Pushing STEM Boundaries: Noreen Karim Discusses the Power of Making an Impact in Genome Biology at Integrated DNA Technologies

When Noreen Karim started at Integrated DNA Technologies in January 2023, she began a journey of impact and collaboration, using her STEM skills to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Noreen continues to gain new skills with the Danaher Business System (DBS) of continuous improvement. 

We met Noreen to discuss her experience and her dreams for the future. 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role.

I grew up in a small village in the northwestern Pakistan called Malakand. I received my Ph.D. in Medical Genetics in Pakistan where I worked to unveil the genetic causes underlying inherited skin diseases. After completion of my PhD in 2019, I came to the United States for a postdoc to join Dr. Robert Rice’s lab at UC Davis in Environmental Toxicology where I worked on multiple projects of genetic and proteomic nature.

I joined Integrated DNA Technologies, IDT, last year in January as a Research Scientist III. The work IDT does resonates with me because number one, my career has been centered around DNA and protein analysis. And number two, this is just something that clicked with me most of the time. The sheer molecular scale of genetic material fascinates me, especially considering its profound impact on life. And so, I am in it to pursue a long-term career in molecular biology and genome technologies.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I was hired for a project related to making a kit that would make it easier to detect or sequence cancer-causing mutations. It was put on hold based on a business decision, but since then, I’ve worked on several other projects. Lately, I’m involved in a project aimed at developing CE-IVD approved products for the detection of diseases.

There are two categories of products — RUO or research-use-only products, that are used solely for laboratory research purposes and CE-IVD or products approved for invitro diagnostic uses can be used in clinical labs. The latter category products undergo rigorous testing and validations to meet regulatory requirements.

It is very exciting to be part of a product development process that has a positive impact on real people’s health and lives.

I am a Research Scientist, so I work in research, development and innovation. My day-to-day work includes designing and executing experiments to answer questions about the product ideas that we are working towards. It also entails data analysis and interpretation to draw conclusions, troubleshooting any roadblocks, as well as presentation and report writing. My day-to-day depends on where we are in the product roadmap.

For example, for this CE-IVD project, I need to ask myself, “What data do we need to fulfill the regulatory standards? What are the experiments we will need to obtain the data? What are the documents that we need to have completed?”

What are some of your most memorable moments over the year you’ve worked with IDT?

I worked in what IDT calls “sandbox projects” — projects that are not on the company’s project list but we test different ideas that can someday be developed into a product/project. I worked on a sandbox project related to cDNA synthesis.

We had an inhouse developed reverse transcriptase enzyme at IDT. My team and I developed the buffers and identified the optimal chemical and physical conditions for that enzyme. Now, that enzyme and the buffers can be used to make RNA from very minuscule quantities, down to the picogram scale. It was exciting to see something developed so well in such a short time.

I actually presented that work as a poster presentation at the last general meeting of Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) in Florida and . I got very good feedback on that from the attendees. 

Can you talk us through what your career journey has looked like as a woman in STEM? Do you have any advice for women starting their own STEM careers?

As I mentioned, I’m from the northwestern part of Pakistan. In that area, there was a lot of resistance to women’s education at the time. During my undergrad, there were times when our university would be closed for months at a time because of threats coming from the Taliban. That was one of the things that impacted me, or rather, weighed on my mind. I was constantly reminding myself, “I have to move forward. I have to resist this resistance.” That was something that kept me progressing.

I believe that people should follow their passion, whatever resonates with them, be it STEM or any other field. We spend most of our waking hours doing our work. Therefore we should pursue what brings joy to us. I think one will be more productive at what one genuinely enjoys.

Can you tell us anything else about your experience working at IDT? 

Working at IDT is my first industry job.

 IDT has provided me with a valuable glimpse into the industry environment. As someone who previously used these products, I now see them from the developer’s perspective. In my past year with IDT, I learned how products are meticulously planned and developed, I observed significantly larger teams collaborating towards shared goals, and understood a bit more of how companies grow and progress. 

Lately, I’m delving a lot into the DBS tools, or the Danaher Business System tools. I did a Kaizen and a PSP this year, and I really am looking forward to employing the DBS tools in my work. What appeals to me is how systematically structured these tools are – they can be applied to both small-scale and large-scale challenges. Take the Problem Solving Process (PSP) tool, for example, while it may seem very basic, its structured approach allows it to be employed across diverse scenarios, taking you to the core of issues and their solutions. I think DBS tools are a good way of gaining leadership skills allowing one to be more productive and efficient at work.

Why do you think other people in genomics would enjoy a job at IDT or any other Danaher company? 

Everyone who has worked in molecular biology knows IDT for their oligos (oligonucleotides). If you talk about IDT to anyone, they’ll be like, “Oh, the oligo company.” It was the same for me. I worked with IDT products throughout my career so much that when I saw there was an opening and I got the offer, I was very excited. 

Another exciting feature of IDT is the cutting-edge nature of the field and therefore, our products. To give you some background, in next generation sequencing there is pre-sequencing, sequencing and post-sequencing areas. Pre-sequencing is when the DNA/RNA samples are prepared for sequencing, and post-sequencing is when the sequencing data is crunched, analyzed and interpreted. IDT works ion the pre-sequencing area making kits for sample preparation for next-generation sequencing. We are working on continuously improving the NGS track by simplifying the sample processing and driving to obtain more in-depth information from as little sample as possible. It’s a very advanced field positioned at the very forefront.

The other thing I like about IDT is its collaborative environment. Because my experience before IDT was in the post-sequencing area, it was a switch for me. The collaborative environment of IDT made it much easier. for me to learn and be productive ASAP.

Lastly, being a part of Danaher, we have access to all the DBS tools and processes which is a great way of growing and developing one’s career.

What does the future hold for you and your career?

I do not see myself being confined to the lab forever. I definitely want to learn more about organizational structures and business strategies. I like looking at the bigger perspective, which I think is very important for even somebody who’s working in the lab.

If you could give potential candidates considering a role at IDT any information or advice, what would you share with them?

I find myself very fortunate to have landed at IDT. I would circle back to what I said earlier about the cutting-edge nature of our work, the collaborative environment of IDT and Danaher, and the impact our work has on the world of genetics and on the health of people’s lives. We are also in the Bay area, which is the hub of biotech giving us the opportunity to be more aware of what’s happening in the field. It’s these things that are important for career and professional growth.

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At Danaher, we believe in giving people the skills they need to innovate. With us, you can pioneer groundbreaking innovations and see the difference you make in people’s lives. As an industry leader in biotechnology and other fields, we help people build meaningful careers and push the boundaries of what’s possible. 

If you’re interested in joining Noreen and the rest of the IDT team, explore our available job openings and find your niche. You can also join our talent community for regular updates and helpful tips on moving your career forward.