Jefferson Lai, Applications Scientist - Genomics, is helping develop new features in next-generation sequencing for users of Echo® Liquid Handlers. He joined Labcyte in November 2016 and earned his bachelor’s degree in microbial biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Lai is an author on a recent Nature publication describing his work on yeast central metabolism while at Amyris.
What does your job entail?
The responsibility is to interact with customers and prospective customers, understand what they’re trying to do, and determine how the Echo can make their lives easier. I spend a lot of time talking to customers and going to conferences to hear what scientists are excited about. Then I take those ideas and work to integrate them onto the Echo to save customers money, time, and resources.
What did you do before joining Labcyte?
I actually used to be a Labcyte customer at synthetic biology companies where we used the Echo instrument in our workflows. Immediately preceding this I was at Intrexon, and before that I was working at Amyris. I liked the product a lot and liked where Labcyte was going, so I made the switch.
How big of a change was it to leave the lab and join an instrument developer?
Coming to the applications scientist position was a pretty natural transition because I’m still thinking about lab workflows, and I run experiments in-house to develop app notes for showing customers the feasibility of a protocol as well as to develop solutions for challenges in those workflows. But being in the marketing department is interesting because my goals are more about supporting customers than about generating new scientific results.
What are the new applications you’re thinking about now?
I’m focused a lot on next-generation sequencing. We’re expanding into single-cell sequencing to help customers understand, on an individual-cell basis, if there are differences across the cell population they’re studying. A lot of our DNA sequencing workflows are very well established, but we want to do more RNA sequencing as well.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The balance of work. I have both internal work, where I go to the lab and run experiments, and external work, where I go out to tradeshows, conferences, and customer sites to meet customers. It’s a unique balance of being introverted and extroverted.
How do you see your career developing at Labcyte?
I’m still early in this transition from being completely in the lab to being in marketing and science. I figured this was a good path to take because it opens a few doors for me. I could go back to research, but I could also think about product management or sales. These are all viable options.
What’s your best career advice?
The people around you are extremely important. We all rely on each other to do a good job and lift each other up, to make the day-to-day enjoyable. A good work environment is really important.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m an avid cyclist and I enjoy racing cyclocross. These bikes have drop bars as well as big, knobby tires — they look like a mountain bike and a road bike had a baby. Race courses typically involve pavement, dirt, grass, mud, and sand, which tests a person’s endurance as well as technical handling abilities across different terrains. I like that it’s pretty casual because cyclocrossers don’t take themselves too seriously.
If you could cure any disease, what would it be and why?
I would have to say cancer because it’s such a widespread disease. We’re making a lot of gains in that field right now as we start to open up the genome side of it and see how people are predisposed to certain types of cancer. That offers opportunities to prevent cancer or to control it on a genome level, such as through signaling pathways and gene therapies.
Who is your favorite influencer and why?
Annie Tsong, the first manager I had at Amyris, had a profound influence on my career by mentoring me, helping develop my scientific acumen, and showing me the right things to do to be a good lab citizen and do good science.