Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's in a degree? Lindsey Lyman talks biology, decision analysis and cross-training certifications

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The single-serving college degree is a thing of the past. No longer does a degree concentration have to pigeonhole your career path; it can serve as the cornerstone that helps you jump tracks in multi-disciplinary fashion. Just ask Lindsey Lyman, a biologist for the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), who has spanned the scientific infrastructure of work at the Center while exploring the depths of her knowledge with a curiosity for real-world applicability.

“I was never one of those kids who was super focused on what they wanted to be when they grew up or anything like that,” said Lyman, who currently works with the Center’s CBARR Business Unit. “I liked biology in high school and it was kind of a default selection for my major in college. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I’ve always enjoyed the bio classes and think it’s really fascinating subject matter.”
Lyman began working at ECBC in 2004 after graduating from the University of Delaware with a general biological sciences degree. But her position on the Decision Analysis Team (DAT) curbed the need to directly apply her scientific background and instead promoted a secondary capability: risk and impact studies. For seven years, Lyman analyzed everything from simulation modeling and cost/benefit analysis to equipment selections and business case analysis. The customer-funded team examined a variety of projects, including selecting equipment for a mobile laboratory based on customer needs as well as the size, weight and power of the equipment. Still, Lyman was curious to learn more. After three years of part-time study at Johns Hopkins University, she received her Master’s degree in Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense.

“The more education you have the better. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but I do think it helps to have a better understanding, especially from a biodefense perspective, of the organisms that we’re looking at and the technologies that we’re using on a daily basis to execute the mission,” she said.
Lyman returned to her hard science roots two years ago when she took a detail working for the Environmental BioMonitoring Laboratory (EBML) using the same equipment she once evaluated and recommended to customers as part of DAT. This time, as a CBARR biologist working in the laboratory, she’s testing samples for different clients. “I can see first-hand how we’re directing their processes and how we’re impacting what they’re doing,” she said.

Lyman currently works onsite at a client’s laboratory and operational facility, which utilizes both chemical and biological technologies for sample analysis. As part of the deployed EBML team, she tests client samples for specific targets of interest and provides a daily report of her findings. How does this compare to work done in the ECBC labs? According to Lyman, the Center has more flexibility to investigate new test methodologies and technological equipment, but overall the capability remains constant. In a way, this mirrors her ability to effectively maneuver within the ECBC framework, driven to learn more and discover new avenues worth pursuing.
"I think her career has been a nice story so far. Lindsey has a biology degree working for ECBC, but started off her career mainly doing deskwork for DAT. Now, she’s getting the chance to work both in the laboratory at ECBC as well as in the field and on client sites,” said Isaac Fruchey, branch chief for the EBML.

Lyman’s full-circle career also has a neat twist. She has completed cross-training in both chemical and biological laboratory analysis techniques, a capability that enables her to conduct a variety of work for clients. According to Lyman, there is a distinct difference between chemical and biological procedures, none of which translate directly to corresponding technologies. Without the technical background to initially complete this kind of work, she proactively sought a cross-training solution that resulted in GC/MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) and LC/MS (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry) Trip Quadruple certifications.
“Since she came over on detail, she has become one of my primary field analysts, as well as a project lead for on-boarding some of the new assays. She’s also taken the time to become cross-trained in chemical testing capabilities, including certification in GC/MS and LC/MS Triple Quadruple methodologies,” Fruchey said.

The opportunities ECBC has provided her, coupled with the foresight and fearlessness to pursue them, have been strong factors in advancing her career across spectrums and further down the scientific path of the unknown. Not to mention, the people she works with at ECBC have embodied a spirit of collaboration that she says, inspires.
"I came in with no lab experience and not really sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do,” Lyman said. “It’s been great to be able to learn so many different things and be a part of so many different projects. It’s empowering to feel like I’m being useful with my abilities by helping people and serving clients. And to have the opportunity to continue to learn so many different technologies and methods is exciting as much as it is invaluable.”

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