Member Spotlight: Sharleen Rapp
- What is your name?
- What is your professional title?
Molecular Diagnostics Coordinator
- How did you decide to enter the field/What (or who) brought you into the field?
Ever since I was little, science has intrigued me. Perhaps it was the experiments my Dad performed in our kitchen as practice for his labs for his high school chemistry classes (who doesn’t enjoy watching salt crystals “grow” on string in peanut butter jars?) or watching my brother set up his fruit fly experiment for his high school science class, but I’ve always enjoyed learning about how things work.
I went to a small parochial school in the middle of Nebraska, and unfortunately we didn’t have the funds for elaborate science class labs. Interestingly enough, the event that clinched science for me was a project that I did for my government class. We were responsible for writing, essentially, a textbook, complete with chapters, endnotes, quizzes and tests, on a topic of our choosing. I chose to write about the Human Genome Project. I wrote this in the year 2000, when the Project was in full swing. I had read about it in the previous years, and I was completely amazed by what it accomplished. In the middle of the school year, in fact, Time magazine came out with an issue titled “The Future of Medicine – How genetic engineering will change us in the next century.” It contained nineteen different articles, all focused on how the information from the Human Genome Project would impact the future – one of which discussed the way pharmaceutical companies were designing drugs to combat the mutations in different types of cancer. I knew then I would be a part of that future; I just didn’t know how. At this time, I had no idea how I could go about working in this field. I had never heard of the discipline “Molecular Diagnostics” or medical technology.
- What do you do? How would you describe your role?
I work in a molecular lab for an academic hospital. I evaluate, validate and train others on new next generation sequencing assays for our oncology area, as well as keep track of quality control and troubleshooting.
- How does your work help patients?
We sequence a variety of cancer specimens to detect variants that can guide the oncologists’ decisions about which treatments to use. I am honored to be part of each patient’s “Personalized Medicine” plan.
- What degree(s) and/or training did you receive to achieve your position?
I graduated with a Biological Sciences degree from UNL with the intention of going to grad school to learn more about genetics. Instead, because I enjoyed teaching so much (I was a TA in college) I took a detour and taught science for a year before realizing I really wanted to be in a lab. I worked in a private lab for a year and a half and received on-the-job training of DNA extraction, PCR and Sanger sequencing setup, and sequencing analysis. This allowed me to get the experience to apply for the job here in my current lab, which is where I’ve been for 11 years now.
- What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?
I find that keeping up with all of the new technologies in molecular is a challenge. Our lab does not have unlimited resources, so we have to try our best to invest money in platforms and testing that can be used in the future as the testing evolves
- What is the best part of your work as you see it? (most interesting, fun…)
On the other side of the coin – I truly enjoy learning new things, so being in a field that changes so much is very interesting. I am always amazed at the technology that people and companies create. I also enjoy learning about the cases – our pathologists are very good about teaching us what the results of our testing mean for the patients we see.
- What AMP resources/courses have helped you advance your career?
I have been really lucky to attend some of the AMP conferences since I have started working in my current lab. I learn so much from all of the sessions and being able to talk to people face to face about the types of testing that we are doing have been so valuable.
- In your opinion, what are the most valuable aspects of AMP membership?
I appreciate that AMP values the technologist members – the option of the list serve for all the tech members is great. I honestly like the list serve for all of the AMP members as well – the topics that are brought up by other members are very interesting and sometimes quite relevant to what I do.