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New SLAS Board Members Talk about Life, Career, Responsibility

Frank Fan, Ph.D.; Robyn Rourick, M.S.; and Daniel Sipes, M.S., elected by SLAS members, began three-year terms on the SLAS Board of Directors in January 2012. Despite varied backgrounds and interests, they share a similar commitment to serve the SLAS membership dutifully, creatively and with the energy required to drive the young organization's success. They join six other leaders on the 2012 Board of Directors. Take a few moments to learn a bit more about each of them as you read their answers to the questions below.


Fan is director of research, Research and Development at Promega, Verona, WI.

Rourick is senior manager, Study Operations, Development Sciences at Genentech, Inc., South San Francisco, CA.

Sipes is director, Advanced Automation Technologies at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, San Diego, CA.


Q. Why did you become a member of SLAS?

Fan: My professional career has always been associated with drug discovery and automation, so it was quite natural to become a member of SBS and later SLAS.

Rourick: I became a member to expand my knowledge and awareness of laboratory automation in drug discovery and development through the exchange of information across a diverse membership.

Sipes: I have been a member of both ALA and SBS since the '90s. It was natural, with the merger of those two organizations, that I join SLAS.


Q. Why have you chosen to increase your involvement over the years, and what have you found most beneficial from your membership?

Fan: It has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional life. It was not at all by design, though. I started out just helping to improve the poster review process at the annual SBS conference. Gradually, I began to contribute to the ideas and directions the Society should consider to benefit members. I was very fortunate to have great mentors such as Ricardo Macarron, Steve Rees and Bill Janzen, just to name a few, and great colleagues to run a couple of successful symposia that were well received by our members. I am very excited, and nervous, about the upcoming SLAS2012 that I co-chair with Dan Sipes, another newly elected board member. We worked hard with the SLAS professional team and many track/session chairs to put together the program, which sets the foundation for future conferences. I am eager to hear what our members think as we are always open to suggestions for improvement.

The greatest benefit I receive from my SLAS membership is the synergy between SLAS activities and my work responsibilities at Promega. I feel fortunate to work with two great organizations. Learning in one clearly helps the thinking of the other.

Rourick: I have chosen to increase my involvement over the years because as I experienced more and more of SLAS and its commitment to education and outreach for the advancement of science and technology, I was continually motivated to contribute what I could and to be part of something bigger.

Sipes: For several years, by participating in the scientific programs, short courses, SIGs, vendor workshops and networking both on the exhibit floor and the events, I have brought valuable knowledge back to my employers. In turn, I was able to influence decisions, which resulted in superb operations benefiting our drug discovery efforts as well as my career. I realized SLAS (actually ALA and SBS at the time) was a volunteer run organization. So when I was asked to participate in organizing the ALA scientific program in 2008, I jumped at the chance to give back to the organization and community. It was a great "behind the scenes" experience. Each year the organizers would ask me to participate at a higher level and I gladly accepted. By the way, I always consulted senior management at GNF (Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation) in my decisions regarding participation and they consistently backed me. Thanks to them for their support!


Q. How has your work, and life, background prepared you to step into this new role as a board member?

Fan: I was educated in China and then got my Ph.D. and postdoctoral training in the U.S. I worked in big pharma (SmithKline Beecham/GlaxoSmithKline) for five years and have been with Promega, a biotech reagent tool company, for the past 10 years. My philosophy toward life and work is highly influenced by both cultures from the east and west. In essence, it is all about finding the right balance with an open and collaborative mind. This philosophy has been guiding me well in leading my R&D team at work and with a broad spectrum of colleagues internally and externally. This has led to continuous publications in peer-reviewed journals and new assays/tools for the Society. I am also a reviewer for several journals related to our Society. I feel that this life and work experience, and my participation/contribution to SLAS in the past five years, are a solid foundation for me to step into this new role as a board member.

Rourick: Growing and maturing as a leader in the pharmaceutical industry over the past 20-plus years has allowed me to develop a broad knowledge base and perspective of drug discovery and development. Throughout this time, I have had the opportunity to connect discovery and development needs with innovative automation technologies and solutions. Through this I have had an opportunity to work across disciplines and organizational boundaries and to establish worldwide contacts to build partnerships in emerging areas such as instrumentation and analytical chemistry.

Sipes: Technically I am very prepared. My formal education is in molecular biology and immunology, but I also have a knack (and enjoyment) for all things technical and worked with engineers for many years. I have worked in academic, pharma and biotech environments both in research and development. I worked at the bench for over a decade before transitioning to management. So, I like to think that I have common ground with much of the membership and can put that to work for them. Also, I had some great mentors early in my carrier that really inspired me. I hope SLAS can help make connections for members so they, too, can be inspired.


Q. As a newly elected board member, how do you see yourself contributing to the SLAS mission?

Fan: As I said in my election statement, I would like to focus on three areas where I feel motivated and competent to serve our members.

Globalization: In addition to strengthening our presence in U.S. and Europe, I will help make great strides into the fast growing market of Asia. We are poised to do so with the new SLAS office and our 2012 Asia Conference next summer. We will also aim to attract speakers and attendees from Japan, Korea, India and Singapore.

One community: I will facilitate the continued integration of two organizations to truly become one SLAS. I will promote educational programs to help our diverse membership from academia, research institutions, hospitals, government, CRO, biotech and pharma to sharpen their skill sets and find better career options. I will also emphasize fair share representation of various sectors for speaking opportunities at the annual conference and symposia.

