Industry Insights: Environmental Health and Safety (EHS): my scientific adventurous route. By Denise Aronson, President, Safety Partners, Inc.
This blog is part of our Industry Insights series. These blogs are written for Propel Careers by industry experts to provide information about career paths and the various options which exist in the life sciences industry.
Why would someone, especially a chemist or biologist, want to get into the EHS field? Believe it or not, there are bench scientists who may really enjoy EHS work.
I am currently the President of Safety Partners, Inc. Let me tell you about the adventurous route I took to get here.
I'm a biochemist, BS biochemistry from University of New Hampshire. Like many college grads from UNH, I landed my first job in Boston, and like many science majors, I ended up in an academic lab working at the bench.
After a brief year in a research lab at Tufts Medical School, I found myself in an academic research lab in the Pathology department at Beth Israel Hospital (BIH). My time there was spent doing lots of assays, purifications, kinetic studies, a bit of animal work, some cell culture and microscopy, etc. I did this for 9 years. It was cool, especially for those first few years knee-deep in biochemistry, mucking around with fibronectin receptors and trying things out on various cell lines, and then seeing what happens in a rabbit or nude mouse, or trying to catch a color pattern using fluorescence. I enjoyed the lab, the people, reviewing data and trying to move our research project forward.
It was a very good job, so why did I leave? Well, I was afraid I'd turn grey while working for a Principal Investigator, and I hated the idea that maybe I had become stuck (many folks had come and gone through the labs).
The biggest challenge to moving on was figuring out how to write a resume that said anything but, THIS WOMAN ONLY KNOWS HOW TO DO BENCH SCIENCE, DO NOT HIRE HER FOR ANYTHING ELSE.
When you work in the lab for years, sharing equipment, storing your most precious materials in a safe place, listening to each other in journal club -- many things subtly rub off on you. You become a collaborator, you may mentor or be mentored, collegial discussions happen, you learn to dig-in and think and articulate. And for fun you sometimes even do bizarre things like get on your bicycle and ride from BIH to MIT (and back) to pick up some special peptide for some critical experiment!
I was creative, I sent out a 100 resumes, for anything that seemed science-y but slightly different. That didn't work. I settled for a job as a lab manager for a small clinical lab, and I lasted one year. I think they were going to fire me if I didn't decide to resign, but that is a different story for another blog.
Now I really had to get creative and I had to muster all my guts to get back on my feet. I took my resume and I turned it upside down and inside out. I wrote things like: provided infection control instructions to post docs when working with primary cells, wrote procedures for working with Cyanogen Bromide, became the guru for iodinating proteins, unwillingly (but did a great job) as the Hot Room Queen, adept at using the microtone, organizing a system to reduce allergens in the animal surgery room, set-up a better labeling system for lab group combined waste, liaison with hospital management for customized training for NMR work.
You get it. Through the years in the lab, I was integrated into the world of environmental, occupational, health and safety. Environmental compliance -- what goes down the drain, what goes in which waste container, hmmm those grounding and bonding cables in the basement solvent waste barrels, isn't static charge and flash fires interesting! Health -- how to protect myself from powders, dander, vapors, mutagens, teratogens; why is my boss sooooo careful when asking me to work with phorbal-esters? Spills – during a summer college internship, I spilled a bottle of Temed. I stunk up the lab so bad everyone had to evacuate.
All these experiences gave me courage to found and run a company of EHS professionals. Today, we are 25 people with the bulk of us out at our client sites developing and implementing biosafety, chemical safety, radiation safety, NMR safety, laser safety, animal care facility safety, machine shop safety.
Now I ask YOU, do you know what should not go down the drain? Are your protecting yourself from those biohazards and chemicals? Probably you know more about EHS than you think. If you are smart, flexible, adaptable, creative, fun, interesting people, keep in mind that we are always recruiting. We can definitively teach you the rest. We are a vibrant and growing company solving problems for our clients. We are one of the many contributing elements to the success of the dynamic life science eco-system here in the Greater Cambridge-Boston Area. Our favorite recruits are scientists.
Safety Partners provides great employment for folks who want fulfilling part-time or full-time careers. We are absolutely mom-friendly, dad-friendly, family-friendly. We work really, really hard at a fast pace, and we hold ourselves to high standards .... with a genuine smile.
Denise will be a panelist at the upcoming Futures in Life Science Event on November 15th 2011 in Cambridge MA. She will join the other members of the panel including Daniel W. Young, Ph.D., Patent Agent Wolf Greenfield; Kevin Bitterman, Principal, Polaris Venture Partners; Irena Melnikova, Director, Prospective and Strategic Initiatives at sanofi-aventis; Sandra Glucksmann, Sr. VP Research & Business Operation at Cerulean Pharmaceuticals; Marc Recht, Partner, Cooley LLP. Details for the event can be found at http://futuresinlifesciences7.eventbrite.com/