Kristi Jones gets to indulge her curiosity and interest in biology as a research assistant at GE Healthcare in Piscataway. The facility focuses on two businesses: one makes bio-medicines; the other, called Discovery Systems, conducts life sciences research and makes products for research--that's where Kristi has fun.
As a liaison between GE and its customers, her job is actually a mix of Research & Development and customer service. She troubleshoots problems for everyone--GE's manufacturing division that makes research equipment, and the pharmaceutical companies and academic labs that buy them.
In troubleshooting for a customer, Kristi must be able to follow instructions. She uses the product exactly as the customer did, so she's able to find the problem. Sometimes she needs to find a better way for a customer to use a product or accomplish a goal, but within their limitations. "I have to act like I'm a customer. I keep all of their needs in mind," she says.
Take a product like GenomePhi, a kit that creates an unlimited amount of human DNA from just a small sample. GenomePhi is used in forensic and disease research. If a customer has a problem using the kit, Kristi conducts the exact experiments in the same way to find the problem and solve it. "I get the information from the customer, do the experiments, and get back to them. That all takes about a month," she says. "The other thing I like is that my job changes month to month."
The next month, Kristi might troubleshoot for GE's manufacturing division with products that she uses like MegaBACE, which is a combination of machinery, chemicals and software that does gene sequencing. "My main goal is to bring together the needs of the customer with the needs of the company."
Sometimes Kristi works on developing new ways to use an existing product like GenomePhi. Although it was created for humans, some customers are interested in using it in plant research. "They want to see data about a product before they buy it. I use information I know from development and think about a way a customer would use this." Kristi writes quality control directions for equipment and application notes for products that are posted on the product's Website.
In high school, Kristi knew she liked science--biology was her favorite class--but she didn't know what kind of job she would have. "They were just starting to talk about antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I did experiments and read science-based books," she says.
Her interest in science led her to Cook College at Rutgers University. "I figured if I went to a science-based school, it would be good. Cook had a specific biotechnology degree that provided me with all the tools I needed for my job. The teachers helped guide me." While at Cook, Kristi interned one summer for pay and credit at a lab making beads to purify water. A teacher sent her name in to GE Healthcare, and when she graduated in 2000 with a BS in Biotechnology, she took a job there a few months later.
Kristi's Tips to Prepare for a Science Career: - Don't be scared by the idea of science. I thought I wasn't smart enough! It's only when you start doing actual experiments that you start to learn. - Research the Internet. - Watch science-based TV shows like CSI. - Keep your interests up. Don't get discouraged if things seem difficult. - Learn a little today and a little more tomorrow.