Congratulations to Dr. Rafael Saer for being named BALSA Project Manager of the Year for 2017!
Rafael obtained his bachelor's degree in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Miami (Miami FL), and later obtained his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver BC, Canada. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University-St. Louis.
Rafael’s research interests have involved investigating the mechanism by which photosynthetic organisms, such as plants, algae, and bacteria, capture energy from sunlight and move it to a useful location where the organism can tap into that energy. In addition to his research, Rafael has completed eight total projects during his tenure with The BALSA Group. His experience and leadership make him a very valuable member of our team!
We asked Rafael to tell us more about why he joined BALSA and what he has valued most from his experiences.
What motivated you to join BALSA?
I was feeling perpetually stressed by the traditional career path of academic scientists. I don't want to fool anyone here, there's a special place in my heart for basic research. However, academic scientist positions are limited by the availability of government funding, which hasn't really gone up or down in the past decade. The problem with this is that it doesn't support growth in the scientific community. I can go on for pages ranting about how this has transformed (negatively, in my opinion) the job profile of a young professor, but I'll cut to the chase here and say that, after considering the job profile and the impact that it would have on my personal life, an academic scientist's career just seems like a bad deal. I was hoping that BALSA would open the door to opportunities that offered a more reasonable balance between my work and personal life.
What have you learned by working on BALSA projects?
I've certainly learned a lot about how technologies transform from a bench experiment to a marketable technology, and particularly the important role that technology management offices play in this arena. What I really feel I've improved on, however, is my ability to make compromises and judgement calls in project management when given a limited time frame. It's like being on a six-week Iron Chef episode, except the special ingredient is the client and the kitchen is your team; you have to make the best dish with the time you have!
What did you hope to accomplish by working with BALSA? Were these goals fulfilled?
The honest answer here is that I was inclined to get something out of BALSA, but I couldn't pinpoint it at the time I applied. I didn't have some specific end goal; I was hoping that working in BALSA would help me specify what kind of goals I needed to be setting in order to progress in the direction that I wanted to go. BALSA certainly helped in this respect, and I have the added benefit of meeting a great network of individuals.
What do you envision your career in 3-5 years and how do you think your BALSA experience will help with your goal?
I would love to be developing scientific technologies in the agricultural sector here in St. Louis, either as a hands-on staff scientist or as part of a business development team. My BALSA experience has certainly helped me improve my so-called soft skills to undertake either of these career paths.