Career Perspectives: Margaret Prendergast, Director of Bioengineering, Allevi, Inc.


Please describe your current position.
Allevi (previously BioBots) develops a bioprinting platform for the fabrication of living 3D biological structures. As the director of bioengineering at Allevi, I facilitate an interdisciplinary effort among developers, roboticists, and material scientists to develop a series of standard bioinks for the fabrication of custom 3D living tissue.

Margaret Prendergast

How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?
I began searching for jobs about 6 months prior to my planned starting date at Allevi. I began as an intern at Allevi, then after 3 months of working at the company was offered a full-time position as a bioink engineer. After about two years as a bioink engineer, I was offered my current position.

How did you learn about your current position? Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?
I learned about Allevi through LinkedIn while searching for potential companies. I learned about openings when I met the co-founders at a conference in December. The resume review and mock interview resources at the University of Maryland were really helpful in preparing me for the interview process. Additionally, my work as an undergraduate researcher at my university as well as recommendations from my mentors helped bolster my resume.

What was your work or educational background before you were hired and how did it help you develop the skills required for your current position?
I had research experience in a tissue engineering lab at the University of Maryland and even had the opportunity to work with Allevi products while researching in this lab! This background was very helpful in developing the necessary wet lab skills for my current position as well as gaining familiarity and experience with the Allevi platform.

How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?
Especially when interviewing at a small company, it is important to consider not only why you want to work for the company but also how you can contribute to making the company successful. At start-ups where resources are often minimal and used with a lean mindset, you’ll have to convince your potential employer that hiring you is well worth spending some of those limited resources.
In addition to my skills in 3D cell culture and tissue engineering, my employer noted my passion for my field of work, my previous experience with the Allevi system, and my ability to effectively articulate my research as some attributes that stood out.
Our interview process often begins with a 30-minute phone interview to review a potential candidate’s CV or resume. After this round, we have a technical challenge to assess problem solving and lab skills. Finally, we have an in-person interview that involves both technical questions and assessment of soft skills such as communication and presentation skills.

What factors led to your ultimate job choice?
When searching for a job, the two main questions I asked myself were “Where can I learn the most?” and “Where can I grow the most?” At my current point in my career, these questions are more important to me than my salary or position title. I also think team members are really important. I’m really lucky to work with a very supportive and talented group of coworkers.

Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?
Definitely! Lots of experiences I’ve had at Allevi have required learning new skills, and there are many times I have found myself wishing I had more experience to help me in my current position. If I had waited until I had fully developed all these skills, though, I never would have applied for this position and would not have experienced all the amazing opportunities at Allevi that have allowed me to grow as a professional.

How do you spend an average workday?
One of my favorite parts of working at a start-up is that every day is different. At Allevi, I get to wear a lot of different hats and learn a lot along the way. In general, I spend about half my time in the lab conducting experiments; about a quarter collaborating with our software, operations, and hardware teams; and another quarter of my time interfacing with current and potential customers.

What do you like the most about your work?
I really love interacting with our customers. Our users are leading a biological revolution and constantly amaze me with new applications for 3D biofabrication. I love working with cutting-edge technology and having the opportunity to work with so many talented teams of researchers.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?
Similar to scientific research, growing a business can require a lot of trial and error, and success rarely comes in a straight line. It can be easy to get discouraged when certain decisions don’t work out as planned, but having a supportive team helps to get through the rough days and work through the failures to success.

What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?
For me, my technical background in bioengineering and experience with cell culture have certainly been essential for my position. Other less quantitative skills I have found useful are ones that many scientists develop during training: problem solving, resilience, and a constant desire to learn.

What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?
Find a way to gain some experience in a research lab with exposure to cell culture (even better if it can relate to 3D biology). Also work on growing your network in industry. This second step can sometimes seem daunting for those in academic environments, but it can be much easier than most people think. Look for local meet-ups in your area or organizations or locations that host space for biotech companies. Those spaces will often have events that are open to the general community to attend. This network will be useful in learning about new opportunities as well as what types of skills are required for different industry positions.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

About the Author: