People of Synthace: Sarah James, PhD – Senior Technical Specialist
Sarah joined our Customer Success team in February 2019 as Biological Scientist. She later became one of our Field Application Scientist and, more recently, Senior Technical Specialist, who is now leading the entire team of Field Application Scientists.
Sarah understands our clients' requirements and takes them through from scope to delivery of our Antha platform, provides subsequent training and support, and ensures the best user experience. Read on to learn more about her role, her opinion of Synthace, and her experience seeking a career in STEM.
I feel like we're constantly learning new things at Synthace. It's interesting to learn what our software engineers do, and it's cool to teach them some biology, too!”Sarah James, PhD Senior Technical Specialist
What is your role at Synthace?
Leading a team of Field Application Scientists. I work with our clients and our Engineering team to develop solutions and implement our software, Antha, for lab automation
Where were you before joining Synthace?
I was at BASF as a process development scientist working on biological control products - in particular, parasitic nematodes which could be used to control insect pests in crops and the home garden.
Why did you want to join Synthace?
I was interested in automation so wanted to take my career in that direction and to have a slightly more commercial focus to my role.
And what made you choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths)?
I’ve had an interest in science since I was in primary school. I chose to study biology at university because I was fascinated by how biology not only affects us but how we can also use it to our advantage. I also had a great female role model who was the postdoc in the lab where I did my undergraduate project. She really encouraged me to explore doing a PhD.
What was your path into STEM?
I started by studying Biological Sciences at the University of Exeter. I then spent some time working in industry to pick up lab skills and find out more about what I enjoyed before starting my PhD in Microbiology at the University of Reading.
Do you think there's a lack of females in STEM related sectors?
I think it depends on the sector that you end up working in. There are a lot of women who work in STEM, particularly in biotech, but it would be great to see more female role models working at higher levels within organizations.
Are there barriers when it comes to women getting into STEM roles?
I didn’t feel like I had any particular barriers when I was younger and thinking about my career. However, as I get older, I can see why it might be harder to continue pushing through the ranks to higher levels. Flexible working and working practices supportive of families are key in helping make things easier for women working in any profession.
Why do you think some people may be put off by the idea of a career in STEM? What do you think could be done to help?
Being able to see people who are like you always helps you imagine yourself doing something. I think we need to be encouraging girls from a young age to think about careers in STEM and empowering them by introducing them to women who work in the sector.
Coming back to Synthace, think about the expectations you had before you joined. Is life and work here in line with how you thought it would be?
I thought the product was slightly further along than it actually was. But that’s kind of exciting as you really get to help shape and deliver the future of the company.
Do you think that there are clear career progression opportunities? Do you agree that it's possible to move around within the company?
It’s definitely possible to move around within the company. My head of department started out as an engineer and now works in Customer Success.
Would you say that you can clearly see how your work has an impact?
Absolutely! Both from an internal and external perspective. Our team makes sure what we are delivering to clients is actually meeting their needs, which means we have a happy client and a product that is fit for other clients.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Understanding the client’s problems, how we can begin to address them using Antha and seeing what we build come to life. Then, when we deliver, seeing people realize the value that Antha can bring to their work.
What do you enjoy most about life at Synthace (outside of your actual job)?
I feel like we're constantly learning new things at Synthace. It's interesting to learn what our software engineers do, and it's cool to teach them some biology, too!
How do you think working here is different to other companies?
This is my first experience of working at a start-up. It's really fast-paced, so you have to keep adapting. I personally really like this as it gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.
How would you describe the people and culture at Synthace?
Intelligent and driven.
What are you most proud of when thinking about Synthace as a company and/or group of colleagues?
The ambition of the company - creating flexible, easy-to-use automation software is really quite revolutionary.
What would you say to anyone considering joining Synthace?
The right fit between the company and the individual is important, so it honestly depends on who the person is and what they are looking for. I’d say you should join if you want to work at a fast-paced start-up focusing on automation.
What advice would you give to someone if they were looking to apply to your team? What traits and/or skills are important?
Being outgoing and able to talk to people, loving troubleshooting, and project management.
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