Alexandra Allen works as a Research Associate at Acepix Biosciences in Hayward, California. She takes part in every step of the histology process including gross (inspect with the naked eye for initial diagnostic information), process tissues, and also embed, cut and stain specimens.
What biotechnology program did you attend?
I am currently enrolled in the Merritt College Histotechnology program.
What degree or certificate(s) do you hold?
A Certificate of Optical Microscopy and a Certificate in Fluorescent Microscopy.
Where are you currently working?
What is your job title?
What do you do for your job?
I take part in every step of histology. I gross, process tissues, embed, cut and stain specimens. I handle staining for the company which means I manufacture reagents required as well as test and develop robust protocols.
Please describe an average day at work
On an average day we'll process a round of cell pellets and one to two rounds of tissues. Often the process has been started in the early morning and is ready to embed by the time I arrive. Projects that have been cut the day before are baked and prepared for staining. New projects get sectioned and boxed to dry. One my favorite things about working in biotech is that with the exception of those main processes, most days can be completely different. I am always prepared to help where needed, which can include manufacturing cell pellets, maintaining cell inventory in liquid nitrogen, assisting with assays, and so many other things. I particularly enjoy days where we get in atypical samples that can be harder to cut. Everyday I learn something new.
How did you decide on a biotechnology career?
I've always had a love for science and a thirst for knowledge. I tried a little bit of everything I could sign up for. While the passion was there, the path to turning my education into a career wasn't always clear to me. When I was signing up for a new round of classes I found Merritt College's microscopy course and was immediately overjoyed. Microscopes have always been an essential tool for observing the world around us and of course microscopes and Histology go hand in hand. While I've used microscopes in the past, I realized I didn't know much about how slides where prepared. Luckily, Merritt had a whole Histotechnician program. The motto for the program is "Where science meets art" and that motto absolutely hooked me. Now that I've been practicing histology I would absolutely agree histologists are the unsung artists the science world.
Can you describe any challenges that you overcame in pursuing this career?
The first challenge I dealt with was choosing one path. There are so many different career choices in biotech which makes it both exciting and daunting. Another challenge is the heavy school load that comes with a biotech career. Finding a way to study that worked for me took some trial and error, and many Saturdays were sacrificed for lab time but it has all proven to be worth the effort.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in a biotech career?
Absolutely do it! Working in biotech has been the most fulfilling career choice I could imagine. In biotech there is never a dull day and the room for growth is infinite. I work side by side with brilliant scientists that treat me with respect and lend me their knowledge. I would say to someone starting out to sign up for microscopy at Merritt college because it did wonders for me. Dr. Candy Mintz and Dr. Gisele Giorgi were kind and helped so many of my classmates find jobs that were perfect for them. I would also advise to not be afraid to take risks. I was shy applying for my first lab job but I was overjoyed to see that employers valued my potential.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Go into biotech and everyday will be a new opportunity to learn!