It was an absolute delight to catch up with Huw Rees, who joined us in March 2022 as a Field Applications Scientist based in Boston, MA. As a member of the North American FAS team, Huw is responsible for supporting our liquid handling customers in and around the key Boston life sciences cluster, as well as further afield in the US Northeast and Eastern Canada. He provides expert user training and applications advice for users of our mosquito®, dragonfly®, and firefly® instruments.
Huw joined us from the University of Chicago, where he studied structural RNA biology and protein engineering for his PhD. Alongside his research, Huw was the main person in the university lab responsible for teaching, mentoring, and training other staff on the use of new instruments – among them, SPT Labtech's mosquito. As a crystallographer, Huw acquired first-hand experience and great respect for the mosquito's reliability and capabilities. When he began looking for a role that would combine his passion for teaching with his love of exciting new science, the FAS position presented itself as a logical next step: "My own experience of using the mosquito was excellent, so teaching people how to use it was the ideal role for me to transition into."
Communication is central to Huw's role, whether that's by email, on a short training call, or onsite with customers. Before a customer purchases a new instrument, Huw might provide advice via email – perhaps recommending the best setup for ELISA, or maybe informing prospects about the precedence for miniaturizing a particular NGS kit, or even just setting correct expectations for customers, so they get a clear understanding of the best options.
Huw spends a lot of his time with customers in their labs. Going out to meet and support users face to face isn't just the best way to demonstrate our instruments, but also helps to reassure customers that SPT Labtech offers ongoing support backed by the relevant qualified expertise. We pride ourselves on our close working relationships with customers, so building and nurturing these connections is essential. Another part of Huw's role is to stay up to date with standard protocols, technical documentation, and previous support issues that have been resolved by other FAS team members in SPT Labtech's markets worldwide.
The FAS team work closely with Product Management as the company's eyes and ears in the field. After an instrument has been installed, the new users will scrutinize it in detail and provide feedback on what's working for them and where there are still challenges. Huw's role (sometimes spending up to a week at a time onsite with customers) is to feed back to the product team what the scientist on the bench is really interested in, and what's perhaps of less interest. In this way, our instruments are continually being further optimized and streamlined to work with our customers' actual protocols and other custom requirements.
Huw enjoys meeting many new people and learning about their areas of research, giving him the opportunity to 'deal with fascinating science' every day as well as the chance to make good use of his people skills. For Huw, one of the best parts of the role is the support he gets from his fellow FASes. At no point is he left entirely alone when working out the best option for a customer. He can always call on other members of the team to provide their valued opinion based on ample previous experience. The company culture at SPT Labtech is truly special in fostering the generous and free flow of information among the FAS team and the wider organization. And that benefits everyone, both inside and outside the company.
Visits to high-profile labs and offering product advice to some of the world's leading experts in their respective fields evokes an amazing feeling for Huw. As a scientist, he occasionally has to pinch himself: "Wow, I'm working with serious, high-level science that's going to have a huge impact!" Getting involved in new company collaborations is also exciting and something Huw has already experienced even though it's still early days for him at SPT Labtech. But perhaps the most satisfying experience is the thanks he gets from customers, who are genuinely very grateful towards him for all the detailed and hands-on support he provides. While every problem isn't immediately solvable, finding a situation where everyone is happy is always rewarding.
Huw's ambitions are telling of someone who truly cares about what he does and the quality of the service he provides. He humbly states that his main aim is to be as good as he possibly can be at his job, so as to best serve his customers. To that end, it helps that Huw is a keen learner, eager to acquire more knowledge, such as in genomics or to find out what the competition do differently. With his background in structural biology, Huw's also excited about cryo-EM and would love to learn more about our chameleon in future. His personal vision for the future is about delivering what he describes as a 'customer service approach'. To that end, communicating science is something Huw takes very seriously, but also with a dash of humor …
In his other role, Huw moonlights as an improv and standup comedian. Back in Chicago, he did 'standup science' with a group called The Science Riot and helped establish a show called The Excited State, which was all about making science accessible to non-scientists through improv and humor. As Huw explains, you can bring complex science to life for lay audiences through the clever use of analogies, allegories, and metaphors. For example, explaining the human immune system: You know how your body is a temple? Well, it's the Temple of Doom – a horrendous place, full of traps, where things get killed all the time. You think white blood cells are your friends? No, they're crazy, institutional serial killers … Needless to say, Huw is eager to get involved in the Boston comedy scene to flex and freshen his comedic chops.