A day in the life of Dr Ananthi Ramachandran

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

We asked STEM Untapped Role Model, Dr Ananthi Ramachandran, to take us through a day in her life as a Team Leader in the QC Operations Team at a Biotech company. Industry life is a little different from studying a STEM subject so enjoy getting her insight into STEM life beyond the classroom.

My alarm goes off at 6:30am….

Now if I’m having a disciplined day, I will get up straight away and get myself started with a yoga stretch (usually around 20mins), however, if I’m not…which let’s face is it is more often than not, I snooze until 7am. The yoga stretch is a recent addition to my routine. It is because I have found it benefits my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis- an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation to my joints and organs) which I was diagnosed with in 2020. I really do notice when I don’t do my stretches, without that mornings can be more painful… But after that it’s the usual shower, get dressed and head on into work. Depending on how strong my procrastination levels are in the morning I can arrive at work any time between 8:15am and 8:40am.

My role…

I’m the Team Leader in the QC Operations Team at a Biotech company based in Stevenage. I am part of the Quality Control (QC) team, who play a key role in performing in-process tests (tests during the manufacturing process) and testing the final drug product. However, the role of the QC Operations team is more of a “behind the scenes” kind of role. Think of it as the hair and makeup of QC. The Operations team don’t usually get involved with sample testing. Instead, they set up the facility (the labs), ensure all the equipment is fit for purpose and suitable for use and ensures everything is in place so that the sample can be tested by the QC Analytics team.

What do I do all day…?

My key responsibilities have been kitting out new labs (the company I work for has been expanding rapidly over the past couple of years) with the equipment – all of which needs to be validated which means we can’t just buy something “off the shelf”, plug it in and start using it.

We need a forest worth of paperwork which confirms the equipment does exactly what we need it to, signing off only when it’s installed, it operates and performs as the manufacturer of the equipment states and as our company requires. This involves getting engineers in to perform 50% of the tests with one of the operations team acting as witness to verify the results. The remaining 50% of the tests are completed in house by one of the team, with a second person as witness. Of course, it would be a lot easier if we could focus on one piece of equipment at a time, but this is far from the case. In fact, we have not been able to focus on one lab, or even one building at a time, everything is happening all at the same time, therefore, my job is to make this happen in the most time efficient, least problematic way possible which I couldn’t do without my wonderful team.

Another key part of QC is the compliance side. The golden rule is, “if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen” so we really do have to follow procedures and document every single thing we do. Things do go wrong, it’s natural, but we have a process in place where we describe what we had to do differently from the normal process and why. We can also start an investigation at this point and troubleshoot if necessary. We also have processes in place to try and prevent that from happening again.

How did I get here…?

Purely by accident I’d say. I did my degree in Biological Sciences (specialising in Microbiology). After this, I worked for 4 years for an Animal Pharmaceutical company (they made vaccines for farm animals and small pets) where I had my first taste of industry life. I returned to Uni to complete my PhD, this was another 5 years, which seems a long time, but it flew by. I worked on a great project with the title “Development of a Robust Cell Culture Model to investigating the therapeutic potential of C. difficile bacteriophages” which loosely translates to I investigated viruses as a treatment for C. difficile infection using methods that involved the growing of cells.

The PhD experience taught me a lot, not just lab techniques but a great number of transferrable skills like resilience and critical thinking. I returned to the Animal Pharmaceutical Company, this time in QC whilst I waited for my Viva Voce (the final exam of the PhD which typically takes place about 3-4 months after submitting your thesis). And from that point I have been in QC. I transitioned over from animal pharmaceuticals to human biotechs – (which simply means I moved to companies that focused on treating us humans for various diseases) and that is when my QC journey really started.

My evenings…

…seem to fly by. I typically get home around 6ish, but it can be later. If I have no plans then my evenings involve a workout of some kind (this heavily depends on how hungry I am otherwise I go straight to the next thing mentioned in this list), dinner, the boring household chores (I hate going to bed with washing up in the sink) and a wind down before bed involving an easy to watch tv show or reading.

My favourite thing about my job…

I love how it differs everyday. I also love juggling multiple tasks at once. It gives me an excuse to bring out a fancy notebook, some colourful pens (my friends will be the first to tell you I love my stationery, but that’s a different story) and write to do lists as long as my arm. There’s nothing I find more satisfying than crossing off a task on a list. I have been known to write down something I have already done so I can cross it off.

My least favourite thing about my job…

Sometimes I watch the QC Analytical Team and find myself debating if I want to be more hands on in the lab again…. a journey back into the past I suppose. But then I remind myself that the QC Operations role is just as important, as without us, there won’t be equipment to use, there won’t even be a lab. We are all part of a big (and very important) picture.

Words of advice…

I never knew what I wanted to do growing up. I knew I absolutely loved helping people, I enjoyed Biology which often leads people down the road of Medicine. However, Medicine isn’t the only option, there are so many fields out there like Genetics or Microbiology which are so worth exploring. It is worth researching the different pharmaceutical companies as well. Most of all, I would say it’s really important to do what you enjoy. That way, you will be happy investing more of your time and you won’t feel like it’s a chore to do.

The fact I love my job has helped me through some of my more painful days when my Rheumatoid Arthritis has been particularly bad. Take a day at a time and do your very best for that day whilst making the most of every opportunity that comes your way.

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Written by Dr Ananathi Ramachandran