One-on-One Science Communication and Teaching
After obtaining a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Kansas State University, I embarked on a second post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Although I enjoyed the challenge of basic research and the intellectual stimulation of delving into a particular topic in depth, I noticed too many bright and talented scientists struggle obtaining traditional academic positions and grant funding. This led me to expand my career options and fortuitously take advantage of my interest in teaching, one-on-one scientific communication, and technical writing, by accepting a position at Promega Corporation as a Technical Service Scientist. This position not only required strong scientific knowledge in many areas of molecular and cellular biology, by also excellent communication skills. I have never learned more than in this position and thoroughly enjoyed the constant interaction with customers.
I did miss hands-on lab work though and transferred into a bench-based position at Promega in the Scientific Applications Department. This department was responsible for developing new applications for existing products, extending the uses or providing supporting information for existing products, training scientists on Promega products, and developing adaptive product lines. During my work in Scientific Applications I was asked to participate as an instructor at the non-profit educational outreach institution that Promega sponsors (the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute), which offers a variety of adult workshops in molecular and cellular biology, with a focus on biotechnology. This experience with teaching a variety of scientists about current techniques in molecular biology was an extremely rewarding experience and served as an excellent outlet for channeling my interest in teaching and working individually or in small groups with a variety of scientists at various points in their careers and from diverse backgrounds.
When the University of Wisconsin–Madison developed their new MS in Biotechnology program several years ago they collaborated with the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute to design, coordinate, and implement the three laboratory courses that were integral in the 2 year program. I became heavily involved with these courses, which has now turned into a full-time job at the University of Wisconsin, where I am currently the Assistant Director of the program and a faculty associate (a non-tenure track position). I am still able to work part-time for the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute in their summer adult molecular biology and biotechnology courses, but spend the remainder of the year designing, coordinating, and instructing the laboratory courses for the master's program, as well as facilitating curriculum development and integration for the entire program. I did not plan on returning to academia because I found the biotechnology industry quite rewarding, but by taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves to me and following what I love to do, I have what I think is a very rewarding and satisfying career.
I look forward to work every day, from designing and testing new laboratory modules or courses, to the actual instruction of the students and serving as a mentor in their scientific and career development. I have also been asked to author textbooks in biotechnology as an offshoot of my teaching experience, so you just never know what will come your way.
—Natalie Betz, PhD