I Have to Ask: BioTech Meets Local Government

Posted on March 28, 2018

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week Sarah Henricks, City of Los Altos, California, writes about the transition from biologist to local government analyst. 

Kent was dying to know how I transitioned from a research biologist at a Biotech Company in Research Triangle Park, NC to a management analyst fellow in Los Altos, CA. He actually already knows, but like the Talking Heads, I often ask myself, “Well, how did I get here?”
I worked in the biotech field for more than a decade before going back to school to get my MPA. My impetus for going back to school was sparked while volunteering for Farmer Foodshare in North Carolina. After six months of volunteering I enrolled in the MPA@UNC program while continuing my full-time biotech gig. I worked part-time for Wake County Community Services for the professional work experience portion of the MPA program, which got me thinking about local government.
From there, I took the plunge and quit my well-paying job in the biotech industry to work for peanuts as a part-time planner for the City of Raleigh, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources department, writing a policy that would dictate how to spend $1 Million on improving access to Raleigh parks and greenways across the City. Analyzing policies and working across departments was so interesting to me and I was really excited to be directly influencing underserved communities’ access to existing and future park resources.
Fast forward three months and the ol’ ball and chain gets an incredible job offer in San Francisco. In the span of ten days, I finish my MPA, throw a graduation/going away party, pack up our stuff, fly across the country with two screaming cats, and just like that, become a San Franciscan. Six months later I landed a sweet gig with the City of Los Altos.
As a management analyst fellow, I work on different projects including implementing the Climate Action Plan, planning a new community center, developing innovative ways to recruit and retain valuable employees, analyzing HR policies, writing ordinances that improve Los Altans’ public health, and generally absorbing as much information as I can from the incredible people who serve the City. Like most people working in the Bay Area, my commute is rough, but getting to do work that I love with people I love even more gets me out of bed in the morning.
The skills I learned as a biologist like juggling a trillion experiments at once, being flexible to changing priorities, being efficient with my time, and using the scientific method to discover solutions to problems have absolutely set me up for success in local government. Sometimes, my priorities seem to shift by the hour and I have to be analytical about how I manage the many pies I get to have my fingers in. Being flexible is probably the most transferable and valuable skill I learned while working in biotech- it applies to nearly every aspect of my life.
If someone told me four years ago that I’d be living in San Francisco and working at a job that I love, I probably would have literally lol’d. But, this transition has taught me that I’m adaptable to change, I’m not afraid to be out of my comfort zone, and that when I decided to go back to school, I made the right decision, even if it meant I had to share my Wolfpack loving heart with the Tarheels!

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