A Career in Industry: Quality Control

July 1, 2020

One career path in microbiology that doesn’t require a doctoral degree is quality control. Quality control professionals are needed by all manufacturing companies to make sure that every single item produced is high quality.
Hannah Clark on the microscope.
Hannah Clark on the microscope.
In other words, quality control professionals make sure products follow compliance withspecific laws, standards and regulations. 

We interviewed Hannah Clark, a Quality Control Analyst at AveXis, Inc. She attended Colorado State University for a Master Degree in Microbiology and Immunology and the University of Colorado, Boulder for a Bachelor Degree in Integrative Physiology. She shares with us what she does on a day to day basis and what kinds of skills and education are needed for a career in quality control.

Describe your company and what you do on a day to day basis.

I work in quality control (QC) for AveXis, the world’s leading gene therapy company. AveXis established AAV9 as an ideal vector for gene transfer in diseases affecting the central nervous system and received its first U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in May 2019 for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). QC is divided into 3 areas: 
  • The analytical team runs things like PCR, ELISA and chromatography assays. 
  • The microbiology team, my department, tests the microbial load in raw materials and the rooms in which our product is manufactured, as well as performs cell culture assays. 
  • The stability team determines the “shelf life” of the product and ensures proper shipping conditions while it is transported from the manufacturing facility to doctors’ offices. 
All 3 areas work together to ensure both the raw materials and the final product are pure and safe to give to patients. 

How did you get into your current position?

A friend’s husband who works in quality assurance thought that I might enjoy quality control and the field of pharmaceutical sciences. He suggested that I apply for a position in the field. In my last semester of graduate school, I attended a networking event managed by the Colorado Bioscience Association and discovered that AstraZeneca was opening a plant in Boulder, Colo., so I contacted the company and applied in 2016. I transitioned to working for AveXis in May 2019 and I have really enjoyed working for them.

Are there certain skills you use to excel in your job? What about overall in industry? 

For my job, the most important skill is the ability to pay attention to detail and admit (and then correct) mistakes. It’s also important to be able to follow procedures meticulously and problem-solve when things don’t go as expected. It is imperative to document everything you do, however minute. We have a saying, “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.” For the overall industry, it’s especially important to acquire the skills of following procedures exactly as written and documenting what you have done! 

What kinds of education and experiences do you need to be a good fit for your current job?

My position requires a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field, and my colleagues have studied everything from biology to chemistry to engineering. I personally have a master’s in microbiology, which while not necessary, has helped increase my understanding of how many of our assays work, which in turn helps me troubleshoot when things don’t go as expected. Lab experience is a plus, but also not necessary. I spent most of my time in university labs running PCR and gel electrophoresis assays, and the only skill that really translates from the lab into what I currently do is the ability to use a pipette! There is extensive on-the-job training in the field of QC, which is more helpful than any prior lab experience. 

What can students do to best prepare themselves for entering your profession?

Pursue a degree in science, hone problem-solving and critical thinking skills and learn to pay attention to details. Document everything, however unimportant it may seem! If you have a chance to work in a lab, take it, but not working in a lab isn’t a deal breaker in this field. For entry-level positions in quality control, hiring managers are looking for someone who is hardworking, able to work well with the existing team, detail oriented and willing to learn new skills. 

You had training on being an effective team member; what were some of the biggest takeaways?   

Put the needs of the team above your personal needs. That’s not to say ignore your personal needs; just be aware that you may have to compromise so the team as a whole is successful. Also, listen! Listen to both what your team is saying and what they are not saying. Stress is inevitable in the workplace, and people deal with it in different ways. Sometimes people won’t ask for help but will accept it if offered, so don’t be afraid to offer help if you can!
Apply for quality control openings through ASM’s Job Board, Career Connections. Career Connections allows you to manage your career by searching for and applying to microbiology jobs, uploading your resume/CV, receiving feedback from TopResume and allowing employers to contact you. You can also set up notifications about jobs tailored to your preferred location(s) and access career resources, job searching tips and career coaching tools. 

Author: Hannah Clark, M.S.

Hannah Clark, M.S.
Hannah Clark, Quality Control Analyst at AveXis, Inc., earned an M.S. in Microbiology and Immunology at Colorado State University.