It’s not all about the bench

This guest post comes from Wilma Anderson, Business Development Manager at Tissue Solutions, an SME based at the West of Scotland Science Park in Glasgow. We asked Wilma to share her journey from  an NHS pathology lab to speaker at scientific conferences. We are delighted that Wilma is coming on campus on Thursday 16th March for our Careers in Life Sciences event. Sign up on MyCareerHub now!

Tissue solutions are a virtual biobank working with over 120 sources globally to access ethically consented human tissue and Bio fluids for research. Our clients range from Biotech’s, CRO and large Pharmaceutical companies. I work with academic and non-profit clients who need samples for their research but don’t know where or how to access them- that’s where we come in.

Our extensive network and excellent relationships allows us to source these samples; from the easiest such as blood and skin to the more difficult such as cancer, cardiovascular or CNS samples. Everything is anonymised, audited and of the highest quality. We focus on this work and are very specialised as a result.

The company started in 2007 and has since grown from being a one-woman company to providing employment for 13 people and continues to grow.  It’s a great job, interesting sometimes challenging but very rewarding, I feel that I am doing something valuable and helping the researchers identify cures for diseases to help people live a better life.

How did I get here?

I love science and enjoyed bench work and previously worked for the NHS in a pathology lab screening cervical samples and general laboratory tasks. I enjoyed it for 11 years and hadn’t considered leaving until I attended a cervical cytology conference. I saw a sign advertising for a cytology support manager for a commercial company. You needed to have previous cytology and lab experience to apply. I submitted my CV  was invited to interview in Leeds then offered the position.

I was thrilled, nervous and undecided.  I would be going from the safety of my routine lab to travelling, meeting people, doing microscopy sessions, presenting talks.  I made myself two lists- reasons to accept the job and reasons not to take it.  I accepted-  this was a great chance and if I did not at least try then I would regret it.

So, I left the safety of the NHS and took myself into the commercial world, where I would be working for a company who had the NHS as a customer… big difference. Of course, I had the benefits of a nice company car, going to places that I would never have visited, although I never got to see much of them apart from airports, hotels and labs. I worked long hours, but loved it and the challenge of working with the NHS and not for the NHS. Every penny in the NHS is precious so decisions often took a long time to come to fruition, I had to learn to be patient, diplomatic and conscientious. My interaction with my customers was really important to me and I formed some very good relationships. The first time I gave a presentation at a conference, I was terrified but I was confident with what I was talking about and thoroughly enjoyed it despite my nerves. I stayed with this company for 15 years, worked my way from an account manager to senior management with the responsibility of a budget of £10m.

So why leave and go back to a small company? After 15 years, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again. Sometimes as companies grow you can lose your identity and there is no longer that same appetite or enthusiasm that drives you.

Working for a SME such as Tissue Solutions has reignited my love of science and the buzz of being at the cutting edge of research. It is so interesting working with the academics and learning about the research they are doing and feeling that I am contributing. One year on from joining Tissue Solutions I am still amazed at the type of samples we are asked for and can source. I am no longer working at the bench but am learning so much, I still get to give presentations, meet people and talk science.

My advice if you are undecided on what career path you want to choose – If you have good people skills, like to interact with others, like a challenge and are happy to step out of your comfort zone, then maybe a role in Business Development is what you are looking for.

You can meet Wilma and others working in the sector at our Careers in Life Sciences event on Thursday  16th March. Sign up on MyCareerHub now


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