From Afghanistan to Sanford, One Man Finds His Passion in Biotech
In a previous life, Guy Aday was the operations chief for the U.S. Consulate in Northern Afghanistan. After he injured his back and returned to the U.S. for back surgery and physical and vocational rehabilitation, he began reassessing his career.
“My B.S. degree in emergency and crisis management was a good fit for my work with the Department of State, but it didn’t translate well into a civilian career,” he explained. “When I was initially looking at vocational rehabilitation options, I wanted something where I could work with my hands and have an intellectual challenge.”
Aday found this challenge and hands-on experience in the biotechnology program at Alamance Community College. Here, he delved into his newfound interest in cell culture. “It was a great experience overall with hands-on opportunities to volunteer in the labs,” he said.
In the middle of Aday’s biotechnology program studies for which he was earning an A.A.S., ACC introduced an agricultural biotechnology program, which he also pursued. His combined degrees and volunteer experience in the college’s labs created a pathway to his first official job in biotechnology as ACC’s biotech lab manager. This position was the launching pad for his career at the Pfizer facility in Sanford.
“The two years or so I spent managing the labs was a great experience,” Aday pointed out. “I was able to leverage my years of experience in management with my STEM education to take my role in the lab to another level from what it was originally intended. I trained techs and student volunteers and conducted outreach for the program.”
The experience also taught Aday how to build a strong professional network. Today, he is a bioprocess technician IV, gene therapy/continuous improvement at Pfizer. It is a role that challenges him, especially now. After two years at Pfizer, Aday is in a new job training program, or secondment, in the company’s Integrated Manufacturing Excellence (IMEX) program.
“Essentially, my job is to become a subject matter expert in digital platforms and then combine that with my previous experiences to create job aids and train end-users,” Aday said. “The time I spent tutoring and co-teaching biotechnology lab courses at ACC prepared me to tackle this new challenge.”
As he enters this new phase of his career, Aday has some advice for others making career changes. For one, he recommends that job seekers be open-minded and flexible when it comes to job titles and responsibilities. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
He also points out that the A.A.S. biotechnology program is not just about bioprocessing. “The experience with plant and mammalian cell culture, microbiology, genetic sequencing and other lab work has given me knowledge and experience I will leverage throughout my career.”
And one last bit of advice. “Know that it is a physical job, especially in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Overall, the field is what you make of it. There are plenty of opportunities, but you will need to put the effort in.”