Updated: Dec 17, 2020
We’re excited for the next interview in our “Meet the Team” series! We hear from Cat Cleto, a Fermentation Research Associate, on her path from the world of retail to biotech and what she’s looking forward to over the next year.
Tell us a little about your background and the path to Antheia.
Prior to working at Antheia, I worked as the floor manager of a retail store. I learned so many skills from balancing a job and going to school full-time, from time management and effective communication to the importance of being proactive instead of reactive.
While I was working and going to school, I was also volunteering. Volunteering has always been important to me - growing up, I was considered an “at-risk” student because I lacked mentorship, so I make an effort to be a mentor to other “at-risk” youths. It was actually through volunteering that my interest in science was first piqued. During school, one of my volunteering roles was as a lab technician - if you can’t tell, I like to stay busy! Science was always a subject I was interested in, but having hands-on experience solidified it as a career path for me, so I decided to major in biology.
After graduation, I applied to Antheia as a fermentation technician, but during the interview process, a few people told me I should consider applying for a new position they were creating in operations. I ended up in an operations role where I provided support for all departments, but found that I loved being in fermentation the most. I come from a family of mechanics and I always would help with cars - my afternoon job in high school was at my uncle’s repair shop. So I always had an interest in equipment and fermentation bioreactors filled that niche.
My manager, Yen Nguyen, and the rest of the fermentation saw that I loved being part of this team. They spent a lot of time training and mentoring me, so I was able to step into my current position of full-time fermentation role.
What is your job and what does your typical day look like?
I’m a fermentation RA, which means I execute all of the fermentation experiments and make sure that our experiments are on track throughout a week.
It’s a fun job because every day is different! The lab always works in tiered shifts since the bioreactors have to be monitored all day, so we come in at different times. Mondays are personally my favorite day. Since I work the midday shifts on Mondays, I’m crucial in facilitating the communication between the morning and night crews. I start off my day by syncing with the morning workers about the day’s priorities and identifying any potential issues. From there, I can go about my tasks and then brief the night crew so they’re fully set up for success. I’m big on communication and collaboration, and both are a necessity in the lab, especially on Mondays when we’re setting the schedule and priorities for the week. I love stepping into a coordinating role and making sure everyone is on the same page.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Working with Yen, my manager and a fermentation scientist.
Yen and I have worked together since I started at Antheia and she has been instrumental in developing the skills I needed to transition into working in a fermentation role full time.
Yen knows that I need to stay engaged and challenged at work, so when we sit down for our one-on-one meetings, we always talk about what I want to learn. She helps me identify the new technical skills I want to conquer so that I can keep taking on bigger challenges. In addition to being a mentor to me, she is also just a really effective manager and an amazing leader.
What is your high-level impact at Antheia?
I’ve had the biggest impact on lab operations. When I joined Antheia, the company had just moved into a new space, so I had the opportunity to design and implement an organizational system for the lab. I worked closely with our co-founder and our operations manager to create standardized operating procedures, which has really helped us increase quality control and cut down on the onboarding time for new employees. Having SOPs, anyone coming into a lab ops role knows exactly what they should be doing.
What is the most exciting aspect of Antheia’s work?
Definitely the larger sustainability implications of our work. Instead of growing medicinal crops abroad and dealing with unreliable weather patterns or supply chains, we can put yeast in a bioreactor and create medicine in a few days, using less arable land and burning less fossil fuels in the process. We’re shifting the drug development process from years to weeks, and that seems so futuristic.
We see you’ve already had two different roles within Antheia – what allowed you to have such a quick professional growth trajectory time at Antheia?
The collaborative environment and emphasis on mentorship has really allowed me to grow during my time here. When I was first hired on, the team was pretty small, so I was trained by senior employees who took the time to walk me through operations in detail. Early on, I interacted with every single Antheia employee, so I was able to develop relationships with the whole team. I’m a naturally curious person, and because of those relationships, I felt comfortable going up to someone and asking them a million questions about their work if I thought it was interesting.
I think that’s one of the best parts about working for a startup - you have the chance to find what interests you and then define your role around that. You’re able to create your own path. I love that I feel empowered to join projects that are interesting to me, and that there is always an opportunity to learn more.
Interested in working with Cat and the rest of the fermentation team? Take a look at our current open positions.