed that the majority of the Penzberg employees would value a certain amount of time working from home, leadership took the steps to implement it. For me as RTO, this results in one or two days a week where I can work from home, whereas I spend the rest of the week in the lab or at least on-site. However, this routine is not set in stone. When I need more time outside of the lab, like for example in preparation for or follow-up of an audit, I can increase the time I spend off-site.  

How do you hope to share the future of Penzberg?

There are a lot of different ways I hope to contribute to the growth and development of Foundation Medicine GmbH. In only one year, we introduced a completely new in-take data processing system for samples, and we also made an almost complete switch from paper records to electronic records. All sites together are continuously working on improving those systems. I’d like to help with those improvements by facilitating the processes as much as possible for the lab techs and at the same time ensuring that all regulatory requirements are fulfilled. Another tenet  that’s important to me is to keep an open dialogue between all sites. There are not many RTOs across all of our sites, but we are involved in a variety of projects. I believe this puts us in a unique position to discuss common problems and find improvements across the organization. All in all, Foundation Medicine is a dynamic and empowering place to work. It is difficult to predict the challenges the future holds, but I’m really looking forward to facing them!  

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