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Cultivating Curiosity

As a student in the UW-Madison’s bacteriology department, Scott Hunter wasn’t afraid to ask a lot of “why’s?” Nor was the Madison native afraid to make mistakes. That tenacity has continued to serve him well in his position as laboratory manager for Pharmacia Corporation, a leading global pharmaceutical manufacturer based in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Hunter’s laboratories test the company’s various human and animal health products and materials for microbiological quality. “I enjoy the responsibility and autonomy of the position as well as the fast pace,” he says, adding that he likes the fact that he is continuing to learn.

The lab manager position is the latest promotion for Hunter who began working as an assistant microbiologist for The Upjohn Company 16 years ago. Upjohn became Pharmacia when Monsanto and Pharmacia & Upjohn merged in 2000. Over the last few years, Hunter has developed sterilization processes for the company’s injectable pharmaceuticals. He also has done design and troubleshooting work for its laboratory and production facilities worldwide.

Hunter, who received his bachelor’s degree in bacteriology in 1984, says the College taught him the technical skills he needed to do his job. But it also taught him independence and confidence. These traits are especially important when you have to develop your own lab protocols, says Hunter, adding that he was inspired by both an introductory bacteriology class and a lab taught by Jane Phillips, now an education specialist at the University of Minnesota. Phillips presented material in an innovative, hands-on manner, he says.

Hunter learned a great deal by asking Phillips and others a lot of questions. Today, when he interviews job candidates at Pharmacia, he is most interested in applicants who show intellectual curiosity. “It takes initiative to ask questions and get answers,” he says, adding that curiosity is one of the keys to success in research. He also encourages aspiring bacteriologists to take chances – within reason – and to learn from their mistakes. Such individuals often go further than people who do not want to risk being wrong, he says.

The job market for bacteriologists and microbiologists in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries is excellent right now, according to Hunter. His area of the company recently hired three people with microbiology backgrounds and will be adding more in the future.