Brenna O’Neill, Image Analyst for Flagship Biosciences, received her M.S. Ecology and B.S. Marine Biology at Florida Institute of Technology.
Brenna knew from a very young age that she would be some kind of scientist. She recently shared more about the early life experiences that influenced her career in science. She also shared some insights about her work with Flagship Biosciences.
Early Passion for Science
“Growing up on the North Carolina coast, I spent a lot of time fishing with my dad. I loved handling the fish, and when it came time to prepare them for dinner, I was always interested in looking at what was in the fish stomach and seeing if we could find my bait!
Throughout high school I loved learning and took many biology, math, and general science classes. Biology always just clicked for me and I enjoyed learning how life functions. Combined with my love for the ocean, marine biology in college was the next step.
My path to get to Flagship has been anything but straightforward. In college, I interned in the environmental departments of government agencies like the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During and after graduate school I spent some time teaching general biology courses, and somehow spent some time working as an engineer at a plastic manufacturing plant helping to develop flame resistant plastics for use in cars and electronics. Most recently I volunteered and interned at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science helping to catalog and image their micro marine invertebrate collection.”
Focus on Imaging
“One activity that has been a common thread throughout most of my education and jobs has been imaging. I had told myself in my education that I enjoyed working more with larger physical structures rather than microanatomy that I couldn’t see with own eyes.
“Microscopy ended up captivating me as I learned about the amazing microstructures associated with most animals.”
Most of my master’s degree work involved using a scanning electron microscope to capture images of tiny hooks on the arms of sea stars. Teaching students how to use a basic compound microscope was one of my favorite parts of my job. At the manufacturing plant, I helped with quality control, identifying defects in small plastic pellets. Taking quality images for species identification was a major part of my job at the museum as well. When I saw the image analyst position with Flagship, I knew I had to apply!”
Working at Flagship, Imaging Continues
“My team and the people I work with at Flagship are the best parts of my job. I am so happy to be able to say I work with such a kind, hardworking, and intelligent group of people every day. Seeing a sample through from when it’s just tissue on a slide to generating the image and then creating data from those images is also really satisfying to me.
So much of what we do as a digital pathology company is dependent on the ability to generate quality, detailed images. I am looking forward to the future of imaging and seeing how that influences our ability to generate new endpoints to better treat patients.”
Advice for Aspiring Scientists
“My advice to anyone pursuing a scientific field would be to choose something you really enjoy learning about and to pick up as many technical skills as possible along the way. I want more young people to understand that though sometimes “life happens” and you don’t always end up working in your degree field, the skills you learn along the way are incredibly important. They can open doors and your own mind to many new and exciting opportunities. I’ve had jobs outside of my degree field, but the skills I learned during the preparation for my degrees are what have allowed me to succeed in those other fields and led me to Flagship.”