Adam Filgo, PhD
Adam Filgo obtained his B.S. in Molecular Toxicology at the University of California- Berkeley, before joining the Curriculum in Toxicology as a doctoral student. He graduated from UNC in 2015, completing his dissertation work on reproductive toxicology in Dr. Sue Fenton’s Lab at the NIEHS. Adam spent a year at the NIEHS as a postdoctoral fellow before moving to his current job as a Study Director in the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology (DART) Group at MPI Research in Michigan.
What is your story? How did you get interested in toxicology?
It was kind of by chance that I ended up in toxicology. At Berkeley, I wasn’t sure what specialization I wanted to follow but I knew that I wanted to pursue a science degree. I joined the College of Natural Resources, which focused on subjects like forestry and conservation, which I wasn’t too keen on. I had planned to transfer to a more biology focused college eventually but signed up for the molecular toxicology major as a placeholder. As fate would have it, I enjoyed the classes, stuck with it, and now here I am!
What did you do after graduating?
After graduating, I was able to continue participate with my lab as a postdoc for a year. Since I was no longer focusing on a dissertation, I had more liberty to focus on finding my next position. I knew I liked working with a diversity of research topics, so an academic career wasn’t appealing to me (neither was the idea of writing grants). A career in government or industry had always been my focus.
While at SOT, I talked to a previous postdoc who had worked at the NIEHS. After discussing jobs for a bit, she offered to pass my resume to MPI Research. Surprisingly, I got a call within the hour for an informal interview (Note: bring resumes to SOT!). After a formal interview I was later hired as a Study Director. Working within a contract research organization (CRO) has been great. Because of the variety of compounds we test, even within the narrow scope of DART I have seen quite diverse effects.
What you do as a study director? What does it look like day to day?
As a Study Director, I am the grease that keeps the different cogs in a CRO running as efficiently as possible. A Sponsor will approach us with a pre-clinical research need (i.e. conducting the various drug safety evaluations required by FDA). I will write a protocol and discuss it, both with the Sponsor and with the various labs at MPI Research, emailing back and forth questions, edits, requests, etc. While a study is running, I am the main point of contact for the Sponsor to all the different departments at MPI Research. I check in on each study and make sure everything is on track. At any given point in time, I have the opportunity to work on a variety of studies in many different phases of planning, execution, reporting, and completion.
Once the study is complete, I’m in charge of interpreting the results for the report. The Sponsor can have some input to the process, but ultimately the Study Director is responsible for the quality of the research. The majority of my time is spent communicating via emails, phone calls, meetings, and reports.
What is your favorite/least favorite part about what you do?
MPI Research is the largest single-site preclinical CRO; with nearly all staff, including pathologists, technical staff and managers, and pharmacologists in a single location. I love that I can walk down the hall to observe the various study functions, watch the activities of all contributing operational areas, and meet with pathologists to look at slides. The proximity enables me to still be in that lab environment as well as get a better feel about how a study is progressing, which I can then confidently report back to our Sponsors. Juvenile studies are an up-and-coming, and increasingly requested, safety evaluation. They are less formulaic than standard DART studies, and thus allow for more interesting study designs.
The biggest learning curve coming from the NIEHS has been learning to work within a GLP (good laboratory practice) environment. Although GLP is important for consistency and reproducibility, dealing with the administrative aspects of GLP compliance is actually the least interesting part of my job.
What were the most valuable skills you gained from your time at UNC?
The knowledge base in general toxicology I gained from courses at UNC. Some Study Directors may start as technicians and work their way up, so while they know the ins and outs of working at MPI Research, all the systems required for GLP compliance, and the studies they have run hundreds of times (areas I still struggle with today), they don’t necessarily have an extensive background in academic toxicology. This background is very helpful when communicating with Sponsors the science behind the studies we conduct.
I have also found the ability to understand research and science outside my field of expertise afforded by my academic training has been valuable. When working with a variety of compounds, all with unique targets, it is critical to identify and quickly interpret relevant papers. I have also had to utilize my professional network for their expertise, and critically evaluate protocols; these are things that the PhD experience trains you to do well.
Any advice to current students/postdocs?
Be flexible. When I was job hunting, I wasn’t finding many options in mammary gland research, which is was what I had done for my dissertation. I had to expand my search, and broaden my ideas about types of jobs and locations.
I would also recommend networking. I know people say it all the time and, really, I wasn’t the best at it. But in the end, it was my network that got me my job!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Being in Michigan, I’m really enjoying the outdoors, doing a lot of hiking and experiencing all the seasons.