Tess Elliot, Senior Scientist and Team Leader, EAG Laboratories
CBT StaffNovember 30, 201711 Questions:Photography By: Anthony Jinson
Give us an idea of what your daily job entails. I work on the product chemistry team where we conduct scientific studies to answer questions about chemicals that will be used in a variety of applications such as pharmaceuticals and agricultural and household chemicals. My two primary roles are team leader and study director, and my daily job is a constantly changing mixture of the two. As a study director I am evaluating data and updating my clients, writing and reviewing technical reports, and overseeing the design and conduct of a number of studies. Outside of the studies I’m responsible for, I lead a team which consists of eight scientists, three of who are study directors and five who are primarily lab staff. I schedule daily tasks for the lab staff, manage priorities between the 100+ studies we have on the team, train the newer study directors, and ensure resources are available. It takes a lot of coordination and constant communication with my team to pull it off!
ABC Labs is now EAG Laboratories. Can you give us some background and tell us about that change? Analytical Bio-Chemistry (ABC) Laboratories was established in 1968 by University of Missouri biochemistry professor Charles Gehrke. ABC functioned as a contract research laboratory for over four decades, providing a broad set of product development and analytical testing services to the pharmaceutical, biotech, animal health, crop protection, and chemical industries. In July 2015, ABC was acquired by EAG and became part of a much larger global organization. EAG operates in 24 locations worldwide. In addition to the type of work we do in Columbia, EAG performs a lot of microscopy, failure analysis, characterization, and other types of testing required by medical device, aerospace/defense, electronics, and pretty much any other company that designs or manufactures high-tech products. It’s been interesting to learn new things, and to see how science applies so broadly to everything around us.
How did your background and life experiences prepare you for your current position? I was always interested in the science field, and in high school I was able to participate in a few programs where I got to see what research was all about. One of those programs was the Young Scientist Program at Washington University where I worked with a researcher for eight weeks, performed work hands-on in a lab at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and learned to write up and present my work at the end. Despite the sometimes repetitive nature of the work, I was hooked. In that case I was studying levels of a hormone in cerebrospinal fluid and evaluating the correlation between those levels and obesity. It intrigued me to be able to process these seemingly endless samples and evaluate them to show correlations that actually meant something in real life application. I think that’s the point when I knew research in some form was what I wanted to do.
What would people be surprised to know about the work conducted at EAG? In my experience, no one outside of the industry really knows what we do or what it means to be a contract research lab. I always get a rather blank look when I start out saying that I work at a contract research lab, until I tell them that we conduct studies for lots of different companies that are required by the EPA, FDA, and other agencies to demonstrate safety or efficacy, or environmental impact before a product is approved for commercialization. I think people would be surprised to know that many of the types of products they use in their daily lives have been or are being tested in Columbia at EAG. We do all kinds of tests on products from household cleaning chemicals, to pharmaceutical products, to pesticides, and everything in between.
What exciting projects are you currently tackling? One of the more unique study types that we perform at EAG in Columbia is leach rate testing of biocides from marine coatings. In simpler terms, paints intended for application on the underside of boats contain substances to prevent algae and other organisms such as barnacles from growing on the boat and affecting performance. Copper is one of the biocides often used in these paints, and the level of copper released into the water is especially important due to its toxicity. To protect the ecosystem, regulatory agencies are imposing stricter limits on its use, especially in harbors where there’s a high density of boats. We have set up a system to simulate the flow and water parameters where these paints would be used, and we test the paints over a period of time to see how much of the biocides are released into the water. This is exciting work, as we are one of the few labs in the country that perform this type of testing, and the impacts of the work are readily seen as companies work to meet the new requirements.
What are some of the challenges you face in your work? One of the things that I like most about the work I do is also one of the biggest challenges. Nearly every project brings a unique chemistry with it. This means unlike a position in a research and development or academic lab, we usually are not experts on the materials we work with. We are experts on the types of studies and the regulatory requirements of those studies, and we get to apply our experiences with similar chemistries to solve the unique challenges of each one.
Describe a success you’re most proud of in your position. I think I take the most pride in developing relationships with my clients. Over the years I have worked on several projects for new clients which were so challenging we were not always sure we would get them to work. There is no truer testament to the team overcoming those challenges than hearing that the client is placing additional studies with EAG because of the work we performed. Now that I’m a team leader, I get to see my team solving those challenges for new clients and continuing to build new relationships.
You’ve been a team lead/study director for about a decade. How would you describe your leadership style? My style is definitely pragmatic and very process-driven, and it’s no secret that I have high expectations of both myself and my team. However, I think leadership is something you’re always learning and evolving, and even after almost a decade, I’m still trying to get the hang of it.
Can you give some insight on the future direction of EAG? The body of scientific knowledge — and the analytical tools and techniques we use to add to it — continues to grow at an astounding rate. As human beings, we will increasingly depend on science and technology to solve medical, environmental, and other problems and to drive innovation. So as a global scientific services company that supports research and development across many industries, I expect we will to continue to expand our services as well as our geographic footprint.
What haven’t we asked about that you’d like the public to know? I’d like the public to know that science is important, and while not everyone is inclined to work in this field, you don’t have to be a genius to do so. We have people from various backgrounds at our company, some with professional degrees and some without. The work we do is important and exciting, and while we don’t always see the big picture of how a product will be used or know the theory behind every chemistry, we are making an impact.