Implementing ABE is not just about providing the equipment, the curriculum, or even the training. It's truly a team effort, requiring the collaboration of technicians with teachers to provide hands-on lab experiences to students worldwide. The challenges can range from technical ones, like preparing reagents, to broader ones, like keeping teachers engaged and adapting the content for underserved learners. All of this and more was discussed at a recent meeting of ABE lab technicians at Los Angeles Mission College.
Twenty-three lab technicians attended the meeting in September 2023, coming from 16 global sites, including the newest ABE sites in Kentucky, Central Ohio, North Carolina, Brazil, Mainland China, Japan, Mexico, and South Africa. For the new sites, the meeting was their lab technicians’ first chance to exchange ideas with lab technicians across the sites.
“The meeting was very exciting, especially for our ABE Implementation Support Team, who had been working so hard to create a community amongst people for whom the majority had never interacted on anything other than Zoom,” says Tara Bristow of the ABE Program Office. “We had not been able to bring the technicians together since March 2019, and many new sites had come on board since that time. This meeting was a great opportunity to gather people together in the same space in the hopes that they could share more freely.”
Structured around the Foundations of Biotech laboratory series, the 3-day meeting included multiple opportunities for technicians to share and discuss challenges, solutions, and best practices for different aspects of their programs. “It certainly seemed to work as the conversations started in the lab area often continued out into the break and lunch areas, then onto the bus, and participants continued to gather through the evenings,” Bristow says.
Master Lab Technician Kristina Han (Coordinator for ABE Canada) discusses purifying the red fluorescent protein using column chromatography.
In many ways, the lab technicians are the glue that connect the ABE labs to the teachers, preparing materials for use by ABE teachers and students, creating kits and checking them out and in, and inspecting and maintaining inventory, as well as collecting feedback and troubleshooting. Another key role of the lab technicians—who can be undergraduate or graduate students, or staff at the site—is helping to run the professional development institutes to train teachers. And as part of that effort, they will share with teachers different career pathways in biotechnology so they can more fully understand what careers might be available to students participating in ABE.
In that spirit, the Amgen Foundation hosted a dinner at the lab tech meeting, which included “speed dating” with employees at Amgen Thousand Oaks. “This was certainly a highlight of the meeting since it gave participants a chance to interact with Amgen employees whose careers and career trajectories were remarkably diverse,” Bristow says.
Some other meeting highlights included fun biotech-themes gifts for participants, such as earrings that looked like petri dishes created by Master Lab Technician Karin Steinhauer (and being modeled at right by Program Office staff Libby Boghossian), as well as a WhatsApp group created to help participants continue to support each other beyond the meeting. “The meeting was a tremendous success with respect to community building,” Bristow says.
To quote one meeting participant from a post-meeting survey: “In my opinion, getting to spend time with my fellow techs and members of the [Program Office] was the most valuable for me. I’m typically not one to network or ask for help, but I’m way more comfortable around the rest of the ABE community now.”
Moving forward, the ABE Program Office is working to revise resources and develop new ones in response to those challenges and requests that surfaced during the meeting. “Supporting technicians and making implementation more efficient and effective remains a primary goal,” Bristow says.
“I am beyond grateful to everyone at the Program Office as well as the Amgen Foundation for allowing us all to come together and share this experience,” says another participant of the September meeting. “I will definitely be counting down for the next one, whenever that may be!”