A lack of manufacturing and production experience did not deter Ms Sandra Ye, 28, from becoming a quality control (QC) analyst at Illumina, a company that develops, manufactures and markets life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function. Its customers include academic, government, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other leading institutions around the globe.
Her job includes planning and performing QC tests on finished products, providing general laboratory support and troubleshooting issues.
She says: “Every day, I plan the laboratory test schedule to ensure that machinery and manpower are efficiently utilised so shipments to customers are delivered on time. This involves liaising with my team and cross-functional groups in Singapore and San Diego to understand any customised test requirements.”
Besides performing QC tests and doing troubleshooting, Ms Ye also has weekly teleconferences with her San Diego counterparts to discuss matters such as process improvements.
Ms Ye says it was curiosity and an interest in human diseases that led her to pursue the sciences. She holds a biotechnology diploma from Singapore Polytechnic and a bachelor’s degree in biological chemistry from the University of Queensland.
She says: “Bioscience is an exciting and fast-changing field that constantly challenges how we look at things and provides endless possibilities.”
Previously a technical executive with Nanyang Technological University and later, a research assistant at the National University of Singapore, Ms Ye was attracted to Illumina because its Singapore setup was then only a year old and therefore, offers many exciting possibilities in genetics research and analysis.
When she first joined, there were only four people on her team. She received intensive guidance and had ample opportunities to work with different people and on various projects.
“In the three years I’ve been on the job, I went from being guided to being a valued contributor to the team to currently leading projects and mentoring peers,” says Ms Ye.
One constant challenge she faces is the race against time to complete QC tests. She explains: “My group is the last gate before products are shipped out to customers. While delivering products in a timely manner, we have to ensure they are also of quality.”
When a machine on her QC line breaks down, her team has to be flexible and re-arrange set-up plans to the point of working round the clock to make sure the manufacturing team is well supported in product quality control.
Last year, Ms Ye and her team successfully transferred a sequencing process to Singapore from San Diego. She counts it as one of her achievements as the year-long project also included moving her laboratory to a bigger space to cater to the increased capacity.
She says: “It involved planning, training at San Diego, the actual set-up of the laboratory and finally getting qualified to run QC at our site. Today, my team supports not only the Singapore production, but also any global request whether it is for QC or R&D (research and development).”
Ms Ye says Illumina employs people with a wide range of skills and knowledge. She has observed and asked her engineering colleagues for tips on how to fix machines so that she can be more efficient in troubleshooting. “Cross-functional communication is a daily affair and we learn from each other in this way.”
She says people eyeing a career with Illumina need to be humble and positive fast learners who are flexible and relish the challenge of frequent technology developments.
“You also need to be open to expressing ideas while being able to step back, listen and respect differing opinions. At Illumina, everyone is on the team together so potential candidates can expect to progress into a managerial or technical expert role,”she adds.