Project Management Plays Key Role in Groundbreaking Research

November 1, 2013
Amy Shutkin

Genetic testing and research is a quickly growing field, and Amy Shutkin is at the forefront of this new technology. Shutkin is a graduate of the UW-Platteville Master of Science in Project Management program and works for Natera, a company that specializes in noninvasive, prenatal testing on a genomic, bioinformatics platform. But while you expect to see engineers and genetic counselors at a facility like Natera, it may be harder to understand why they would need a project manager. As Shutkin explains, it’s all about making the pieces come together.

“When you’re in the start-up environment, you start out only doing research and development. Then you end up with something the industry takes notice of,” Shutkin said. “Now you are moving into marketing, regulations, and quality control. Now is when project management plays a role.”

And as Senior Project Manager, Shutkin has a very big role to play. The science behind Natera is in the hands of geneticists, bioinformaticists, statisticians and other very specialized researchers. But the company also has to be concerned about regulatory compliance, profitability, and dozens of other components.  Shutkin and her team find a way to allocate the time and resources each project needs and monitors how the different departments interact with one another, all while keeping the company’s strategic priorities in line. This takes a great deal of discipline and knowledge. Shutkin calls upon many of the lessons learned in the MSPM program in her day-to-day work.

Many of her project management classes were enhanced by the diverse backgrounds of students enrolled, Shutkin said. Many were already active in their industry and could lend unique insight. This provided a great advantage, not only because the level of discourse was raised in the classroom, but also because the lessons learned could be applied immediately in a real-world setting.

“The benefit for my career has been the ability to take the classes slowly, over time, as I am working full-time. I was able to take the lessons I was learning and apply them,” Shutkin said. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be able to use of lot of project management tools and really push the boundaries of what it means to be a project manager in a research field.”

As Natera continues to grow and create new opportunities in scientific research, Shutkin and her team will come up with new and creative ways to manage projects efficiently and effectively.  According to Shutkin, project management will continue to influence the way business is done. While this is no small feat, Shutkin is positive it can and will happen. “There are a lot of really creative things that project managers can do when allowed the time and space to think outside the box,” Shutkin said.

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