Tina Hambuch Hawks, PhD, FACMG

Director of Clinical Services
Illumina Clinical Services Laboratory

ASHG: What are the biggest challenges you encountered when acclimating to the pace and demands of industry? What skills do you wish you had worked on in advance?

Dr. Hambuch: One particular challenge for people who have trained extensively in academia is learning to communicate your work to non-geneticists who will be making decisions about how the work that you are doing in the company will be funded and offered to the public. It would have been very useful to have had a better sense of business operations; although in principle, convincing your boss or executive team to support your project is similar to writing a good grant proposal, there are differences in what needs to be emphasized and what doesn't. Understanding that process, and how decisions get made in an industrial/business environment and then communicating effectively in that environment is a challenge for many people coming out of academics and into an industry environment.

ASHG: What do you think the future holds for the field of genetics?

Dr. Hambuch: Currently, genetics is a very active field. The technological advances of recent years have enabled us to finally start answering questions that geneticists of 100 years ago could only speculate and hypothesize about. Although, technology allows us to start generating the data to answer these questions, it doesn't guarantee that the answers will be obvious or quickly forthcoming. Complex genetic disease is making strides, but is certainly still a rich area for research. At the same time, the medical community is really starting to embrace the potential utility of genetic evaluations for the conditions that we do have some understanding of. I expect that both areas will continue to grow, and I think the major development required to make this succeed more quickly is mechanisms and policies for sharing data that enable discoveries while still ensuring that patients and physicians receive robust, reliable information.

ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

Dr. Hambuch: My favorite parts of my job include getting to work with a dedicated, intelligent multidisciplinary team that is working together to build tools and processes to enable more effective genetic testing and reporting. Highlights are when we solve cases and are able to give families and physicians useful information, and when we find ways to make our tests better- more accurate or detecting more types of genetic variants. My least favorite activities include the basic administrative activities, the paperwork, and record-keeping. I recognize it is necessary and important, but it is not terribly stimulating.

ASHG: What factors did you take into account when deciding if/when to build a family while also building your career? What advice would you give young trainees currently making these decisions?

Dr. Hambuch: Basically, my husband and I knew we wanted to have children, but weren’t sure when we should.  It seemed like “next year” might always be the time to consider it.  Then I hit an age where I realized that my options were getting more limited. 

There will never be an ideal time to build both a family and a career.  Don’t wait for it to come along.  Be reasonable about your expectations- you cannot focus 100% on both parenthood and career, both will require compromises.  Consider what you and your partner are willing and able to compromise on, and remember that neither your career nor your child is static- both are changing and growing constantly, so be prepared to have to adjust!

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