Skip to main content

Yael Toyber

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Biological Sciences
Co-operative Education

Position Title
Experience Faculty
Working at Genevant has taught me a lot about laboratory management and laboratory skills that I can apply towards future co-op experiences, education and career!
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips

Applying for co-op positions throughout the semester can be very overwhelming. This is mainly due to the volume of applications one may need to complete together with schoolwork and the pressure that can come alongside finding a co-op position before the term ends. Consistency and a receptive attitude towards feedback are two key tools that can help you succeed. Keep applying to all positions you are interested in, even those that seem beyond your scope as a student with little experience. If you do not get interview requests within a few months, review your resume, use the co-op office resources, and ask for help. Take advantage of the opportunities provided to you by the co-op office to improve your application skills. This type of skill is not mastered overnight, see your rejections as an opportunity to learn and develop your application skills.

Before my interview for my position, I researched Genevant, the companies core values and the area of science that they focus on, in this case being Lipid Nanoparticles (LNP’s). I would recommend looking into the company’s core values, their research projects and overall goal. Having background knowledge on the type of research being conducted at the company shows that you are not only prepared, but keen to learn more. There will likely be questions about the company’s area of focus during your interview, give yourself the best chance at the opportunity by researching this beforehand.

Introduction + Preparation
Preparation Tips for Future Students

As mentioned previously, I recommend researching the companies core values and the area of science that they focus on, in Genevant's case being LNP’s. My coursework and labs allowed me to gain general biology knowledge that could be applied to the technology + payloads utilized at Genevant to create their LNP. I'd recommend researching the technology and reading research papers to familiarize yourself with the area of focus before starting your co-op. It is good to be prepared and have some background knowledge before you start. You will learn much more from your supervisor and co-workers once you start your co-op. I would recommend that co-op students ask many questions on topics they are unsure of, your supervisor can help you learn more about the technology your company uses as well as their past experiences in other positions. In addition to having some background knowledge, make sure to bring a note pad for your first few days. It can be overwhelming to take in a lot of new information all at once. I found that writing things down helped me organize my thoughts and think critically when making important decisions in my first few weeks.

The New Sliding Storage Shelves for Consumables
This photo shows a few of the racks where consumables are kept.

This is a photo I took of the new sliding storage shelves in our storage room. Each rack had its own type of item, for example: bottles on one shelf, tubes on another, tissue culture treated flasks on one and so on.

Each shelf was customized to fit the different sized boxes that each consumable was delivered in, in order to use the space as efficiently as possible.

Hep G2 Cells That I was Checking Under the Microscope Before Passaging
 Hep G2 is a liver cancer cell line that grows in “island like” formations. This picture shows a high density of cells which have adhered to the flask.

Hep G2 is a liver cancer cell line that grows in “island like” formations. These cells are kept in a flask that has been treated for cell culture, in order for cells to adhere to the flat surface. The pink liquid or cell culture media, may contain antibiotics, vitamins, buffers and serums (depending on the type of cell line) this helps keep the cells healthy as they grow.

This picture shows a high density of cells which have adhered to the flask. Passaging cells is when you harvest cells from one culture and transfer them to a new flask with new medium, in order to start new cultures.

Cells that are in these flasks can then be cryopreserved (stored in Liquid Nitrogen for long term storage) or a protocol for protein extraction can be followed to run a variety of assays (an investigative procedure) on the sample.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

My first week on the job was mostly filled with paperwork, HR meetings, as well as many training sessions and programs. On my first day I was given a tour of the office space as well as the various lab areas & storage rooms. Throughout the week, I received training in general lab safety & biological safety cabinets. I completed both a WHMIS 2015 & Transport of Dangerous Goods (TDG) certificate as well. My TDG training provided me with important knowledge on how to safely receive the various chemicals and goods that were ordered by the various lab departments. This course gave me insight on how these goods are regulated and transported safely to our lab. Additionally, I learned how to receive goods, and how to package and prepare shipments of samples to collaborators.

Even with Genevant being a small community of 40-50 employees, It was difficult at first to keep track of all the new faces, names, roles, and departments that each individual was a part of. My position as a lab operations co-op granted me with the opportunity to get to know everyone due to the communication necessary for consumable management, lab expansion projects, shipments & deliveries, as well as scheduling technician and vendor representative visits. Over time I was able to understand everyone’s individual part in the company, the lab departments roles and how they all work together.

Learning and Adaptation

Inventory management was one of the main aspects of my role at Genevant. From keeping track of consumable use, communicating with lab users about consumables, ordering and communicating with our various vendors such as VWR & Fisher, everyday can be unpredictable. On my first day, my supervisor Karly and I conducted an inventory audit to start off fresh for the start of my co-op term. Karly taught me how to keep track of consumables, the unit in which each consumable is counted in, how & when to restock consumables. I particularly struggled with microcentrifuge tubes the most. There were two sizes of tubes: 1.5 mL & 2.0 mL, however some were non-sterile, others sterile and some were of a different brand. It was difficult to keep track of items due to the unfamiliarity. After 5 or so supply runs, I was able to get a grasp on the various types of microcentrifuge tubes and other consumables in our storage room.

Another area within inventory management where I had to adapt was the introduction of a new inventory management software. Our previous method relied heavily on correct user input of consumables being taken in/out of the storage room into Excel and memorization. It can be confusing for someone to adapt to the units in which each item is kept track of. This new system had set stock units & purchasing units for each item. For example: gloves are purchased by the case of 10 individual boxes, but the stock unit would be counted by the individual box, meaning 1 case would be equal to 10 stock units. When implementing a new system, there are always some quirks to work out at the start, however, overtime the system has made keeping track of inventory less stressful, more efficient and is much more user friendly.

