Interview with Javier Goitia

March 4, 2024
Yasmina Ibsen

Javier is an Associate Researcher at Deka Biosciences and is a dedicated Studylog user

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? 

My dad was pursuing his degree in theology, and I lived in Chicago for the duration of that. This was from age eight to twelve. We then moved back to the island of Puerto Rico. I went to the University of Puerto Rico where I graduated with a bachelor’s in animal science.

How has Studylog impacted you or your team? Has it saved you time? 

Studylog is a fantastic program. You can get super detailed with it. In a GLP setting, the levels of information that you can pack into a single study are enormous. You can have accountability for the people that are performing the procedures. You can delineate the schedule so there is not much room for misunderstanding, which is very important. You can provide all the possible information in terms of what has to happen when, by whom, and to what standard. 

In addition to that, Studylog has a lot of tools that make your life easier. For example, we do a lot of oncology work with implanted animals that have to go into study. Some animals develop a certain size in different amounts of time, but you don't want to grab the ones growing too fast because they'll confound results later on, as opposed to the ones catching up, which are growing at a slower rate. Studylog has a tool to filter the animals that you have within a certain growth parameter according to their growth rate, which is huge because then we don't have to go into Excel and hand-select everything. 

I've had a really good time with Studylog. The team has also been super available, especially Daniel Tran from Support. I talked to him with some frequency, and even when we had a licensing issue, Eric Ibsen called me to work through it, and I thought, “No way! You made this?” Studylog is a really good product, and from what Eric told me, it comes from someone who was once in our place and understands all the different parts of the process. 

What would you say to someone who prefers to use Excel because it's free?

 They are making their lives harder. Excel does have a lot of capabilities. Everybody uses Excel, but to use it to its full capability, you have to spend a lot of time learning the program. Whereas with something like Studylog which is specifically designed for this work, you are going to save a lot of time without having to improvise all the tools. Excel is not built specifically for scientific research, you can create some tools within it using calculators and filters but it is quite the chore.

Do you have a favorite Studylog feature?

The randomization feature. It’s fun seeing all the numbers pop up or the growth band filter. It’s a lifesaver. It's all right there and I save a lot of time. 

What sparked your interest in science?

I have always had an analytical outlook, even as a kid, so I naturally found myself interested in science. Once I learned something, I easily started explaining those concepts to my classmates. I was always interested in learning more, learning how to do things, and putting things together. In high school, I volunteered at a vet clinic, and that was an experience where I was introduced to all the different procedures and animals one could work within the veterinary field."

When I got to college I started in mechanical engineering, but later, switched to animal science. That became a lot more interesting to me once I got out of the classrooms and had labs, where I could go out to the farm or interact with the animals. That was much more enjoyable than just sitting in the classroom and doing more passive things. When I graduated from the Animal Science program, I looked for jobs in my field. I had no idea that this field existed until I found job listings to be an animal caretaker and other similar positions. 

I hope that the HR rep who reached out to me, Holly, is doing fantastic. She said, “If you can get here [Georgetown University, the division of comparative medicine], the job is yours. And I thought, “fantastic!” I sold my car and stayed with family friends there for a while. That was my introduction to this field. After doing a lot of job searching, I saw that there were requirements for the ALAT, LAT, and LATG, and decided since everybody was asking for it, I would dive a little bit deeper into that. I got my LATG maybe one or two years ago, and I've been here ever since—going through several different roles. 

I started as a caretaker doing cage washing and things like that. Eventually, I moved to a CRO and became an animal technician. Working for a CRO, I did more of the procedures that I was familiar with from my education and certification studies. 

I went to NIH for a little bit, where I continued to be a tech doing technical procedures for different labs. I then went back to my CRO, where I was offered the position of Training Coordinator for the small animal department, which has always been my wheelhouse. I have a lot of respect for the large animals; but, I'll just stick to my mice, so if they bite me, it's not going to be a huge deal! 

Training coordinator was an enjoyable experience because I like talking to people. From a young age, I liked explaining things to people. I pride myself on being able to take a concept and present it in an easily digestible way. I worked in that position for a while and then ended up here at Deka Biosciences, where I have taken on a much broader role.  In my current position at Deka, I still do technical work but am also allowed to dive deeper into more managerial duties, like ordering supplies, making sure that projects get completed, and reaching out to people about different products and services needed. I just kind of landed in science because of the way that I think, and then just kept running with it. 

Do you have any specific role models? And if so, who were they? 

I wouldn't say that I have any specific role models in my education and career. I haven't found a mentor, but I have learned a lot from people I deeply respect. When I became a technician at the CRO, the technical staff I was working with were fantastic. I learned a lot from them about how to do my job well, how to stay organized, and how to make things make sense. I'll have to ask if they don't mind that I mention them, but Becky, Jackie, Katie, and Tanisha were all very good at their jobs after doing it for so long. I learned a lot just from working next to them, and seeing how they do things. 

