Robert Morton—Microbiologist in Industry

Robert Morton

Robert Morton

1. Please describe your current position.

I am the lab manager and I supervise microbiology lab personnel and equipment. I perform equipment and protocol validations for new or existing methods. I serve as the ambassador for the department and I work directly with other departments that require our services such as production and quality assurance.

2. How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

I started looking for a job in January 2015 and I took a position as an inside sales representative for a medical device company. In April I received a call from a staffing agency for a lab based position and I started at the end of April.

3. How did you learn about your current position?

Aerotek staffing contacted me; they found my resume on one of the career sites I was using in January 2015.

4. Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

I mostly used online resources like,, and I did get profiles with local temp agencies but those never panned out for me.

5. What was your work or educational background before you were hired?

Bachelors of Science in biochemistry and PhD candidate in microbiology. I mostly taught and mentored during graduate school. I did consult as an editor for a biology textbook once and I was a tutor for high school and graduate students. The only other jobs I held prior were as a camp counselor for special needs children and as a cashier in a supermarket.

6. Which aspects of your background (doctoral training, postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?

This is my second position within this company. I was hired as a temporary lab analyst and then they created a microbiologist position for me. The required education for both positions was a four-year degree.

7. How long after your interview did you start your position? Were there any barriers to starting your position when you had hoped (e.g. lack of space or funding available, time to secure appropriate visa or any other official procedures)?

I started the following Monday after my interview. I performed the taboo of quitting without two weeks’ notice. I had a good rapport with my previous job and they were surprised I lasted as long I as had at that position. There were no barriers for me to begin as a lab analyst; however, there was a barrier to me becoming the microbiologist for the site. The director of quality for my site told me at my interview that they did not have it in the budget to afford a microbiologist. About a month after working as an analyst I brought several opportunities for improvement to her attention. I was aware that I was under contract as an analyst but I told her that I was going to do the work that a microbiologist would do as well. My goal was to prove to them that they needed a microbiologist and for them to create the position and give it to me. I was successful on all fronts and by the end of my contract a microbiologist position had been approved and offered to me.

8. 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?

My lab experience made the transition to a lab tech easy. They needed someone they didn’t have to train much and my CV was able to demonstrate that. I prepared for the interview by researching the company and what they made. In the job description it listed several of the assays the analyst had to perform on a daily basis. I had never heard of any of them so I researched them and learned about them ahead of time. While I had no direct experience with the assays being performed, my preparation allowed me to convince them that I could fulfill the role they needed.

9. Did you pursue any other position or career path prior to being hired in your current position? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

Yes, I was an inside sales rep for a contract company working for Roche. My hope was that by working at the facility I would be able to transition into Roche in a more scientific based role. This probably would have worked since I had access to the job listing before they went public. My ultimate job choice was a result of taking the more immediate opportunity that was presented.

10. Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?

I initially wanted to work in industry when I started graduate school. My trajectory changed for a few years while I was there, but toward the end I wanted to get industrial experience so I could know what that world was like. I am quite happy with this decision thus far.

11. Is there anything about your current job that you had not expected before you were hired?

I did not expect to become a manager of other people. I always envisioned myself working at a bench and generating data for someone else. In reality I mostly troubleshoot analyst issues and edit procedures or protocols when changes are needed. When I am solving problems for production or quality assurance I will tell them the results of the data because it facilitates the problem solving conversations, but I am the one in charge of the science behind things.

12. Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?

I would not have been able to get the experiences or skills necessary without going out and working in the field. I feel that graduate school and the extracurricular activities I participated in prepared me to be an autonomous scientist and a leader.

13. How do you spend an average workday?

First thing I do is check in with the analysts, greet them and make sure everyone is ok. This is an opportunity for any issues that may have come up overnight to be addressed as well. I then review the result the analysts generated from the day (or days) before and verify them with the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). The rest of my day is spent working on process improvement projects for that lab or site. Throughout the day I will have meetings with the quality assurance or production departments.

14. What do you like the most about your work?

I like being able to make large-scale changes. Most of my job is problem solving and I love it.

15. What do you find the most challenging about your work?

Two things—the first is dealing with the difference between a row boat and a cruise ship. When I was a graduate student I was a row boat, I could decide to go in a direction and turn on a dime. On the flip side, if it didn’t pan out it didn’t matter as much because it was just me. Working in industry is like being on a cruise ship, the amount of time between when a need for change is identified and when the change occurs is significantly longer. The changes also affect a lot more people and you have to be more cognizant of everyone who is affected. The second thing is the politics. I’m just not a fan of them but I had to learn how to work the system I’m in.

16. What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

Communication and the ability to generate sound data. The ability to generate sound data is important because it is my job to generate data for validation studies that change how the lab conducts its tests. Once the results are approved they are implemented in multiple sites and it affects several companies. Communication is important because most of my day is spent talking to non-scientists about science. The people I work with on a regular basis have educational backgrounds ranging from high school to master’s degrees. If I cannot communicate effectively with anyone I need to, then it would result in me having to work harder alone instead of smarter with a team.

17. Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?

Yes, I think being approachable is very important for my job. I often get consulted about non-microbiology issues because I have developed good relationships with people and they appreciate my problem solving skills.

18. At any point, did you regret not having pursued a career in the academic field?


19. What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?

Have people in industry review your CV if possible. Collect as many industrial resumes as possible so you can see how yours should look. If you have issues getting an interview, see if you can set up a job shadow instead. Also understand that while graduating with your degree is an amazing accomplishment, you will be viewed as smart but inexperienced. Be prepared to combat your initial lack of experience with the experiences you do have. You may need to take a job you like in order to be in a position to get the job you love. Once you start getting experience it will be easier for you to move around within and between companies.

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