February 14, 2020 – Elliott Ergon a Research and Development Process Engineer at Flagship Biosciences. He studied chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado – Boulder and received his BS.
Elliott shared what led him to his work in science.
“Growing up I always had a passion for learning. Math and science just made sense to me and have always been my strengths. I was a ‘mathlete’ in middle school, traveling with a team to other schools to solve equations within a time limit and scoring points for our team. It’s hard to imagine anything cooler than traveling around to do math as a tween!
After taking as many math and science-based classes as possible through high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue engineering as my career. It was a difficult to decide between mechanical and biochemical engineering, but ultimately biochemical engineering seemed more on the cutting edge of science, which was where I wanted to be.
Flagship is actually my first job, right out of college. I became especially interested in biotech and pharma from a class I took my senior year at CU under Professor Joel Karr. We had a variety of industry speakers come in to provide guest lectures, which was often interesting. One day, an immunologist who knew Professor Karr came in to talk about some of the new immune pathways that were being investigated for therapeutics. I remember being astonished at the things that scientists were doing to enable the body’s own immune system to fight diseases. I also distinctly remember being excited about how much more there is for science to discover about our own bodies!
My favorite part of my job is trying to figure out new or better ways to do things. I particularly enjoy when I am tasked with designing something that we have never done before, like designing a new system of algorithms to measure nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) liver disease damage or creating a workflow to separate immune cells from tumor cells using our machine learning capabilities.
In addition to developing systems for outputting new data from our analysis algorithms, I also enjoy improving some of the more mundane aspects of my job, including simplifying paperwork and automating the process to move files from one server to another.
I have been at Flagship for five years and we are a completely different company than when I started. We have done a great job of letting the people who are actually doing the work figure out new and better ways to get things done. Besides the problem-solving aspect, I also really enjoy my coworkers. Flagship has an excellent assortment of people working together. We have just the right balance of intelligence, excitement, and weird senses of humor. I have a team of people that I know I can count on who are smart and hungry for more!
As far as the future goes, I genuinely believe that digital pathology will revolutionize the drug industry. I work with a few pathologists and — don’t get me wrong, they are smart people. However, if you can get three pathologists to agree 100% on anything, I will buy you a drink! Using an expertly crafted and pathologist-reviewed computer algorithm takes away all that guess work and allows you to get data endpoints that are way outside of the realm of possibility from manual scoring. This very accurate and reproducible quantitative data will be the future of medicine. Our technology will save many lives.
My advice to those aspiring to a career in sciences is to think about what you really want to do and where you want to do it! Don’t just look at the classes you would take for a certain major, look at the jobs that people get and where the hubs are for those jobs. I got very lucky to find a biotech job in Denver.
Another thing is that you will learn so much more and be so much more excited if you click with the people you are around. For example, if you are trying to decide between two calculus classes, don’t just look at the time of day. Look up professor reviews online and I guarantee you will learn more from the professor who is passionate about teaching than the professor who is just there to do research and nothing else. Make sure to also pursue interests and hobbies outside of your major or career to avoid burning out. For me it’s cooking, movies, skiing, hiking, and camping. Looking back, if I could do anything differently, I would have spent more time learning coding languages in college.”