Informal Interview with Dr. Amanda Waters, Crop Bioinformatician in the Agro-Discovery team of PepsiCo

Informational Interview by Jaclyn Noshay, ASPB Conviron Scholar 2018

Dr. Amanda Waters is currently a Crop Bioinformatician in the Agro-Discovery team of PepsiCo.  After beginning her undergraduate degree as a pre-med biology student, she began to do research in Dr. Nathan Springer’s maize genomics lab where she discovered her joy for plant biology.  She later pursued a PhD at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in Plant Biological Sciences.  Dr. Waters joined PepsiCo as a post-doc in 2016 and 5 months later became a full employee and has continued to advance within PepsiCo.

What would you say is the relative importance of what you know and who you know?

Coming from a strong academic background most people don’t question what you know and so who you know becomes truly invaluable.  I would say that the impact of what and who you know is ~ 50/50.

What were your most essential skills directly out of graduate school?

The breadth of molecular knowledge I gained from Dr. Springer’s lab was unique.  Most graduate students don’t have experience in lab, field, and computational work. 

What do you do on a day to day basis?

Mostly emails and meetings.  I have to block off time on my calendar if I want to get any coding accomplished.  On a good day I may have 2 hours of interrupted time. 

Do you work on a team?

There is not a single project where I work entirely alone.  Knowing how to work on a team is essential and figuring out how to lead people on the same level of you will get you far in industry.  Developing soft skills is critical for industry work.  You can be technically brilliant but need to know how to discuss and collaborate with others.

What skills have you developed on the job?

A lot of aspects of my job were not things I ever learned in graduate school like contracts, budgets, IP landscapes, and a lot of other legal aspects to industry research.  Also, in graduate school you are generally part of the entire process from experimental design to data collection to analysis.  In industry I will get data that I had no control over the experimental design for and I have had to learn how to deal with analyses from that point.  One key piece I never thought much about prior was personal branding, I have had to learn how to become invaluable to the team and company.

What do you like most about your job?

I love the people I work with and being challenged every single day.  Having a supportive team and manager are just as important as who you know to get you further in your career.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?

Making yourself invaluable is a big part but time is the largest constraint.  I have learned that the better you are the more work you have and there is never enough time to do each job at the quality I expect from myself. 

What keeps you motivated?

I enjoy coding but it is not what gets me up in the morning.  The end goal and big picture of my work at PepsiCo is what motivates me.  The direct application of my work keeps me going. 

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