What It's Like to Work at a Biorepository

Submitted by Nikolas James on Wed August 23, 2017.

Geneticist Inc. is working in collaboration with Biotech Careers to give people new to the field of biotech an understanding of what it’s like to work at a biorepository. Geneticist is a biobank of human tissue samples, a facility that stores diseased and regular tissue samples and data to be distributed, upon request, to various laboratories, pharmaceuticals, and other companies for research purposes. Their services play a major role in the global cause for disease diagnosis, treatment, and cures. Julia Tarverdova, head account manager at Geneticist, agreed to participate in an interview with IMPRiNT Creative Agency in Los Angeles to answer some of the questions readers may have regarding work at a biorepository.

How do you start the day at Geneticist? What does a typical day entail?

We start the day by checking the temperatures on the refrigerators and cryogenic freezers. We then begin processing all new orders we’ve received and prepare them for shipment. Each sample has a specific location that is recorded in a database. We have to track down the order in the database, and then withdraw each necessary specimen from their storage location once we’ve identified them on the tissue map. Once we’ve gathered all the requested samples, we begin packaging the items for shipment. Frozen specimens are shipped in dry ice; FFPE samples can be kept at room temperature.

What types of people work there? What are their backgrounds?

The lead role at a biorepository is a clinical director, who has a related PhD. Part of their job is to ensure the specimens are of the highest quality. This means they must assure all orders are shipped in the proper size and that the clinical information for each specimen is properly reported and included within each shipment. After the order’s been shipped, they reach out to the customer to follow up and check that their order was satisfactory. Quality assurance and customer service is a huge part of any position at a biorepository.

The remaining staff (a total at 7 at Geneticist) are operations managers. These can be anyone with basic knowledge of oncology, pathology, and biology. We consider staff who’ve achieved a related B.S., AA, and technical degrees. The technical skills we look for are the ability to speak and read Russian and proficiency with Excel and Word.

Operations managers check the temperatures on storage equipment and make sure they are set to the proper levels. They also run quality control on shipments, making sure all tissues meet the size requirements of the order. For example, an order of 5 vials of breast cancer plasma at 3 ml each must be delivered at the exact amount requested. It is important that measurements be exact.

All employees are required to know the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). It is the job of the operations managers and clinical director to make sure everyone knows these.

What is your role?

I am the account manager at Geneticist. My job is to bring in new customers. I do a lot of e-mail marketing and phone calls with new clients to find how I can best serve them. I also do follow-up outreach to make sure the client was happy with their service and how else we may be able to assist.

What type of equipment do staff work with? Is there a lot done on computers?

There is a lot of computer work involved because our information database is computerized.

We deal with liquid nitrogen tanks that are filled with liquid nitrogen for storing samples. You have to use gloves when depositing and withdrawing specimens. They open from the top with hangers that hold stacked boxes of specimens. We pull them up, wait for the liquid nitrogen to leak out, and then place on a lab table to remove specimens. We also operate cryogenic freezers, which are extremely cold (-76 to -80 degrees Fahrenheit).

What types of business do you work with?

We deal with hospitals and blood collection sites to obtain samples. Some of our common customers include researchers, scientists, professors, and oncologists. Many of them are participating in disease research. We’ve been approached by make up companies as well, including L’Oreal, to provide tissue for product testing.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Client outreach is difficult because it involves a lot of sales. We have to provide excellent customer service in order to compete with other bio-repositories. This includes being prompt with e-mails, assisting with custom collection, providing clients with various protocols and assuring them all activities are performed ethically.

Do you hire staff that is still in school? Are there internships?

I actually started here when I was still in school and we employed one intern who was on her way to medical school. Though we don’t currently have any interns, we are open to hiring some.

Are you looking to expand your workforce?

Currently, no, but may be hiring in the near future as we continue to grow.

You can find Geneticist’s employer profile here (https://www.biotech-careers.org/company/geneticist-inc) and follow the company's links to see their current job offerings.

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