As part of Digital Science’s celebrations for Ada Lovelace Day, for the rest of October we are running a collection of blog posts featuring some of the great women that work across Digital Science and our portfolio companies.

Photo credit: David CostaMelanie Hamblen has spent her whole life interested in Biology. By the age of 16 she had over 14 Peterson guides to help her identify all the flora and fauna all around her. She lives with her husband and son, two dogs, chickens and bee hives between Boston Massachusetts and Providence Rhode Island.

I often think about a conversation I overheard on a commuter bus sometime during the first week I started work at Boston Children’s Hospital as a Lab Manager. There were two young women discussing what they do in their respective research labs; of course my ears perked up when I heard them mention research.

First Woman: “I’m working with a post doc. I’m learning a lot – it’s pretty cool. What are you doing?”

Second woman: “That sounds good. I’m working with a grad student and helping out the Lab Manager.”

First woman: “Lab Manager, oh man, I feel really bad for our Lab Manager – that’s got to be the worst job in the world.”

Second woman: “Yeah, right. Who would ever want to do that?”

All I could think of was “what had I gotten myself into?” That thought echoed in my head for the next three long months.

I had come from a Drosophila lab that studied behavior. I worked on projects involving circadian rhythms and the Period gene. (Recently the work has been receiving awards: the Horwitz prize and the Shaw Prize.)

I had been there for 12 ½ years. In that time I had become one of the experts in behavioral analysis and helped train new graduate students and post docs who came to the lab. I took care of many issues that a Lab Manager would take care of, but I didn’t carry that title. When the behavior side of my work became too easy for me I jumped in to the molecular side of the study to learn something new.

I made a leap from the fly lab to a large HHMI lab at Boston Children’s Hospital where our main focus was studying the genes involved in hematopoiesis (research into the genetics behind blood diseases have recently received the Kovalenko award and the Allen award) and cancers of the blood. What a difference! A complete change of study – flies don’t have blood! What had I gotten myself into?

I spent the next 17 years as a Lab Manager in this lab. So it all worked out O.K. Eventually that “What had I gotten myself into? “ became “I can do this” and finally “what else can I do?” I found the role of lab manager fit me well. It is a fantastic career for a person who enjoys making sure people have what they need to get the job done, who can put the lab’s goals ahead of their own, and who can share in the joy of others in the lab achieving their goals. When my lab people got published and moved on to the next step in their careers, I felt as if I had succeeded along with them.

When I got to the “what else can I do” stage I used my growing passion for keeping my people safe and developed a relationship with the Environmental Health and Safety and Research Operations Departments. We worked on creating safety policies and personal protective equipment educational handouts for common procedures run in the labs. I also worked with HHMI on many special projects focusing on making sure people had the information they needed to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. I also helped build a network of Lab Managers where we could share information and help each other deal with difficult issues.

My latest leap has been to BioRAFT, a company with investment from Digital Science as a Client Communications Lead. Another jump into something totally different; I must be crazy! I am now working at a software company that helps institutions organize safety training and compliance data. I have only been here for a few months and I am once again in the “what did I do?” stage. I can see where my communication skills and my desire to make sure people have the information they need to get their jobs done safely will help the company succeed. I am hoping to get to the “I can do this and excel at it!” stage soon! And while I’m at it I will build a top notch Post-Implementation Customer Management program, helping our customers keep their people safe. Because when they reach their goals I will too.

I worry that the uncertainty of the next step and anxiety of the “what did I do?” stages keeps people from leaping into new and exciting roles and opportunities to learn. I have done it and it is painful, but it goes away. The gain is well worth the pain.

What could be next? This might sound like a fantasy but perhaps designing a certificate program for new Lab Managers to help them succeed, now that would be fantastic!