Two drug formats: Historically, SLAS has been more focused on chemical drug discovery. But the growth of biologics drug discovery presents new opportunities for our members to expand their business and/or find new jobs. I will continue the efforts of demonstrating the synergy of these two processes and educating our members.

Rourick: As we continue to form as a united organization, I will work to ensure that we are appropriately addressing different sectors as we expand our scope. The "section" model provides the benefit of direct connectivity back to a membership base during integration and transition through feedback and guidance to ensure that expectations and needs are being addressed organizationally.

Sipes: For one, I hope to leverage my background and network to contribute to the most effective means and forums to accomplish education and information exchange. For instance, I will continue to serve on the Scientific Program Advisory Committee. In addition, as SLAS expands our global effort, it will be critical to ensure that the content is appropriate and timely for that environment.


Q. What is most exciting to you about taking on this new responsibility?

Fan: It is exciting to be able to work with the leadership team of this Society to bring the most benefits to our members.

Rourick: I look forward to the privilege of helping to drive greater reach, impact and success of science through laboratory technology collaboratively with a pristine group of dedicated and talented individuals.

Sipes: I enjoy the fact that SLAS is still new. We have the chance to make a positive, lasting impact.


Q. Where do you see SLAS making the greatest impact in the next two years? The next five years?

Fan: In the next two years, I expect the greatest impact will come from the synergy between SBS and ALA to realize the 1+1=3 expectation at the merger. The members will have a chance to integrate the broad scope of the Society with their domain knowledge and extract the best value. During these two years, SLAS will gain more understanding and perspective on the new areas it is exploring. And then over the next five years, we may refine and focus on the areas where we can truly make the greatest impact. In addition, I expect a great expansion of our Society's footprint globally.

Rourick: In the next few years, there will be greater impact from the application of high-throughput screening technologies to the areas of companion diagnostics and drug development testing technology such as bioanalysis for pharmacokinetic property determination. Over the next five years, we will see continued geographical expansion and engagement of more scientists and professionals particularly in Asia and Europe.

Sipes: The industries we serve are going through major changes. Some are technical advancements, such as next generation sequencing and phenotypic screening. But some are organizational, such as decentralization. Near term, SLAS will be a great forum for sharing knowledge regarding how the membership is being impacted and determining best practices. Longer term, SLAS could have a large impact on our served industries in Asia. Over the last few years, I visited several companies and institutions in Asia. There is not an organization similar to SLAS benefitting that portion of the world. In five years, it is possible that Asia could be reaping the benefits of SLAS as North America and Europe have been doing for over a decade.


Q. What would you tell someone who is considering becoming a member of SLAS?

Fan: Come and join us. SLAS is a Society that is formed and run by your peers. It is a great place to learn, network and share with other members.

Rourick: I would say there is no reason not to! It provides such a great opportunity to expand one's professional and personal networks while obtaining early insight into what's happening across multiple industries. There is also a range of volunteer opportunities for those that are interested. It is an extremely welcoming and engaging Society.

Sipes: Join, of course. SLAS is a great deal and serves its members well with many benefits including the annual conference, journals and online network. I would also emphasize it is a non-profit organization and thus has its membership's interests as its highest priority.


Q. Talk about an area of the SLAS strategic plan that is most interesting to you?

Fan: Although I mentioned three areas from my election statement earlier where I felt passionate and competent to serve our members, I will focus on "Connect the global community with SLAS content" as a top priority. I am very excited to work with other members of the International Advisory Committee on this mission, which will start soon. Stay posted.

Rourick: First off is that commitment to education and outreach is core to the advancement of science and technology and the cornerstone of the Society. The awareness of expanding geographies and industries as an opportunity to engage and impact more scientists, academicians, business and government professionals through a variety of educational offerings is extremely important as SLAS continues to grow and develop. In addition, I support the intentional growth in Asia benchmarked not only by an annual conference but also by establishment of formal support infrastructure in a local SLAS Shanghai office. I think this definitely speaks to an awareness of not only how the world is changing but also to how many of our members are doing business. SLAS needs to be appropriately balanced in the near term as we serve our constituency, which I believe encompasses three main areas – Asia, Europe and the United States.

Sipes: One of the priorities of the strategic plan is to increase the scope of the organization. Of course we need to accomplish this without overly diluting our traditionally strong and impactful presence in drug discovery. I am particularly interested in this aspect of the strategic plan because of the potential intersections of differing areas of technology and science. It is at these intersections that great things happen and SLAS can facilitate that.


Q. When not involved in work or SLAS activities, how do you like to spend your time?

Fan: I like to spend time with family, travel, watch movies, watch sports and develop many hobbies linked to Chinese culture – classic literature, calligraphy and the Peking Opera for example.

Rourick: I really enjoy and have fun giving back to my local community. This ranges from overseeing an activity in my son's Cub Scout den to serving on our school's Advisory Board. I am also committed to the mission of the California Analytical Chemists Organization (CACO) Pharmaceutical & BioScience Society and serve as a board member as well as the chair of the San Diego Chapter.

Sipes: I have a wonderful wife, a five-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. These are great times to be together as a family! We are all fairly aquatic, so we spend much of our time boating, swimming, fishing and gradually introducing my kids to breath-hold diving (freediving) – one of my favorite pastimes.


Q. Is there anything else you would like the SLAS ELN readership to know about you?

Fan: For the ELN readers, my e-mail is: Let me hear your thoughts; I will take notes!

Sipes: As part of my static apnea training for freediving, I have been known to hold my breath for over five minutes.

February 1, 2012