I’m Anniina Brofeldt, biopsi from a time when leggings were in fashion (but not trousers even then). I live in Vantaa, yet I compare every city to Tampere – Tampere stole my heart. A bunch of my favorite people live in Tampere, so who knows, maybe I’ll come back eventually. I am proud to be from Vantaa though: “When you say you are living in Vantaa, people are quiet for a while.” I’ve also been proud to live in Kontula, Madrid, Hervanta and Southern Ostrobothnia, where my roots actually are. I tend to get attached to different places, but Tampere will always be my home.
My beloved cats, music and a desire to stay up late have been part of me my whole life. I’m curious about people and places, and thus travelling makes me immensely happy. However, I don’t get bored staying still as I’m a friend of routines: Breakfast with cottage cheese, doing sports after work and some music on my headphones make my day.
How did you end up studying biotechnology at Tampere University?
After high school, I decided to study biochemistry at the University of Oulu because
- I had never been in the city
- I knew nobody there, and
- it was (in my opinion) far up north
Based on this, it should not come as a surprise that I grew homesick very quickly and felt that siblings within an 8-hour train ride distance were too far away. Eventually, Tampere became my number-one choice. A nice bonus was the then offered bio-business study major, which interested me more than the options offered in Oulu.
When did you graduate and what was your major? What did you study as a minor?
I graduated in 2015 majoring in biochemistry and minoring in chemistry and tissue engineering. In addition, I collected a vast amount of credits from language courses and economics. The latter ones I mainly completed during my exchange year in Madrid. I decided on having an exchange year on a whim, and it was one of the best decisions of my life, since it did wonders for my confidence. A combination of languages, economics and biochemistry has also helped me to stand out during work interviews.
What was your first job after graduation?
During my studies I worked at Tapio Visakorpi’s lab cutting FFPE blocks and pipetting PCR plates, and he was happy to keep me as an employee after graduation. I can’t be anything but happy for this time in my life: my colleagues were lovely, and the methods I learned then are still useful today in my job. The memories were golden already in the making.
Where do you work at the moment?
I am a specialist in an oncology team at a US-based company, Illumina. Many might recognize Illumina a pioneer in next-generation sequencing (NGS), which promotes the utilization of genetics in solving humanity’s greatest challenges. We biochemists know that there are many unresolved questions: How can genetic diseases and cancers be diagnosed earlier, and therapy conducted in a more personalized way without affecting the quality of life? How will we get food production to a sustainable level, while making sure that there is enough food for everyone? How can we monitor population health to prevent the next pandemic? Information can be collected from genomes, transcriptomes, epigenomes, microbiomes, proteomes, single cells and huge population cohorts, and the combination of these data collections will open up even more possibilities – that truly does awe me, and I hope it does you too. “This is the Genome Era” as we say at Illumina.
What is your career path?
While I was doing prostate cancer research, I was thinking hard whether I should go for a doctorate degree or switch career path completely. Studying biochemistry comes with countless career options which can be quite a challenge. I really did love working in a lab: Early sunny mornings in the FinnMedi buildings, the hum of a radio in the background, the smell of a qPCR laminar cabinet and the careful process of picking pipette tips from a tip box creating artsy shapes. At the end of each day, I felt I had achieved something concrete: I had pushed the buttons of analyzers, handled reagents and produced a vast amount of plastic waste. Despite romanticizing plastic waste, all the above was an important time in my life that was difficult to leave behind.
Before I had a chance to come up with an inspiring thesis topic, I was invited to a job interview for a Nordic company specializing in importing laboratory reagents. I had perfected my LinkedIn profile and participated in multiple networking events and realized how many opportunities the field has. So, I switched to selling reagents to my former colleagues and ended up with a job through which I constantly met new people and got familiar with the newest research projects and product innovations. Many know that once you get in the life science sales, you also get on the list of headhunters and thus are offered jobs not marketed to the public. Therefore, it is good to keep in mind what you want to do next. To me it was to return to cancer-related topics and focus on NGS technology. So, when I got a call from Illumina about a couple of vacant positions, you better believe I was beyond the moon to go through the interview process, which I completed successfully accompanied by a job offer.
Have you done some further education after graduation?
I have done training courses in sales and different laboratory methods and in my current position, I’ve gotten training in molecular diagnostics, sequencing, legislation etc. A few weeks ago, I visited our Europe headquarters in Cambridge to complete a course on negotiation skills and a month later I was in the same place organizing an oncology training. In May I am planning to go to Aarhus university for a liquid biopsy PhD course and to Berlin for a strategic skills course. In my opinion, learning new is always a great idea – if you study a bit of ethnomusicology and geopolitical history of Balkan, at the least it can be your little quirk and talking point when meeting new people.
Describe your typical workday?
My job involves a lot of traveling. But if I’m not on the go, I wake up at around 8 AM, eat my breakfast in peace, and make my way to my home office to read emails. I organize virtual meetings with clients and our teams, make and practice presentations, and follow the current trends of the field through the newest articles and webinars. Usually, there is also some planning for upcoming trips. Typically, I work until six o’clock, do some sports in between, and then continue some tasks during dinner, due to the different time zones of a global company. During the week my workdays might be long, but on weekends I let my buzzing brain rest.
What in your job excites you the most?
The people, the innovations and the travelling! If meeting new people is no big deal but rather gives you energy, this job is for you! Account managers (which I was earlier) have often more bureaucracy in their work, but as a specialist, you can focus more on science. Of course, the definitions are sometimes not that clear and differ between companies.
What kind of dreams do you have for your future career?
I hope that I’ll learn more both about my field and myself as an employee. I know that I am in the beginning of my career, so I want to keep myself in good shape both mentally and physically. For me, that means cherishing curiosity, but also keeping it in check – my challenge at the moment is ambitious multitasking, which I’m trying to get rid of. I’m chasing a good balance between a career and free time; it is extremely important that your life is not built around just one thing. I truly believe that feeling good makes you a good employee.
What advice would you give to younger you?
Trust yourself! Often the most random choices are the ones that set you apart from the rest, so do something that makes you happy. In this field of science, there are no wrong choices.
Is there some way for students to contact you if they have some questions?
You can send me electronic letters to email@example.com
Email interview 27.3.2023
Interviewers: Alli Raittinen, Katariina Helasmäki
Translation: Lotta Kulmala