In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.
Roman Luštrik shares his story about how he went from being a veterinary technician, to a graduate school and research position at University and then to a private sector where he is helping cure cancer with statistics, biology, and data analytics.
What’s your educational background?
At the high school level, I studied as a veterinary technician, since I always loved working with animals. Afterward, I wanted to study to become a veterinarian at the university level, but couldn’t complete the necessary entry requirements. Due to a string of lucky consequences, I ended studying Biology at the University level two years later. Strictly speaking, I graduated in Biology and also got my Ph.D. at the same institution.
How did you get your previous job?
While I was writing my undergraduate thesis, I started doing more data analysis and learning how to code in the R language. I realized that I really enjoy it and that there were people around me with interest in similar subjects. I’ve started to co-organize meetups to be able to discuss this area with similar-minded people. This is where my previous boss approached me and offered me a job at the Biology department, doing research into theoretical biology. In practice that also included programming of simulations and robots as well as IT assistance inside the department. I’ve stayed with them for the next 8 years.
What prompted you to change your job?
During the whole time, I was on various types of contracts depending on funding and how we collaborated. As my last 2-year contract was coming to the end, they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to extend it again. At the same time, I was approached by my current manager and pitched me their company and invited me to join them. I passed all the interviews and soon after that, I started working as a bioinformatician.
Did you have any concerns before switching?
Not really. By that time, I was already unhappy with how things were being done at the University. There was a lot of bureaucracy and many excuses why things can’t be done or processes can’t be changed. As an example, buying a simple lab thermometer, was a week-long process with a lot of paperwork. It was tiring and looking back, I already wished that I could change my job. So a new opportunity was a perfect challenge of something new. I was especially excited about new ways of work and team collaboration. I was also never concerned about not finding a new job if this one didn’t pan out. I have a history of doing random jobs, so I was confident I could find something else to do fairly quickly.
How was the initial experience for you in your current job?
It’s a completely different type of work. I had to learn how to use many new tools, I need to write code more and it’s a new field of work: molecular biology. I used to really dislike this field of biology during my studies. Interesting aside: this is not the first time this happened. I was also trying to avoid mathematics during my studies but ended up doing my Ph.D. in statistics.
It turned out that in the new job, I got what I wanted. Working in this team is a completely different experience. It’s like working with a friend that is constantly trying to make sure that you have everything that you need to be successful at your work.
Can you explain in simplified terms what your company does?
We build tools to analyze very specific biology datasets in the field of Immuno-oncology. We’re helping our customers trying to figure out different tricks to convince the immune system to attack cancer in the human body. It’s a truly multi-disciplinary field connecting genetics, immunology as far as the biology part is concerned. There are also a lot of other roles involved in terms of data science, visualization, and support tools that support this analysis work.
Who do you think would really thrive in your field of work?
Some educational backgrounds are a natural fit for this work: physicists, biochemists, bio-technologists, microbiologists. At the same time, it’s a very complex field and it’s important to have many different experts that can work and support each other. We also employ people with a background in mathematics or computer science. Of course, there are a lot of other people with non-science roles that make sure that the business is running so that we can do our work. There’s also no real reason that somebody with a non-science education couldn’t work in our research team. As long as they are interested in this field and want to learn, there are a lot of opportunities for them to make an impact.
What’s your advice for people that are thinking of making a change?
If you’re already thinking about it – then you should do it sooner rather than later. If you’re unhappy, but not thinking about making the change – then you should also make a job change. In general, try to build social support and have a financial emergency fund. When you’re ready to make a switch, take your time to think about what you want to do next.
What I learned from talking with Roman
There are many opportunities for people who are interested in a wide range of things and are not afraid to ask questions. With this in mind, if you find that you’re bored in your current position, that’s a good opportunity to use that to find something new.