CEOE alumnus helps marine science grad land job
Photos by Lisa D. Tossey and Doug Dunphy May 14, 2018
Blue Hen connection springboards graduate student to biotech career
Jason Button met University of Delaware alumnus Kirk Malloy at the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment’s (CEOE) student Honors Day celebration in 2016. A year later, their paths crossed again at a graduate research symposium on UD’s Hugh R. Sharp campus in Lewes.
Though he didn’t realize it at the time, Button now says the chance meetings helped him figure out how to combine his science background with a customer focused career that would involve helping people.
“While at UD, I realized that I wanted to move into an industry role,” Button said. “I wanted to be in the San Diego area and I thought biotech was a natural fit, but I thought I’d end up working in technical sales or an outside sales position.”
Talking with Malloy, a member of the CEOE Dean's Advisory Council, led to an email exchange about what companies Button should explore for employment opportunities. Malloy, who lives in San Diego, had several connections in biotech and after Button explained his desire for a customer facing industry role, an opportunity arose at Illumina, a global leader in genomics that manufactures genetic sequencing instruments used to sequence DNA samples.
Today, Button is a technical application scientist with Illumina. He spends his days talking to Illumina customers—scientists and technicians—via email and on the phone, helping them solve problems related to their Illumina sequencing instruments.
“Coming in to this position I had a good idea of what people were facing from both the biological and instrumentation perspectives,” said Button.
Button earned his master’s degree in marine science with a concentration in oceanography at UD in 2017. Working under the guidance of Mark Moline, director of the School of Marine Science and Policy, his research focused on characterizing mesophotic (deep sea) reefs in Palau. A good portion of his time was spent in UD’s Robotics Discovery Laboratory in Lewes, working with complex robotics systems to troubleshoot technology problems, understand what the instruments might face in the field and consider solutions if things went awry on a mission.
He also has a background in biology and previously worked as a microbiology lab technician studying sea star wasting disease, an epidemic that collapsed multiple sea star populations on the West Coast in 2013. As part of the research team, Button became skilled at microbiology techniques such as qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction), a quick, highly sensitive test that copies small segments of RNA to identify virus gene fragments.
While very different, Button said these experiences have prepared him well to work on the technical support side of science. True, it is a unique way to combine his specific skill sets and leverage his STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, but Button wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Every day is different,” he said. “It’s a combination of communication skills and continuously learning new science. Illumina’s machines are incredibly complex and every time a new instrument is released, we have to be trained on it,” to share that knowledge with others.
As UD’s 2018 Commencement approaches, Button said he hopes his journey can help other students who are still figuring out what to do after graduation. He said thinking outside the box when it comes to career choices, and networking—especially with fellow Blue Hens—can open doors that might not be readily visible.
“Having the chance to network with any alumni is definitely beneficial,” Button said. “I wouldn’t have known about my current career track without talking to Kirk, and it turns out, you can find a lot of jobs that deal with science, even outside of academia.”