Without Wax, Chuba

20 May

Chuba jamming on his guitarMy name is Chuba, and I serve in the capacity of scientist and automation specialist at Counsyl. Just so we are clear from the get-go, Chuba isn’t short for the Chewbacca that you may already know from Star Wars. Chuba is actually an abbreviated form of Chukwunwuba which translates to “God has the power to create.”  My path to joining Counsyl started as an undergrad when I decided to transition from electrical engineering to the life sciences. After three years, I can confidently say that joining Counsyl was one of the best career decisions I ever made.

I have come to understand that the universe works in cycles, with each cycle being a different form of one recently passed. Think about it for a second. There was the great industrial revolution that allowed John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie to add tremendous value to the world. Then came the computer revolution that allowed Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell to do the same. Upon considerable reflection, it became clear to me that a revolution in the life sciences was the next big thing.

I became fascinated with the field of life sciences because it promised to be the most fertile field for innovation in the foreseeable future. We as humans had spent the last century fiddling with the universe at large: launching space shuttles, sending voice in the form of electronic impulses through wires to distant lands. Our incessant curiosity had led us right back to ourselves. Why do we get sick? Why does cancer seem so unstoppable? Why are some people more prone to torn ligaments and tendons? Why are some children born with debilitating conditions?

Chuba examining a plate.I wanted to know why. I wanted to help. I wanted to positively impact the world, but I didn’t have the knowledge. This led me to spend the next 5 years building the knowledge base I needed through the Stanford Bioengineering PhD program.

At the end of my PhD, I decided I wanted to work in an environment that would allow me to  apply my expertise– with ample opportunity to learn more. I spent an hour each day asking myself what my ideal work environment would be like. After about 6 months, I came up with the following list:

  • Autonomy and the freedom to explore
  • No drama/bureaucracy, so I wouldn’t waste energy on anything that wasn’t work
  • To work with other smart people who shared similar interests
  • To contribute to the growth and maturity of a budding industry that would have a considerable impact on human lives
  • Material compensation that would obviate any worry about covering basic necessities

I put this list on the “Notes” app on my iPhone and stared at it every day to remind myself of the qualities I wanted in a workplace.

About a month later, I got an email from a former colleague, Eric Evans Ph.D, who had graduated from Stanford a few years before me. He described the possibility of working at a genetics startup he had helped found with some other Stanford graduates. Eric and I worked in adjacent labs through graduate school and developed a healthy mutual respect for one another because of our shared work ethic. During our time at Stanford, it wasn’t uncommon to run into him on the weekends at 1AM on my way out of lab. I knew if Eric was involved, the company stood a good chance of becoming great. I accepted the interview invite and went to see what Counsyl was all about.

My Counsyl interview experience was a memorable one. I got to the interview wondering if I was dressed too casually until the CTO walked in wearing a white t-shirt, black shorts, and black Nike running shoes. I immediately thought to myself, “This is awesome… I’ve got to hear what this guy is all about.” In about 5 minutes, I could perceive that his mental acumen was off the charts, and his enthusiasm even higher. I found myself nodding and thinking that this is one of those fantastic opportunities to grab at all costs.

Right after I finished graduate school and accepted my offer, I dove into my first project at Counsyl and loved every minute of it – even the stressful ones. I was tasked with moving our genotyping assay to a more robust platform that would make it possible to simultaneously process 100-fold more biological reactions than the current status quo. Though the challenges encountered along the way were difficult, I didn’t get frustrated or impatient. For the first time in a long time, all my mental resources were devoted to science and the associated technology while at work. Our founders had the foresight to arrange for everything from laundry to free meals so employees like me could really focus on the relevant technical challenges. I toiled for months adopting this new protocol to our current workflow and automating parts of it to make the process more efficient. I had to gather most of the knowledge that I needed to accomplish this task on the fly and immediately apply it to solving this problem.

Throughout this process, I was most impressed by the fact that the company seemed to lay firm emphasis on making the best product within our means with no bureaucracy. I didn’t have to do much convincing to get the funds for the work tools I needed. I thrived on the freedom and shipped the project in well under 6 months with huge contributions from my new colleagues Thao and Kevin. Now, each time I walk by our labs and see that platform and the others that I created being run, it validates all those hours of toil in a very fulfilling way.

Nearly three years have passed since that memorable first project, and I still tap dance to work every day in my Volkswagen GTI. There is always a long list of interesting projects to work on and no shortage of extremely experienced individuals from whom to seek advice when I feel stuck.

Chuba working on a mural at Counsyl

I am currently working on designing and automating one of our future genetic assays, while painting a mural in the recreational area. I love the acoustics in the R&D lab where I often cut loose on my Gibson Les Paul blues guitar late in the evenings or weekends when everyone else is at home and I need a break from trying to figure out some scientific puzzle or the other. I don’t know of any other company that would give any employee that level of trust and freedom. That being said, it is the underlying ideals we strive for that makes what I do here worthwhile.

While sauntering through this mysterious maze called life, I have come to understand that the most valuable gift that any human can be blessed with is a healthy one. To live a healthy life is to live a life full of hope, and the promise of realizing one’s full potential. I think of life as a marvelous opportunity given to us as spiritual beings to manifest things of beauty and grace on this physical plane of existence. It is our ultimate goal to give people the best chance of living out the limited time we all have on this earth in good health, joy, and happiness.

Chuba Oyolu, PhD is an R&D Scientist and Automation Engineer at Counsyl. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and went on to earn a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering and a PhD in Genetics from Stanford University. He’s published in the journals of Genome Research, Developmental Biology, and Stem Cells. His thesis is published as a book (available through LAMBERT publishing or amazon.com), and he has authored a patent on reducing power consumption of an active RFID tag (available through the USPTO).

If you’re interested in joining Counsyl’s team visit our Jobs Page for current openings.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: