May 26, 2022

Octant Apprentices: Presenting the Class of 2022

May 26, 2022

Octant Apprentices: Presenting the Class of 2022

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling ‘22

This year the Octant Apprenticeship program underwent a few changes. First and foremost, we have a new name! With the success of the synthetic biology apprenticeship, we expanded the program to also include chemistry, drug discovery, and high-throughput screening. We renamed the program from the SynBio Apprenticeship (SBA) to the Octant Apprenticeship (OA) to account for the broader scientific profile.

One thing that didn’t change is that we had another stellar class of Apprentices. Here’s a bit about their experience as the first class of OAs (and the third class of Apprentices).

Congratulations to the Class of 2022!!

Why did you join the Apprenticeship program?

It feels like a perfect night/To dress up like hipsters

Maris: Graduating during a pandemic after a year of online learning left me feeling like I still needed more hands-on lab experience. The OA program was the perfect opportunity to familiarize myself with the biotech space, participate in cutting-edge research, and develop professionally and scientifically before committing to a PhD. Now, more than halfway through the program, I can definitely say I feel prepared to take on a PhD and full-time research.

Pedro: I knew my interests sat in the biological sciences and medicine, but I really wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do science or engineering in my day-to-day. Going to school in a biotech city, I was also super curious about early-stage biotech. I felt like Octant would give me that exposure. I turned down a couple of big pharma opportunities for Octant because, at the end of the day, Octant felt like a fun place to grow as an early-career professional. During my time at Octant, I’ve realized I enjoy the engineering aspect of biotech and am excited to pursue that route.

Pedro with his OA Mentor, Octant Scientist and Multiplexed Assay Platform Tech Lead Jeff.

What skills and projects have you worked on as an OA?

And end up dreamin' instead of sleeping, yeah

Jordan: During my time in the OA program, I've worked on two major projects. The first was onboarding a new coupling chemistry to the high throughput chemistry platform. This new chemistry opens up a broad chemical landscape that we can now traverse on our quest for making therapeutics. My second ongoing responsibility is to provide one of our drug discovery teams with thousands of molecules every week (I think I've made ~150,000 in total) to screen against clinically relevant targets. It's really exciting to see molecules I made light up our assays and progress through the drug discovery pipeline. Maybe one day, one of them will be a bona fide drug!

Pedro: I learned a ton about Octant’s computational magic. Running the analysis pipeline and dipping my feet in Github, docker, and bash scripting gave me a bunch of super useful skills I was not expecting to learn. I also learned a ton about automation engineering in biotech, a field I didn’t even know existed before coming to Octant.

Justin: Although I had some molecular biology experience prior to joining Octant, I had very limited exposure to mammalian tissue culture. Thanks to the help of so many Octonauts (shoutout to Morgan!), I’m now a mammalian synthetic biology wizard! It’s really exciting to brainstorm ideas for new reporter designs, design them online, order reagents, and build and test them in the lab (sometimes all within a couple of weeks!). I’ve also been developing my project management & experimental strategy skill.

Helen: When I first came to Octant, I was expecting to do a lot of bench work to refresh my molecular biology and cell engineering skills while also expanding my data analysis toolkit. I got to do this through the introductory Apprentice project and some assay development work early in my time on one of the Discovery teams. What I didn't expect was that I would also get to see so much more of the broader drug discovery process. About a month out from our OA project, an opportunity arose for me to take on some program management duties within my team. I help coordinate how different groups within Octant contribute to one of our drug discovery programs and work with external partners on collaborative studies. Through it all, I’ve learned so much about the overarching logistical and strategic considerations that go into drug discovery. I'd heard the term "bench-to-bedside pipeline" quite frequently as an aspiring physician/translational researcher, but never really had a clear picture of what everything outside the "bench" part looked like. Experiencing drug discovery from this angle helped demystify how a new therapeutic is developed and made available to patients.

Front Row: OAs Jordan and Maris.
Back Row: OAs Pedro, Helen, and Justin.

What do you appreciate most about Octant/the OA program? What is really challenging?

It's miserable and magical, oh yeah

Justin: I always say something along the lines of “I can’t believe they’re letting me work on this” when I talk about working at Octant. The amount of ownership I have still seems surreal and is something I’m really grateful for. On top of that, I really appreciate the amount of support I get from other Octonauts. Almost every person at this company has helped me at one point or another, and some of the people that I find myself relying on the most aren’t even on my team!

Maris: The first couple of weeks as an OA are a steep learning curve. You’re learning so many new concepts, skills, and processes at once, which is a lot to get a handle on. I wish I could have done more to prepare for all of those new experiences. However, there’s definitely value in being able to learn on your feet, and you really come out on the other side of the onboarding process ready to start making some seriously cool contributions at Octant.

Helen: You're entrusted with quite a bit of responsibility as an OA. This is really rewarding and great for learning, but growing into that responsibility can be uncomfortable. Luckily, you're surrounded by people who want to see you succeed, and they're more than happy to help in whatever way they can to get you to where you need to be.

Any wisdom for the next class?

Everything will be alright if you keep me next to you

Jordan: Take advantage of everything that Octant has to offer! There are a lot of learning opportunities. One of my favorites is Ramsey’s lunch club, which covers topics like how to fundraise, how equity works, what term sheets are, etc. People at Octant come from very unique professional backgrounds, so if you're interested in the work they have done or are currently doing, you should totally ask them to chat with you - they are always happy to share their experiences. Additionally, if there's a team doing a cool project that you want to learn more about, just ask. Also -- go sailing with Galen at least once!

Jordan with her OA Mentor, Octant Scientist and High Throughput Chemistry Tech Lead Galen.

Helen: If you find yourself arriving after 9AM, head straight to 66th for parking. The Assay room bead bath is the lab's best-kept secret. Ask lots of questions, especially the ones you're scared might sound silly. Most importantly, don't be shy about helping Octant keep its food waste at a minimum after All-Hands!

What’s next for you?

We just keep dancing like we're 22

Jordan: I'll be staying at Octant for at least another year, and I hope to explore other facets of the company by getting more involved in compute and synbio. I will probably end up in grad school at some point, but there's too much exciting stuff going on at Octant right now that I want to be a part of!

Helen: I'll be heading to Philly to start medical school at UPenn (while missing Octant lots)!

Maris: I’ll be starting a PhD in Genetics and Genomics at UCLA in the fall!

Pedro: I’m off to start an MS in Robotics at Columbia this fall!

Justin: I’ll also be staying at Octant for at least another year and working on developing a new therapeutic program!

Thanks for a great year, Class of ‘22. We’re excited to see what you do next, whether that be at Octant or beyond!

Jordan Gewing-Mullins

Octant Apprentice

Maris Kamalu

Octant Apprentice

Helen Song

Octant Apprentice

Justin Greene

Octant Apprentice

Pedro La Rotta

Octant Apprentice
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