Alumnus using MCB degree in biotech career

AJ Aguilar is a recent MCB alumnus who was also in the MCB Accelerated Master's Program (AMP). He left because of a great opportunity to work for Roche, a global biotech company. “I’m very excited about it,” AJ says about the position.

Right now, he is working as a product support engineer for Roche in the tissue diagnostics division for cancer research. The division uses automated cancer diagnostic instruments that do immunohistorychemistry and in situ hybridization.

“Basically, our instruments are automated so you can load all the reagents, load the slides with tissue on them, and it goes all the way through the stain. The only portion that's really left at the end is for the pathologist to look at it under the microscope to see whether there is disease or not.”

Developing and introducing these instruments is important because the automated process allows clinicians to get more information quickly. There are a lot of people with cancer scares every year that need to get biopsies, so the more efficiently they can get results, the quicker people can take the next steps as needed.

AJ helps train application scientists around the world to make sure that labs know how to use these instruments properly. “Right now, a big part of training has been developing virtual trainings, because in the past we've relied heavily on in person training. We had to develop new materials to virtualize almost all the classes, so that has been a big focus. But we are also working with development on rolling out new assays and new product launches.”

AJ has had a passion for science since he was young. He was a member of the KEYS (Keep Engaging Youth in Science) Research Internship Program while in high school. At UArizona, he joined UBRP (Undergraduate Biology Research Program) and was a member of an immunology lab. At UArizona, he got a lot of experience doing lab work, but he also gained experience training others.

“If I'm able to teach somebody a technique that they can use and get their own data, that is really fulfilling.”

AJ’s experience at UArizona has helped to shape his career into something that he really enjoys doing. “I found myself wanting to interface more on the people end. In academic research certainly there are elements of that with meetings and presentations; however, I found that I was better at explaining the science and demonstrating passion for the science, rather than doing the wet lab bench work.”

In his job at Roche, AJ works with a lot of people, and it is not just the scientists that AJ gets to hear from. There are seminars that bring patients in to talk about how early diagnostics have changed their lives.

“Being a little closer to the impact of research has been really fulfilling for me. They talk about the bench to bedside pipeline where technology starts in the lab at the bench and ends up at the patient's bedside. I think that I found my passion to be a little bit closer to the bedside end of things. I don't want to be a physician, so I think that I found a perfect little sweet spot in this biotech position.”

AJ’s future looks very bright thanks to his experiences at UArizona and MCB. AJ offers the following advice to incoming students:

“Take advantage of all the things that MCB has to offer outside of the regular set of core courses. For example, there are professional development workshops that I took that helped me with my CV and networking skills. I think that if you take advantage of all the extra things like the MCB advisors and the research labs, it will be really beneficial for professional growth.”

AJ hopes to continue in his current biotech career for a couple years and one day go back to graduate school for a master’s in science or an MBA. Right now, AJ is happy where he is at and the path that got him there.

Christine Acosta
Publish Date: 
Mar 30, 2022