Trace Christensen

 Trace Christensen

Major: Biology
Year of Graduation: 1989
Current Position: Sr. Research Technician, Electron Microscopy Core Facility, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.

Please give a brief description of your current position and where you're working.
I currently work as a Senior Research and Development Specialist in the Electron Microscopy Core Facility at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  My job is to work with research investigators to provide them with skills and expertise in electron microscopy and image analysis and apply these to their own research projects.  Electron microscopy is an advanced instrument that provides biologists a powerful tool to explore the far reaches of cellular compartments and individual molecules.  A typical day for me may involve meeting with a staff scientist and consulting with them about their project, working out an experimental plan, performing the experiment to prepare samples, sitting at the microscope and imaging the samples, reviewing and presenting the data obtained, and finally writing up the results for future reference, grant proposals, and manuscripts. I am involved with many types of interesting projects that are making advances in all sorts of diseases like breast and ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, Alzheimer disease and Huntington's disease.   Almost every day I get to work with and run some of the most advanced microscopes in the world...it's a blast!

What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
Entering SJU I knew I enjoyed science but didn't necessarily know what area I wanted to work in.  I took a variety of science courses and eventually realized a career in medical research was what I wanted.  My senior year I spent the entire J-term sending out resumes and looking at prospective employers.  I worked for a year after school at a laboratory in Madison, WI to gain some experience and then was fortunate enough to get a position at the Mayo Clinic where I have been ever since.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
If you enjoy science at it's very core - you'll enjoy a career in research.  There are so many different areas and types of jobs you can get into.  I would suggest initially experiencing as much as you can and finding out what you really enjoy and then directing that interest towards a specific field.  Find and talk to others in that field to discover what it is really like.  Everybody in science enjoys mentoring and teaching others about their work so I would suggest talking to as many people as you can.  There are all kinds of opportunities to intern in labs - try to do as much as you can.

What skills are important in your field?
As a microscopist you need to be observant, curious, and fascinated by everything that you can see under a scope that is otherwise invisible.  For my job it is important to plan experiments well, take good notes, and be creative in your thinking while you troubleshoot.   Good writing and verbal communication skills really help as you work with an investigator on their project.

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
As difficult and long as they were at times, the labs at SJU really helped prepare me for my career.  Learning to take notes well and summarize your experiments really was useful. I also think a lot of the non-science courses I took really helped in shaping my career and me.  I look back at the foreign language, theology, and music courses I took as being incredibly influential in my life.  There is immeasurable valuable in a liberal arts education.   

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
As a research scientist, knowing that I am making contributions towards treatments and cures to diseases is something that makes coming to work each day very easy and rewarding.  When you make a key observation that unlocks a better understanding of a problem you are working on you get really excited.  Research is such an academic environment and it is really fun coming to work each day and learning new things, interacting with other scientists, attending lectures, working with amazingly cool instruments, seeing your work published in a journal, teaching students, traveling to scientific meetings to present your work...it's a great job!