Career Tip: Keep an Open Mind—The Lab Can Provide a Variety of Opportunities

Jan 11, 2018

A career in the laboratory can lead to a variety of professional opportunities. Read the story of Catherine Stakenas, MA, ASCP Senior Director, Organizational Development and Leadership, and discover the opportunities she encountered in her 45-year career journey that started, as she says, as an “everyday, ordinary laboratory professional.”

The Story of an Everyday, Ordinary Laboratory Professional and Her 45-Year Journey

I’m living proof that the laboratory prepares you for just about anything in life and that lab professionals can do and be anything they want. If I can take my laboratory experience and translate it into 45 successful years in business, consulting, human resources and graduate level teaching, so can you. 

My journey has not been easy. I passed first grade on trial, never getting more than two “Very Goods” on report cards and completed high school with only a C average. I attended the American Academy of Medical Technology where my grades improved, and I graduated with a B+ average. In my thirties, I returned to college to complete my bachelor’s degree, and it wasn’t until grad school that I earned a 3.865 GPA. Not bad for someone who barely made it out of the first grade. 

My personal life has had its “ups and downs” as well. I’m a mom (at times a single mom), a stepmom, a mother-in-law and a grandmother. I’ve been married twice and divorced twice, and I’ve been employed, unemployed, self-employed, underemployed, recruited and fired. 

After eight successful and productive years in the lab, I brought my experience to CBC Regional Laboratories based in Michigan. CBC hired me as a sales rep and promoted me to Illinois Marketing Operations Manager. I was eventually recruited by MetPath (now Quest Diagnostics) as a sales rep and promoted to GM/Central Regional Sales Manager where I was responsible for $91 million in business and 91 sales, service, operations and marketing personnel. My nine years at MetPath were some of the most exciting and rewarding years of my life.

MetPath/Quest gave me the opportunity to take my laboratory analytical skills and use them in sales, service and operations. I managed people, processes and systems for six of the eight mergers, both regionally and nationally. I did great with numbers; however, I think I left some broken glass around when it came to the people side of the acquisitions. That drove me to grad school where I focused on organizational development and change management.

After grad school, I left Quest to open my own consulting firm, and Quest became my first client. Over the course of 17 years, I’ve traveled up to 40 weeks each year consulting and training in healthcare for hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and reference laboratories. I’ve also worked extensively with the railroad, nuclear and HVAC industries, and with the Peace Corps and Homeland Security.

For the past 10 years, I have been an Adjunct and a full-time Associate Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and I now teach part-time with a focus on two specific graduate courses: Organizational Behavior and Organizational Culture and Design. I’m also currently working at my dream job with ASCP as Senior Director of Organizational Development and Leadership. I feel I have come “full circle” and brought my laboratory experience to my personal and professional life. 

ASCP has offered me the opportunity to bring the ASCP Leadership Institute’s Leadership Certification program, consisting of ten courses, to our members after 3.5 years of applied research. The Leadership Institute began with the development of the Leadership Academy five years ago, in which every director at ASCP completed 16 courses and shared learnings in “think tank” environments.  The Leadership Academy gave roots to the Management Academy at ASCP, which launched in June 2015. These two programs provided the research and platform to build the Leadership Institute for our members. The Leadership Institute was successfully launched in July 2017. A dream come true for a laboratory professional who passed first grade on trial!

Catherine Stakenas, MA
ASCP Senior Director, Organizational Development and Leadership