Off the Bench, Plugged Into Biotech: Employee Spotlight on Madelyn Myers
About Madeyln Myers
As a former bench scientist and Benchling end-user, Madelyn Myers understands first-hand that scientists' tools should reflect the way scientists actually work. This week, we spoke with Madelyn to learn about how she is helping the next generation of scientists make breakthrough discoveries faster than ever before. In our talk, Madelyn walked us through her journey going from bench scientist to becoming an integral part of Benchling’s Customer Experience team, and shared her personal experience of life at Benchling.
Q: Can you tell us about the role you play in enabling cutting-edge science for Benchling’s customers?
The companies that we work with are pushing the boundaries of science. The Benchling platform helps them connect complex data and collaborate effectively. The power is in our software’s flexibility. This is also the challenge. For example, the way Benchling is used for cell therapy is completely different from how it is used for crop engineering or materials production. My job is to be a student of each customer’s science and lead them in tailoring Benchling to their unique needs. This starts with requirements gathering and discovery. It involves learning what scientific teams are working on, and the extent of what they're trying to accomplish, from a scientific perspective. This means you have to become an expert at asking the right questions to understand their goals and obstacles, then use that information to build an easy-to-adopt solution that is understood by a broad range of scientists.
You step into the scientist’s brain, live their life, and replicate it – more efficiently, with more powerful tools.
What’s extremely powerful is how we’re able to sort of crowdsource solutions within the scientific community. At Benchling, I not only leverage my experience in the lab to help our customers, but also leverage our team's combined learnings to bring in best practices on how a biotech should think about their data management and workflows.
Q: What were you doing prior to leading implementations at Benchling?
Before I worked here, I was actually an early adopter of Benchling’s product. My first job out of college was with an antibody discovery company that was acquired by Juno Therapeutics. After trying the different out-of-the box, off-the-shelf lab softwares, we felt we were left with a rigid system.
I didn't want to change the way I work and the order in which I do things because the software can't support it or model it well. We ended up taking a bet on Benchling, because it could adapt to our science and make our lives easier. We were actually one of the first companies to use Benchling. We ended up building some of the first CAR-T therapies and were ultimately acquired for $12 billion.
Eventually I left Juno to help found a new company called TScan, and of course I brought Benchling with me to the new lab. Implementing Benchling was mission critical to launching our company because capturing those early innovations was key. Rather than saving things on point solution software and multiple spreadsheets, Benchling could be our one source of truth, and it enabled us to do high-value proof-of-concept work the first day we were functioning in the lab – like, literally day one when we turned on the incubators and got everything going.
Q: So you started as an end-user! Has that impacted how you approach partnering with customers and leading implementations?
I think my prior experience gives me a unique perspective in my role. I understand what scientists are living both at small startups and enterprise companies. I can understand how difficult it is to implement new software and how difficult it is to maintain adoption long-term as the science evolves over time.
Whenever I come into meetings with my customers, I’m thinking about change from their perspective. I’m asking questions like “How do you feel about transitioning from paper? How do you feel about the change?” I’m thinking about their colleagues who might hate doing things in a digital world. I consider more than the tactical aspects of rolling out solutions, I consider the emotional change management because I’ve lived it.
"I consider more than the tactical aspects of rolling out solutions, I consider the emotional change management because I’ve lived it. I get to still be a scientist, still work with startups, and still deal with early innovation process development."
Benchling was kind of the perfect destination for me I get to still be a scientist, still work with startups, and still deal with early innovation process development – such as organizing processes that are scientific and helping people do their jobs. The fun part is enabling people, not just me as one scientist pipetting at the bench, but enabling hundreds or thousands of people to do their best work without losing the data, not capturing the data, or just making it up from memory (as we've probably all done at some point).
Q: Was there anything that surprised you after you joined?
Besides exposure to so many new areas of scientific subject matter, I was surprised to see the level to which Benching disrupted the true biotech lab structure. Companies are asking employees to become certified in Benchling, and scientists and technicians are putting that experience on their resumes. Labs are hiring IT operations teams who are solely dedicated to maintaining tools like Benchling, and more companies are requiring prior experience using Benchling’s product.
"Companies are asking employees to become certified in Benchling, and scientists and technicians are putting that experience on their resumes."
Benchling is changing the way that we operate a lab. From my perspective, the process used to be, “secure lab space, buy equipment, hire smart minds, give them a notebook, let them go.” And now, companies put the onus on software to correctly and compliantly capture data up front with other core attributes of launching a startup.
Q: What can someone expect when they step into the role?
Every week looks different, there’s nothing routine. It's not like “Every morning I do this, and every afternoon I do that” – every day changes. I meet with customers probably half of my time to learn their pain points, and collaborate with my team on solutions to solve those pain points. A lot of my time is invested in ongoing learning, be it mentoring my fellow teammates in my subject matter, learning from them, or learning about how to best leverage Benchling’s new features for different customer use cases.
The Customer Experience team is full of deeply intelligent subject matter experts who share an ocean of knowledge together. You have the opportunity to share your knowledge, and for every one thing you share, 10 other people are sharing deep subject matter expertise with you. It's a continual cycle of intellectual growth. The general wealth of knowledge within our department has been really powerful for enabling the success of our team as well as our customers.
"I’m actually having even more broad reaching impact on research & development than I was by being one scientist at a bench."
It’s been a lot of fun working at a company where I still feel really plugged into biotech. I still feel plugged into the science and the business of it and I don't feel like I'm benched from the direct impact a scientist might have. When I first joined Benchling, I was a little worried that I would regret leaving the lab behind and that I would miss doing the science and presenting novel data. I quickly realized I’m actually having even more broad reaching impact on research & development than I was by being one scientist at a bench.
Q: What is it like to work with your team in a 100% remote environment?
It's been really strangely normal. I’ve met all of my new teammates 100% remote, but I really feel deeply connected to them. Some have become my best friends even though I've never met them in person! I think that stems from an unwavering willingness to support each other, like if somebody needs something, somebody picks up the slack, somebody fills in, in that meeting helps out in whatever way – even though we've never met each other, and are not assigned to do so. It just truly is a highly functioning team, which we've managed to do totally remotely.
I see all of my new colleagues many times a week, so there's no shortage of face time. I feel like I go to an office every day, even though it's strictly virtual. We make an effort to see everybody and stay connected. I know what my teammates’ families are up to and what their home life is like. The virtual work experience has been very positive from my perspective. We host endless virtual bonding activities, and crack each other up all the time.
New people on the team become our family. We like to do welcome breakfasts for new European and east coast teammates, and maintain recurring Breakfast Club to end every week.
This level of support and team engagement wasn’t something I thought I needed or wanted before I joined, because I'm a very autonomous person. Before, I was excited for such an independent job, but in reality, I just get so much more from relying on my teammates, they’re helpful and share knowledge. It kind of cracked the autonomous egg a little bit.
Q: Before we wrap up, are there any last thoughts you’d like to share with those interested in leading implementations at Benchling?
Embrace the breadth of the role, and know that you have all of the support of your teammates to get it done. There's heavy customer engagement, a little business development, there's a little hint of sales, a lot of alliance management, change management, scientific knowledge, and presentation skills required. If you feel like you have any gaps, someone on your team is an expert in each one of those facets. That's the great part. It's like, “Hey, I have this gap. I know you're an expert. Let's meet and talk about it.” If you're having a tough time with a project, there's just no shortage of support or people to help step in and just kind of take the edge off a little bit. It's really nice to have such a cohesive team.