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Project Violet Exploration: The People

Come investigate the many elements of Project Violet!

The Whole Picture - The Wide Range of Project Violet

A large net of people with a variety of backgrounds and careers come together to form the entirety of Project Violet and all that it involves to conduct its research. Below is a sample of just some of the careers and people involved in obtaining the goal of Project Violet.

STEM Career Links

Below are some tools to browse careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, to try to allow you to figure out career you might enjoy and be good at.

Jim Olson

Chris - Pathobiologist

"Drug discovery is part of human evolution - we are affecting our environment, we are making our world a better place for us to be as part of evolution."


[ Video & Editing:  Clint Shaw (cjshaw@fhcrc.org) ]

Meet Dr. Chris Mehlin, Director of the Peptide Drug Discovery Initiative of Project Violet. His job is to take a specific class of proteins and redesign them into drugs. Drug discovery can have large impacts on society; for example, if not for drug discovery people would still commonly die of diseases such as bubonic plague and small pox.

Chris has a PhD in pathobiology (the study of what makes a disease a disease), and from there he went into drug discovery in a variety of venues in both the biotech industry and academia. He says that while getting a PhD may seem daunting, it's actually a fun and interesting step to your career - it is a part of your career, in fact.

Chris finds it exciting to be a part of a field that has a big impact on humanity. An additional bonus to working in research on new ideas, he gets to sometimes be the first person to see some novel things. As part of a small group, Chris gets to enjoy a variety of tasks ranging from meeting with people about their projects, to reading research papers, to being in the lab.

Education/Training:  PhD
Important 'Hard Skill':  Basic math
Important 'Soft Skill':  Problem solving
Attire:  Casual

Damon - Bioinformatics Researcher

"The work that we do is very much driven and motivated by the patients."


[ Video & Editing:  Clint Shaw (cjshaw@fhcrc.org) ]

Meet Damon May, Bioinformatics Researcher on Project Violet. He is the computational component of the team; he brings unique skills to the team to enable extreme efficiency in the novel research method that they have developed. Bioinformaticians are necessary in most labs these days to thoroughly analyze large sets of data using software and computational methods.

Damon started out as a programmer in a software company, and chose to move to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research to pursue a path more meaningful to him. He currently has a bachelor's and master's degree in computer science and he plans to continue his education by getting a PhD in genome sciences.

Damon finds the intellectual challenges interesting and enjoys using the skills he's developed, but his main motivation in his career is the idea that the science they are doing in the lab can get out as fast as possible to turn into drugs and directly help many people including the patients they work with.

*Note: Damon has since returned to school to get a PhD in Genome Sciences from the University of Washington in order to give himself an additional and different skill set.

Education/Training:  Master's or PhD
Important 'Hard Skill':  Computer programming
Important 'Soft Skill':  Communication
Attire:  Casual

Michelle - Pharmacologist

"I can talk to patients about what it's like to live with that disease and then hear how important it is for them that we find these therapies, so that's a huge motivator."


[ Video & Editing:  Clint Shaw (cjshaw@fhcrc.org) ]

Meet Dr. Michelle Cook Sangar, Director of Pharmacology in Dr. Jim Olson's lab and part of the Project Violet team. Pharmacology is the study of the way drugs work, the way drugs should be most effectively dosed, and the effect of drugs on the body.

Michelle's job is to design and run experiments with the goal of identifying new therapies for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Her days vary between designing and running experiments, reading papers, and attending meetings. She enjoys diving into the data from experiments to see what new information has been uncovered.

Michelle has a veterinary degree as well as a PhD in pharmacology. She chose this dual degree path so that she could have the research component that would allow her to have a greater impact on human and animal health.

Education/Training:  PhD
Important 'Hard Skill':  In vivo pharmacology (how drugs work, how they are dosed, how to assess the effects of the drugs)
Important 'Soft Skill':  Working together in a team
Attire:  Casual

Phil - Director of the Proteomics Facility

"By far and away the most interesting part of my job is interacting with investigators and the science they are working on."


[ Video & Editing:  Clint Shaw (cjshaw@fhcrc.org) ]

Meet Dr. Phil Gafken, Director of the Proteomics Facility at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The Proteomics Facility is a shared resource at the center that provides proteomics services to the researchers using a technology called Mass Spectrometry; this mainly includes protein identification, protein quantification, and characterizing modifications on proteins and peptides.

Phil's has been working with the Olson Lab for about 10 years. He started by helping them to develop the scorpion toxin as a molecular flashlight, which eventually evolved into Project Violet. He currently helps them develop various peptide libraries and he helps with various assays so they can evaluate the quality of the libraries they are making.

Phil has a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics. He says that while it is helpful to have a PhD for his type of position, it is not always necessary - a bachelor's or a master's degree plus a lot of experience in the field can also work. If Phil is looking for a candidate to join his facility, he would look for someone with chemistry/biochemistry background, practical lab skills, analytical skills, instrumentation skills, and 'people' skills.

Education/Training:  PhD (usually)
Important 'Hard Skill':  Chemistry/Biochemistry
Important 'Soft Skill':  Communication
Attire:  Casual

Shanon - Research Technician

"I love what we're doing, I think it's really meaningful. This is an exciting position because I think we're doing something that has never been done before, and I'm really excited to be a part of it."


[ Video & Editing:  Clint Shaw (cjshaw@fhcrc.org) ]

Meet Shanon Turnbaugh, a research technician IV in the Olson Lab working on Project Violet. You can usually find her pipetting at her bench, checking things off her list, and keeping busy, always on her feet. More specifically, a few things that Shanon might be doing include passing cells, making buffers, purifying proteins, or setting up expression tests. A research tech supports the science; without them we couldn't do a lot of experiments and testing that we would want to do.

Shanon recommends a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or biochemistry, followed by a more specific master's degree. But she says that people from different backgrounds can become a research scientist as long as they have the motivation to learn.

"I think we have a real opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of people with cancer and other grievous illnesses, and it's really humbling to work for a lab where the money comes from people who just want you to succeed; they are not shareholders, they are giving donations so that your work can progress - i think that's really motivating and humbling."

Education/Training:  Bachelor's or Master's
Important 'Hard Skill':  Basic math
Important 'Soft Skill':  Motivation
Attire:  Casual

Bob - Facilities Director

"We are the science behind the science."


[ Video & Editing:  Clint Shaw (cjshaw@fhcrc.org) ]

Meet Bob, the facilities director overseeing the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's infrastructure. He manages the systems in the floors between labs which carry liquid nitrogen, fresh air, water and gas to the labs. Hanging out with Bob you'll get to see giant generators, big flames, and over-sized wrenches. He's the science behind the science that makes innovation possible.

The lifeblood of an organization is its facilities team. The facilities team is responsible for the constructing and maintaining the the amazing work environments that allow people to perform at their best everyday.

Without the facilities team…
   -  we wouldn’t be able to turn on the lights
   -  we wouldn’t be able to take the elevator
   -  we would be cold in the buildings
   -  experiments would go spoiled
   -  broken equipment would stay broken

Education/Training: Bachelor’s or Associate’s
Attire: Casual, Rugged