5 Questions with Nicanor Aquino, Adjunct Professor and Laboratory Operations Support Manager, MilliporeSigma

1. What did you want to be when you grow up? How’d you get from there to here?

This is a longer story. As a child, I always had a passion for music, but my exposure to science grew over time. Upon graduating from high school, I initially planned to major in Accounting with a minor in Music. However, after taking Accounting 101, I realized it wasn’t the right fit for me and decided to switch to Nursing. When I got into nursing school, family concerns forced me to drop out, and I had to work full-time to support my family. During this time, I discovered that MC offered evening courses, including Biotech. I enrolled in these courses and began working towards a certificate.

Before I could complete the certificate, I landed a job at MilliporeSigma (formerly BioReliance) as an Associate Scientist 1, where I spent 9 years working in the lab. Starting in Virology and later transferring to Cell Banking, I gained valuable experience in various assays, GLP, and GMP. After my tenure in the lab, I moved to Quality, which primarily involved desk work. Here, I learned extensively about regulations, assay validations, equipment validations, and systems validation. My supervisor at the time saw potential in my leadership abilities, though I wasn’t keen on taking up that responsibility as I enjoyed being an individual contributor. Despite my hesitation, my supervisor continued to encourage me to step into leadership roles. After a few interviews, I eventually assumed the supervisor role in our Flexible Resource Department. This opportunity allowed me to hone my leadership skills, and three years later, I now manage three different departments, finding fulfillment in my current position.

2. How are you helping to build a more connected community?

BioBuzz’s mission is simple: to be more connected. Our regionally-focused storytelling, programs, events and experiences create, connect and amplify impact across the life science workforce in growing biohubs. We vibe with people who value community and connection like us. We’d love for you to share how you’re building a more connected community… and any support that you need from our community to continue to accomplish this mission.  

In the BioTech industry, I had the opportunity to teach MC for their BioTech Bootcamp, aimed at helping Maryland residents without a laboratory background find jobs and careers in the field. Additionally, I collaborated with Dr. Jones to develop a curriculum that prepares students, like myself, to be “lab-ready” upon receiving their certificates.

Beyond the BioTech industry, I am actively involved in a music ministry for Couples for Christ. We engage in various activities, including fundraising for ANCOP (Answering the Cry of the Poor), volunteering at our local church, and more.

3. What are you currently buzzing about? Anything and everything… 

Currently, at work, I’m focused on identifying high-potential personnel. I’m pleased to discover that some of them have backgrounds in the Montgomery College BioTech degree/certificate program, while others have graduated from the first BioTech Bootcamp held in 2021.

On a personal note, two of my passions are music and food. Playing music, especially during practice sessions, brings me immense joy. Lately, I’ve also taken an interest in gastronomy, using science to find the perfect taste for both myself and my family. 

Moreover, sustainability is something I deeply care about. I’ve made significant efforts to reduce plastic waste in my home and am closely following advancements in technology related to synthetic enzymes that can break down plastics. These developments excite me as they hold the promise of a more sustainable future.

4. If you could travel back in time – what early career advice would you give yourself?

OR What career advice would you shout from the rooftops now?  

Apart from the lottery numbers, it’s essential to understand that intelligence and wisdom are distinct concepts. Interestingly, I came to appreciate the value of wisdom later in life, through my own life experiences. Looking back, I wish my younger self had taken note of those experiences and utilized them for personal growth.

Career development may not always follow a linear path, but every experience, be it in any position, carries transferable skills. I firmly believe that whether they are soft skills or lab skills, there’s always something to learn and apply elsewhere. The key lies in the wisdom to recognize which skills can be transferred effectively.

5. FUN question. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you? 

I have a natural inclination to assign numbers to everything around me. Numbers are easier for me to remember than letters or words. This goes beyond just scaling; I have developed my own numerical system to represent various aspects, such as personalities (similar to Myers-Briggs), chord progressions, tastes, and even scents. Numbers simply pop into my mind, making it effortless for me to recall information. While I wouldn’t claim to have a photographic memory, I’ve been told I have a slightly better memory than the average person.