From Afghanistan to Sanford, a former State Department executive finds his passion in biotech

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Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WRAL TechWire features a story highlighting the NC Bio Jobs Hub initiative. Visit the Bio Jobs Hub for more stories and information about life science job opportunities made possible by NC’s workforce training initiatives.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In a past life, Guy Aday was the chief of operations for the American consulate in northern Afghanistan. After injuring his back and returning to the United States for back surgery and physical and vocational rehabilitation, he began to re-evaluate his career.

“My bachelor’s degree in emergency and crisis management was a good fit for my job at the State Department, but it didn’t translate well to a civilian career,” he explained. “When I first looked into vocational rehabilitation options, I wanted something where I could work with my hands and be intellectually challenged.”

Aday found this challenge and hands-on experience in Alamance Community College’s biotechnology program. Here he tapped into his newfound interest in cell culture. “It was a great experience overall with hands-on lab volunteering opportunities,” he said.

Amid Aday’s biotechnology program studies for which he was earning an AAS, ACC introduced an agricultural biotechnology program, which he also continued. His combined degrees and volunteer experience in college labs paved the way for his first formal job in biotechnology as Director of the ACC Biotechnology Laboratory. This position was the launch pad for his career at the Pfizer plant in Sanford.

Guy Aday (Photo courtesy of NC Biotech Center)

“The roughly two years I spent managing the labs was a great experience,” Aday said. “I was able to leverage my years of management experience with my STEM background to take my role in the lab to another level than what was originally intended. I trained technicians and student volunteers and conducted outreach activities for the program.

The experience also taught Aday how to build a strong professional network. Today, he is a Bioprocess IV Technician, Gene Therapy/Continuous Improvement at Pfizer. It’s a role that challenges him, especially now. After two years at Pfizer, Aday is in a new professional training program, or secondment, as part of the company’s Integrated Manufacturing Excellence (IMEX) program.

“Essentially, my job is to become a subject matter expert in digital platforms and then combine that with my previous experiences to build job aids and train end users,” Aday said. “The time I spent tutoring and co-teaching in the biotech lab at ACC prepared me for this new challenge.”

As he enters this new phase of his career, Aday has some advice for others making a career change. On the one hand, he recommends job seekers to be open-minded and flexible when it comes to job titles and responsibilities. “You get out of it what you put into it.”

He also emphasizes that the AAS biotechnology program is not limited to bioprocessing. “Experience in plant and mammalian cell culture, microbiology, genetic sequencing and other laboratory work has given me knowledge and experience that I will use throughout my career.”

And one last tip. “Be aware that it is physical work, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. Overall, terrain is what you make it. There are plenty of opportunities, but you will have to put in some effort.

(C) NC Biotechnology Center

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