My experience of moving from academia to industry: Kelly Sakaki

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Kelly Sakaki: My experience of moving from academia to industry

My work in academia was the catalyst for the transition to industry as a Systems Engineer at Scientifica. Here’s how and why I made the move to industry. 

What’s my story?

I am a biomedical instrumentation engineer and design cutting-edge multiphoton microscopy technology. For more than a decade now, my focus has been developing state-of-the-art technology for analysing and manipulating single cells. Like any professional in the biomedical engineering field, I've worn many hats over the days to help me develop tools to observe and analyse the function of, and alter, the genetic structure of single cells. I have designed and fabricated large robotic assemblies, developed optical systems, analysed rare cells on a microchip, written software-system libraries and even worked at the bench transfecting cells. I've had to acquire many skillsets to help me understand and develop novel systems. Learning all of these skillsets and developing these systems was definitely driven by my passion for engineering design, my interest in biology, the overall joy of tinkering with technology and my hope that one day these technologies will help people. 

I've had excellent opportunities to achieve success and safely learn from failure in academic institutions and laboratories – opportunities that wouldn't have existed without great mentors, great funding and just a bit of luck. During my PhD and my postdoc, I spent many hours teaching courses in universities to engineers and scientists, which enabled me to hone my communication skills as an academic. I enjoyed my time in laboratories that allowed me to explore new technology, vastly improve my engineering skills through design and obtain feedback from experts and peers in the field from all over the world.

However much I enjoyed the academic side of my work, my passion during my projects was always in tool design and development. These projects I encountered were full of rigorous challenges and unknowns - something an engineer like myself could never refuse to partake in. In my most recent endeavour as a postdoc at the Centre for Brain Health, UBC, I worked in a fundamental neuroscience research laboratory developing multiphoton, 3D-random-access imaging microscopes and single-cell electroporation technology for imaging and deciphering synaptic activity and action potential firing in the early developing brains. Multiphoton systems such as this provide comprehensive imaging data that is critical for deciphering how neurons compute information. These systems propagated my interest in neuroscience and multiphoton microscopy design. 

Image credit: Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

The transition and my work at Scientifica

My transition from academia to industry stemmed from a bit of luck indeed. While searching for potential systems from multiphoton vendors that I could borrow for a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory course during the summer, I found a listing for a job that matched my skillset nearly exactly and needed no hesitation. Deciding to make this transition was no easy choice, but given the work described after a couple of phone calls, I knew that this opportunity presented to me the next set of challenges I needed to fulfil, and more importantly, was exactly the way I wanted to spend my days while at work.

At Scientifica, I'm working as a Systems Engineer analysing and designing optical systems for multiphoton microscopes in R&D. For me, this transition from academia to industry is the icing-on-the-cake in my line of work and I am ecstatic I have the opportunity to do this every day. 

For more advice on moving from academia to industry, take a look at Beyond the Professoriate. If you are interested in working for Scientifica, take a look at our latest openings and find out how you can send us your CV for consideration when a relevant role becomes available:

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