Women in STEM: Golden Helix Employees

         November 10, 2022

Here at Golden Helix, we would like to take a moment and highlight some of our amazing and talented women in STEM! Below are short excerpts from some of our own Golden Helix employees and their experiences both in STEM and here at Golden Helix.  

Rana Smalling 
Field Application Scientist 
B.A. in Biological Sciences, Ph.D. in Biochemistry 
My experience in STEM started in college at the University of Chicago, majoring in biology and volunteering on the Kids Genes project, getting informed consent from patients to collect genetic information. From there, I worked in a breast cancer genetics lab, which inspired me to do advanced research. In graduate school at the University of Utah, I used NGS (RNASeq) in several research studies on metabolic diseases. A long-standing interest in cancer research brought me to VUMC, where I studied pancreatic cancer metabolism. Today, I enjoy working with an amazing team at Golden Helix, and I get to use my research background to better understand the genomics space and the context in which our customers are working.

On my STEM journey, I have enjoyed the opportunity to form bonds and close friendships with many brilliant people that have impacted my life in significant ways. As a person who loves learning and problem-solving, there are multiple rewarding career options in this field, and so far, every experience for me has been extremely fulfilling. That goes for even the hardest ones, such as overcoming some of the barriers faced as a minority woman in a male-dominated sector. What I have learned is for women in STEM, our perspectives, talents, and work ethic are needed and welcome, though the journey comes with unique challenges. To face these challenges, I would remember your passion and motivation, actively seek out people and spaces that will support you and your professional development, and of course, make friends along the way!

Leta Eng 
Associate Director of Renewal Sales 
B.S. in Animal Science, 20 years managing an academic preclinical testing lab followed by 8 years in preclinical research equipment sales, 3 years of clinical research service sales for topical antiseptic products & hard surface disinfectants, and now 4 years exploring the world of genetic testing with GHI. 

My time at Montana State University, both as a student and managing a lab, provided me with an introduction to translational research and spurred my lifelong dedication to “the greater good.” During this stage of my career, I witnessed many scientific advancements and was honored to support these breakthroughs in so many interesting and enriching capacities. When I started my career, my goal was to work with livestock in a production setting, but the direction life took me seemed to be a way better fit! Through research, I experienced personal and professional growth opportunities which provided training in many disciplines: immunology, neuroscience, behavioral psychology, embryology, genetic engineering, and even a stint in paleontology. My experience in sales seemed to elevate the knowledge I had gained to a new level of understanding. It has allowed me to experience many wonderful adventures, all while expanding my understanding of how my previous experience in academia could be applied to furthering human and animal health in private business. My advice for any young woman just starting her career is to embrace the journey and let it take you where you want to go. Your path may surprise you, but I am certain it will delight and enrich you in many unexpected ways as well!  

My experience and interest in research design and scientific writing has been invaluable to expanding my understanding of what customers are looking to achieve with GHI solutions, as well as the obstacles they face in their work. To understand others is the best way to serve both customers and GHI. 

Jennifer Dankoff 
Field Application Scientist 
B.S. in Microbiology, Minor in Global Health, Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology  
Moving through the world of STEM, one of the biggest contributors to my success was finding strong female mentors. Forming a bond with someone who has similar professional and personal goals and then going to them for advice helped me develop a personal road map. As a woman working in what was traditionally a ‘boys club,’ the STEM world can be intimidating. In higher-level classes, research groups, and in the workplace, to be seen as a peer (and not just the solitary female presence), I would advise you to speak with confidence and act as your own advocate. Lean on your merits, get advice from those mentors, and go forth and shine! STEM looks a lot different than it did 10 years ago, and this is a great time to get involved.  

My journey in biotechnology started at the University of Washington, where I got a Minor in Global Health. The idea that technology could change health and therefore change the world stuck. In graduate school at Montana State University, I studied how the innate immune system reacts to gram-positive bacterial infections. During that time, several friends and family members underwent battles with cancer. This changed my life, and I decided to change career courses and work somewhere that makes a difference for those struggling with genetic diseases. That is where I am today. At Golden Helix, as a FAS, I work to teach groups around the world how to use our analysis software. I work with an amazing team on our outreach program, ensuring our customers find success on their germline and somatic analyses!  

Julia Love 
Product Quality Manager 
B.S in Biology, M.S in Molecular Biology with a focus in Neuroscience 

I think there is a lot of pressure to be totally independent in the STEM world. From my experience, I learned that I had the most success when collaborating with others. I found a solid group of not only women but also men who were willing to team up, support the success of others, and encourage innovation.  It can sometimes be intimidating to talk to professors or professionals but bouncing ideas off other students in your major or graduate students is a great way to problem solve and often, together, come up with even better ideas!  

Working at Golden Helix, I have been able to not only apply many of the skills I developed over the course of studying and working in the STEM field but grow them. Prior to working at Golden Helix, I primarily studied and worked in a laboratory environment. This experience was undoubtedly valuable, but professional industry environments are inherently different in pace, goals, and relationship building. Through collaboration and working in an environment that encourages creativity and ideation, I can further develop myself in the STEM world.  

Lisa Esterling, Ph.D., PMP  
Project Director Quality & Regulatory 
BS in Biology with a minor in Molecular Biology, PhD in Genetics 
I became a scientist because of my fascination with solving genetic puzzles. During my career, I worked with bacteria, slime mold, and human genetics, focusing on behavioral disorders and then moving to cancer genetics. This has been an exciting time in genetics and genomics, and I have been able to witness amazing progress from the first human genetic map to personalized medicine. Along the way, I used my knowledge of genetics to translate difficult concepts to team members in both the informatic and regulatory realms while developing cross-functional skills in project management, technical writing, and science policy. My experience has taught me to take advantage of every new opportunity, as this can open a path to a diverse and rewarding career. 

My experience in STEM allowed me to find a position at Golden Helix where I can use not just my scientific knowledge but also my technical writing and regulatory experience. Employing these skills, I have had the honor to participate in developing a system to ensure that Golden Helix develops the highest quality software. 

Thank you to the women of Golden Helix for taking a moment and sharing their experiences! 

If you are interested in becoming a part of the Golden Helix team, please visit us here. We are always looking for self-motivated people who want to achieve excellence and help us along our journey. You will have the chance to live in some of the most beautiful places in the world, with competitive wages and benefits.


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