My Myriad: Sam Barkat, Engineering
As we continue our get-to-know-you tour through the Myriad Genetics family, today we sit down with Sam Barkat, Process Sustaining Engineer. She joined the company in 2014 and holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and applied math from the University of the Pacific and a master’s degree in physics from Utah State University.
Q: What’s your role at Myriad Genetics?
A: Our group supports operations in many different ways, but the most important aspect is performing risk management. Everything we do is directly linked to the patient and making sure there is no harm to the patient. Whenever there are changes — launching a new product, or even discontinuing a product — we make sure that all possible risks to the patient are being considered. For example, right now, one of our laboratories is upgrading its DNA sequencing system. Our job is to make sure that once we bring the new system in, there is no change with respect to the results we generate for patients. Also, another great aspect of my role is supporting operation through applied statistics such as statistical process control during production, and design of experiments for feasibility and testing.
Q: How did you start on this career path?
A: By training I’m a theoretical physicist, but when I graduated there weren’t many job opportunities in that field. I went back to school to take biology classes, and in a biochemistry class the professor mentioned Myriad Genetics. I looked up the company and thought it would be such a cool place to work. Genetics was my favorite biology class and Myriad’s products were right in that field of study.
Q: What brought you to Myriad Genetics?
A: When I learned more about Myriad and what it was doing for patients, I thought it was neat that people with a history of cancer in their families had an opportunity to get genetic testing done so they could better understand their own risks. I really wanted to be part of a company like this. I think that ultimately the field of genetics will answer many questions in science about the human body and disease. Also, I had read so many positive things online from employees and how much they liked working here.
Q: What’s something you wish more people knew about genetic testing?
A: Something one of my professors said has always stuck in my mind: “In any bad situation, it is always good for people to know they have more than one option.” Myriad is for sure one of those strong options for our patients. Some people live in such great fear because their family members have been affected by breast cancer, for example. Depending on the result of the test, Myriad’s genetic testing can either take away that fear or help one take steps to prevent a major disease. People need to know that you don’t have to live in fear or wait for the cancer to start if it is genetically related cancer.
Q: You’re a breast cancer survivor. How did you first get diagnosed?
A: It was in October 2015. I had already done a mammogram when I turned 40 but kept putting off getting a mammogram afterward because my life was too busy. I don’t have any history of any type of cancer in my family. So I thought it would never happen to me. But one day I was working in the lab here and Myriad brought in one of those trucks with an on-site mammogram for employees, so I got tested. It’s the greatest thing the company has ever done for me and I am so grateful for it. The mammogram turned up something suspicious, and when I went for a biopsy, it confirmed there was cancer. Luckily, it was stage 1. If that truck hadn’t come, it could have been too late for me.
Q: Did you ever get breast cancer risk testing from Myriad Genetics?
A: I took the test once I was diagnosed. There were no significant findings. But I remember sitting with the genetic counselor and thinking how cool it was to be getting results from a test that I took part in making, since I worked in the Myriad lab then.
Q: What would you want people to learn from your cancer journey?
A: Don’t neglect getting tested. Don’t allow how busy your life is to prevent you from getting tested, especially if you have a history of cancer in your family. I also think people should research to learn more about preventive measures they can take, including genetic testing.
Q: If you weren’t at Myriad Genetics, where would you be?
A: The only other area I could imagine myself in is environmental science, but honestly, I have never thought about being anywhere but Myriad. I’m passionate about this company and the work I do and the people I work with. What we do really matters, and it resonates very deeply with me.