If I originally started doing a procedure one way, but I saw that they were doing it better, faster, and easier. Then I would start doing it that way myself, or ask them to teach me. There's nothing wrong with adapting to something new if it works better. Now later in life I deeply respect Bruce Lee. He's pretty cool. His style taught that there is no specific way to do things. You can cherry-pick what works for you, which is the way that I've naturally approached finding solutions. What matters is the result. If what you're doing gets you results in an acceptable, respectful way, then why not do it?

What would you say to a young person who is considering a career in science?

The first thing I would say to a young person is that people are usually only familiar with veterinary medicine as the only career in animal science. There is so much more that you can do. You could go into lab animal science, into large animals, into animal products, or even animal production. It's a much bigger field than just companion animal veterinary medicine. I would emphasize doing research and seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes. 

The second thing I learned was from a veterinarian while I was volunteering. He said, “A lot of people go into this field to avoid people. They don't want to go into human medicine because they don't want to deal with everybody all the time.” That is not the reality of this field; people are often more stubborn about their pets. Consider that and don't just go into the field because you don't want to interact with people. Go into it out of interest or passion about what you'll be doing. 

The third and last thing is to keep in mind that in both professional life and life in general, it's never as clear-cut as in the classroom. In class, all the questions and experiments already have answers so you can learn the process. Whereas in real life, you must be creative. There will not always be an answer waiting for you, but you can always find one. When working with good enough information, you can get to where you need to go. Don’t be afraid of how much space there is to figure things out. Some people get lost going from a classroom to a working setting when no one is telling them what to do. You have to go out there and figure it out yourself. I genuinely believe that there's a solution to everything. Sit with it and use your imagination, and if you do that, something will come out. 

What is important to you personally? i.e., What things do you value most in life?

 Four of my values are family, health, learning, and status. Of course, family is super important. You want to keep those connections alive, though that can be difficult for some people out there, as some families are not the best. But the true meaning of that value to me is having a community, found family, and relationships that edify you and help you see yourself and see others more clearly. 

Health is important because no one wants to die in pain, so take care of your body and mind, and do things that cultivate a sense of peace. A general sense of peace is a form of wealth for sure. 

In terms of learning, I see intelligence, if I can make an analogy to sports, as someone being a good player, but if they have bad equipment, then they are not going to do their best. They are not going to have a great time playing this game. I equate knowledge as being the equipment with which you apply your intelligence. It is important to constantly learn and stay up to date on conversations by reading, otherwise, you're just repeating what has already been done.  

The last core value of mine is status. Not everybody agrees with that one, but I remember reading a book called “The Chemistry of Happiness,” which talks about all the different ways that dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin interact in different social settings. One of the things that stuck out to me about that book is that people say they don't care about status but when you take it away, when people feel like they have been wronged or that they got the short end of the stick, they don't like that. That's because you have this innate sense of self-worth that you feel like the other aspects of your life should match. In some settings, there is a big emphasis on humility, which is great. Of course, you don't want to be cocky and think that you are better than you are, but there is a place for you to ask for the things you feel you deserve. So, status became kind of important to me after reading that. 

What are some challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that have helped you become the successful person that you are?

A recent challenge I discovered was that due to my company being smaller and giving a lot of leeway for people to learn and branch out into different places in the field, you could overextend yourself. For example, we needed flow cytometry analysis. I had never done flow cytometry in my life and there's a mechanical aspect to the staining and the benchtop work, etc. It is not easy. Sometimes the machine doesn't want to cooperate as it is very sensitive, and it has all these lasers and reagents that you must use. Then you need to make sure that your gating is correct and figure out what the information is telling you based on the questions that you're asking. I was trying to learn as much as I could in a short amount of time, but I was burning out. I had no clue what I was doing. That led to a sense of general failure, spending so much time on this thing that I had very little clue about, and it made me feel like I was failing at everything else because I had to drop some other tasks to focus on this one.

Maybe two or three months ago I got to the point where I thought that I was not the person for this right now. Somebody with more experience and knowledge will have to come in and either take over or teach me how to do it. It can become natural to make yourself uncomfortable either for others or for your job, but just because you can be uncomfortable and do it, it doesn't mean that you have to. You can make your life easier. The big takeaway of this is that it is okay to say, at some point “I can't do this.” There's nothing wrong with knowing your limits at that particular time. It doesn't mean that you can't do anything else. It just means that this one thing is not where you are at right now. 

What do you do for fun? 

I like playing pool. I have been playing since I was a preteen. I am not fantastic at it by any means, but it's one of those things that you can play until you're eighty. It is a fun time. I recently discovered a pool table close to where I live, and there's a cool community, that does tournaments and holds classes. In terms of valuing health, I like to go to the gym and take care of myself. I also like reading, and I think my favorite genre is spy novels. I'm currently reading a book called “The Tailor of Panama” and it's really good!