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Janelle Santos

SFU Co-op Student
Science › Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

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Scientist looking up a sample on petri dish
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Take the initiative to help out with other projects if the opportunity is presented to you.

Getting accustomed to a new workplace with new people can be daunting. MBB student Janelle shares her experience working for the fast-paced industrial lab, Maxxam.  This part one of a two part series.

As soon as I received the job offer from Maxxam, thoughts immediately started running in my head: “Can I really do this? I’ve never worked in a lab before!” and “Will I get along with my colleagues?” Turns out I did not have much to worry about after all. Maxxam is a company known to hire dozens of co-op students each year. As such, they are used to dealing with students, especially those who have no previous lab work experience. As for the people, one of the managers noted that working in Maxxam is like “being on the Big Bang Theory.” This two part series is a reflection of what I learned in a lab environment, how I settled into the workplace and met a lot of amazing individuals. 

The Work

Maxxam is an industrial lab and works like a well-oiled machine. Companies will send samples for analysis, and these samples will go through several departments of the lab and are handled by several different people. Maxxam is made up of many people who work together as one cohesive unit. My role was Lab Technician Assistant, and it was like being one of the many gears working together in the machine that is Maxxam. It’s a fast-paced, high throughput environment that may be daunting at first. As part of the Preprocessing Department, I was responsible for prepping soil samples for organic extraction. This meant having to do the repetitive task of aliquoting right amounts of samples into proper containers with the correct chemicals. Later on, I was given the opportunity to analyze the contents/texture of the soil samples and became known as the ‘Texture Girl’.

Key Take-Aways

These are key points I learned while working in the Preprocessing Department at Maxxam:

  • Teamwork – Other departments may be different, but the workstations and equipment in the Preprocessing Department were shared among two or three lab technicians, which meant coordinating with other lab techs in how to best manage the space and equipment.

  • Physical Demand – One may not think that working in a lab would be physically demanding, but for the first few weeks I came home with sore muscles. I was required to lift heavy objects, stand for long periods of time, and do highly repetitive tasks. This is something I (and my muscles) eventually got used to as time passed, but it was definitely a huge difference from spending hours sitting in lecture halls at university.

  • Responsibility – Managers and supervisors understand if you make a mistake. After all, you are just a co-op student learning the ropes! But if you do make a mistake, own up to it so that the mistake can be fixed before it is too late.

  • Time Management – The Preprocessing Department is the second department that samples pass through before going for further preparation and analysis in several other departments. I had to be efficient with my work so that lab techs and lab analysts down the line can start working on the samples as well (try to prevent the bottleneck in the sample analysis process).

  • Initiative – Take the initiative to help out with other projects if the opportunity is presented to you. By helping out with the introduction of a new procedure in the lab, I became in charge the procedure from running test samples to reporting data.

Being part of the Preprocessing Department gave me insights as to how industrial labs work. At the same time, I grew to appreciate the role of Lab Technician, an entry level position that I may pursue in the future. Unexpectedly, it is a physically demanding job but Lab Technicians are behind most of the ‘wet lab’ processes and therefore play a vital role.

About the Author

Janelle Santos

SFU Co-op Student
Science › Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

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