Accomplishments and Challenges

An accomplishment I had during my co-op experience at Genevant was re-designing our consumable warehouse storage space. The warehouse was very cluttered with boxes and storage racks that did not use the space as efficiently as possible. Supply runs would be frustrating and take a long time due to the disorganization. This project was given to me with the hope that I would design a storage system that would best suit our consumable needs.

I started out by taking measurements of the warehouse and planning to use new sliding rack systems along with a few preexisting racks. Then I began to categorize each consumable into its own group, smaller sized tubes would all go on one rack, tissue culture treated consumables on another and so forth. I would measure the sizes of each box the consumables came in to figure out custom shelf heights for each individual rack. Once all of the planning had been completed, I placed an order for the sliding racks, had them assembled and moved all the consumables into their new spots. Although this was a great accomplishment which made inventory management much more efficient, the project did present its challenges. One challenge was deciding the placement of each consumable. I had to think back on the workflow of supply runs, the challenges I encountered in the past and what I could do to prevent that in this new set up. This was tricky as I had no previous experience in designing an organizational system of this capacity. However, through taking my time, asking questions when needed and taking initiative I was able to design an efficient and straightforward consumable storage system.

Reflection & Tips

When thinking back on my co-op experience at Genevant, I am happy that I took this opportunity. Although this was not the traditional co-op experience, I have found that my unique position has allowed me to learn about a great variety of aspects within a biotech lab. I have learned how each laboratory’s work intersects with the other, the similarities, differences and how they all come together to achieve a common goal: successful LNP collaborations. There is a great amount of work that goes behind the scenes to make studies possible, from preparation from the scientists, protocol creation, research on the methods and trials. On the consumable side of it all, this would include managing supply chain issues, communicating with vendors, negotiating pricing and relaying this information back to lab staff. Being a lab & facilities manager requires you to be on top of everything from consumables to the current state of lab equipment and other projects going on in the background. I enjoyed this aspect of the co-op, as every day was different. There were some tasks that were ongoing such as consumable management, supply runs, as well as meeting with vendors, technicians and architects. However, if issues with equipment, facilities or consumables come up, this can make the day much busier. I have enjoyed the dynamic working environment and all the challenges that I have encountered throughout this experience.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

One of the most valuable aspects of this experience was helping with the lab expansion. In January, Genevant had just started the design process for their lab expansion. I was a part of weekly meetings with the architects, engineers and other vendors that would help complete this project. I learned a lot about all the different types of equipment each lab utilized within my first few weeks on the job. When designing a lab, all electrical, water, waste, exhaust, specialty gases, even the room temperature must be taken into consideration for the lab to work efficiently. I was tasked with going through each lab and noting down each piece of equipment that is used, along with its special requirements. After all of this information was collected and scientists had given their input on their desired layout, the architects went to work and created a drawing for each space. It was rewarding to be a part of this process as it showed me how particular one must be when designing a lab space. This was one aspect of the lab that I had never taken into consideration before. An example of this would be the placement of biosafety cabinets (BSC) in a room. When placing a BSC you must take into consideration common walking pathways, the workflow, and other factors such as doors, the HVAC and surrounding equipment. Too much movement around the BSC can affect the air flow inside and overall performance. This experience taught me a lot about the equipment that is used in the lab. To understand the requirements of a piece of equipment, it helps to know the use of the equipment and why it requires speciality gases such as nitrogen for example. I can now quickly identify equipment in a lab and its intended use due to this experience.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Through my unique role at Genevant I have learned a fair amount about the equipment, instruments, and consumables that each lab group uses to conduct their experiments. This allowed me to put together the pieces of the general LNP manufacturing process, how different types of equipment work together, why certain consumables are used and how all the lab groups work as a team to create successful collaborations with external biotechnology companies. This has also prompted me to conduct my own research online through research papers and online sources on the various lab techniques and methods I have seen used.

After expressing interest in bench work, I was offered the opportunity to shadow a biology scientist at Genevant and learn more about various assays and cell culture work that is done by the biology team through research papers, articles and shadowing. I was later given the opportunity to conduct some cell culture work myself and gain some bench work experience in the field, which was very exciting for me. I was able to practice basic laboratory skills such as pipetting in more detail and in other applications than what I had encountered during my laboratory courses at SFU. Going forward I am enthusiastic to utilize what I have learned about cell culture work such as adherent cell passaging, cell splitting, media preparation, cell counting, cryopreservation, protein extraction, western blots, as well as ELISA and BCA assays towards future co-op experiences.

Advice for Future Students

My advice for future students who are interested in a similar role is to get the most out of this experience as you can. Ask questions and take advantage of all of the literature, presentations and resources that you have around you at this time. Hands on learning straight from the people who are involved in experiments and research is a unique experience that many students do not have the opportunity to do elsewhere. Learning in lecture vs on the job can be very different, co-op provides a learning opportunity like no other. Not only is the change in scenery helpful, but the opportunity also to learn hands on everyday rather than every 2 weeks in a lab course is one to take advantage of.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a co-worker about their research or their presentation during lab meetings, it’s a great way to expand your learning opportunities and make connections within the field. I had the opportunity to shadow a few co-workers in the lab, mainly on cell culture work and various types of assays. Assays are procedures that can be done in the lab to measure activity, quantity, or presence of your substance of interest. One example is a Bradford Assay (BCA) which tests for the total protein concentration in your sample. During my time at Genevant I was able to complete a BCA assay after extracting protein from my cell culture flask, which is an opportunity I did not anticipate having in the beginning of my co-op term.  As said previously, don’t be afraid to reach out, take advantage of the time you have during your co-op!