Lab Technician Anu Harju enjoys the routine work at the lab – Biology ensures no two two days are identical
Anu Harju has worked as a laboratory technician at LS CancerDiag for three and a half years. Anu’s career choice in the laboratory resulted from a completely random selection. Still, she has not regretted her choice for a single day. Earlier this year, Anu’s working days have been full of change with the planning and implementation of the company’s new laboratory facilities. Now, she returns to laboratory routines, where biology ensures that challenges and surprises can never be avoided.
My career choice was a coincidence – I had no idea what to do after high school and browsed through many study guides. There were so many options, and, in the end, I just closed my eyes and randomly picked a page from the guide. My finger hit the laboratorian training, and that was it. My nurse mother wasn’t entirely convinced that a job in the nursing field would work, but now, forty years later, I’m more than happy with my choice!
Anu graduated as a laboratory nurse in 1986. She first worked as a laboratory nurse in public health care, moving to university research groups under different professors for the next 30 years. Anu gained valuable experience in research groups at the Women’s Hospital, Haartman Institute, Biomedicum, and Viikki facilities.
Every laboratory experience has taught me a lot. My longest-lasting single research group period, 11 years in a top research group, allowed me to try everything possible related to lab work. My jobs have come about by coincidence, just like my studies – coincidences make life enjoyable! My personal life situations, such as maternity leaves, have naturally affected the schedules, but I have always found my place on their terms.
Transitioning from the university to a company served to learn about the business side of innovations
Anu ended up working at LS CancerDiag through a similar route to her other jobs. At the right time, she heard about recruitment from a friend and applied for the position. The application process included several interviews with the company’s research team and a work sample in cell culture.
After years of research group projects, it seemed like a fresh alternative to switch from the university world to the business side. Although the subject area is similar, start-up work is very different and broader than institutional research. It is not contradictory that university scientific innovations are commercialized through companies.
Recently, Anu’s job description has included a lot of tasks that deviate from everyday routines. Earlier this year LS CancerDiag moved its office and laboratory to a business area in Arabianranta, Helsinki. Anu played a significant role in setting up the new laboratory to meet research standards. The personnel chose Arabianranta as the new location, and the transition was smooth.
It was good for the entire company to enter a new environment and become part of the business community. The renovation of the premises from mere office space to a comprehensive multi-purpose space, including a laboratory, progressed on schedule. Staying on schedule was vital because one had to be able to predict lab equipment orders. The facilities were modified, e.g., to enable water supply and gas handling. In addition to installing fume cupboards, much work was done concerning ventilation. For example, cell culture incubators produce a lot of heat, which must not affect the general air quality and temperature of the premises. The landlord was positive about all the modifications.
Read more about the new lab and office in our previous post below:
The new laboratory facilities have been completed to continue the R&D work in Finland. The Arabianranta laboratory will mainly process R&D samples, e.g., for process quality assurance, optimization, and calibration. Commercial samples will be analyzed outside of Finland, and thus, in the future, Anu’s job description in Helsinki will mainly focus on research and development activities. Anu can also provide solid support in setting up commercial laboratory facilities abroad.
In everyday life, I do basic laboratory work such as cell culture and extracts. My routine also includes handling process-related reagent and equipment orders for the laboratory. The work of a research and development laboratory is slightly more straightforward in terms of standards than that of a commercial laboratory analyzing customer samples – the CE mark and other certifications set strict requirements for the work and equipment used by commercial and diagnostic laboratories. The Finnish team has accumulated solid expertise in the standards of a commercial laboratory, the construction of which we will also support when the company is building its commercial laboratory.
Affecting people's lives makes everyday routine work meaningful
Anu has enjoyed her time at LS CancerDiag, mainly thanks to the versatility of the work and synergy within the team. The company’s growth goals and plans also bring a lot of new aspects to the operation, which Anu sees as opportunities for learning and experiences.
I’ve learned much about extensive processes, especially in the last few years. Building international operations is the company’s next goal, and I can support the growth of laboratory operations. Through my decades of experience, I have seen that, for example, minimal space changes can make quality differences in the process if not addressed the right way.
The general health effects of the team’s work are also meaningful to Anu both societally and through the experiences of people close to her.
Work affecting cancer treatment has a deep personal meaning for me. My parents and a good friend have died of cancer, so it touches me closely. Just the thought that I can influence the quality of life or health care of even one person through my work brings meaningful content to every workday.
For Anu, laboratory work remains meaningful also through acquiring professional skills and experience. In her career, she has noticed that professional development requires understanding that in laboratory work – one must know how to manage the balance between large entities and precise details. This understanding is gained primarily through experience.
It is essential to see the big picture and find the small details that matter. The most important and central thing is to produce a reliable test result for the person waiting.
Although Anu expects the routine everyday life after the laboratory construction project to smooth out, she, nevertheless, wants to remind that even the most routine working day still does not go without surprises; biology takes care of it.
I love routines and their steadiness. However, it should be remembered that when working with biology, everything does not always go as expected. Challenges will be encountered; for example, some samples may be more challenging to analyze than others. Of course, experience comes in handy here, too.