Alumni Spotlight - Madison King

August 25, 2023
Maddi King has shoulder length blonde hair and wears a gray jacket over a black top.

Maddi King,  
Bachelor of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, 2022

Why did you choose BBE? 

What drew me to BBE was the concept of learning from existing biological systems and finding ways to adapt and optimize these processes to creatively solve problems in our world. I read up on the cutting-edge research by BBE professors who actively develop sustainable solutions at industrial scale, and I knew that I needed to be a part of this program.  

Perhaps more importantly, I stayed in BBE because I saw how my classes could lead me to a job where I could be proud of my impact on the world, and because BBE was filled with kind, wonderful people who made me feel welcome in a tight-knit community amidst our large university.

Where do you work and what is your job title? 

I am a Data Science Analyst for Pivot Bio where we develop nitrogen-producing microbes to replace traditional fertilizers and empower farmers to reduce their impact on the environment while still feeding the world's population.
Maddi King looks over the rocky mountains on a hike in Colorado.
Maddi King hiking through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Describe your current role at your company - what is the big picture of what you do? 

On the Data Science team, I support our lab-based R&D groups with tools and analyses that enable our scientists to make experimental decisions. I interact with data from various stages of development: screening strains, early fermentation, formulation to allow for long-term storage of our microbes, drying processes, and scale-up fermentation at our pilot plant. As a Data Science Analyst, my job entails applying statistical concepts and streamlining analysis pipelines via python programming to better extract meaning from R&D experiments.

 What does your typical day look like in your role?

My role is fully remote, so my day starts with a 5-10 minute commute to my office--depending on whether or not I stop by the kitchen on the way. While working from home, I spend about 20-50 percent of my day engaged in meetings on team updates, project planning, and progress reports. A large portion of my work time entails utilizing the Python or SQL coding languages as tools in my projects. For example, one of my current projects is to fit models to microbial growth curves from a small-scale fermentation assay and extract important model parameters to determine ideal harvest times. I can do this by leveraging existing modeling packages in Python. In industry, data is produced at such a large scale that being able to extract and transform it programmatically is a very necessary skill in an analytical role. My job also entails traveling 2-3 times a year, typically the duration of a Monday through Friday work week. I have visited our headquarters in Berkeley three times, as well as made trips to St. Louis and Chicago.
Maddi King poses for a group photo with coworkers after going through an escape room for an after work social event.
Maddi and her St. Louis coworkers enjoying a night at an escape room.

What do you enjoy most about your job?  

I love how integrated I am in R&D projects without being physically in the lab. My passion is driven by the information that R&D produces and by the pursuit of product development. It's great being involved in experimental design and analysis from wherever I am. I love working with our fermentation data the most. I also really love the logistical aspects of my job. Working remotely provides a flexibility unrivaled by any other professional opportunity I've had. As long as I get my work done, I can work from anywhere in the US. This makes travel highly accessible even when I don't take time off.

How has your education in BBE influenced your life and career?

BBE is entwined with everything that Pivot Bio does. Engineering Principles of Molecular and Cellular Processes has given me insight into what our strain engineering team does. Both Transport in Biological Processes II and Separation and Purification Processes gave me context on our formulation and drying processes. Computer Applications in BBE provided a baseline for modeling complex biological systems. And a great number of my BBE courses gave me a solid understanding of fermentation and process engineering (Chemistry of Biomass, Intro to Engineering Design, and BP Engineering Lab to name a few). I cannot think of a more BBE related company to have landed at, and for that I am extremely grateful. 
My degree in BBE taught me technical knowledge that I use every day in my career at Pivot Bio. I gained invaluable soft skills during my time at UMN as well. BBE taught me new ways to approach problems, the leadership minor gave me practice in project management, and our faculty showed me the power in asking questions--after all, to become an expert, you must first acknowledge what you do not know. My education and experiences at UMN opened so many doors. I work in a field at my company where every one of my teammates holds a graduate degree. The fact that I am a valued member of such a team speaks volumes of the value that an education in BBE has provided me.

What is one of your proudest professional or personal accomplishments that occurred after graduating from SSM?

During my time at UMN, I had the honor of pursuing a research project under the guidance of Dr. Dharma Kodali. Since graduating, I had the privilege of presenting my work at the American Oil Chemists' Society's Annual Meeting this May. I am incredibly proud to have presented at the AOCS Annual Meeting and am thankful to Dharma for pushing me to take that leap. 

In my work at Pivot Bio, I am proud to announce that I received a promotion just before my one-year anniversary in acknowledgement of my diligent work and ability to quickly learn new skills necessary for my role. I joined the team with a lot to learn and proved that I can put in the work to get to the next level.

What advice do you have for current or future students interested in pursuing a similar career in your field? 

If working in a data science or data analytics role sounds interesting to you, learning python would give you a huge leg up. Python is used widely in industry because it is free, fairly human readable, and has a lot of tools built for it. SQL would also be useful to learn. As the world moves toward big data, most companies have some sort of database to store all of the data they produce, and SQL is a widely used tool by analysts to extract data from such databases. SQL is a highly structured language with limited scope and is probably even quicker to pick up than python. 

While coding probably isn't in the visions you have of your engineering career, it opens a lot of doors and enables you to work with data at a much larger scale than Excel spreadsheets can support. An intro class that covers pandas dataframes is really all you need to get started.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our SSM/BBE community? 

I do have some general advice for our BBE students. Talk to people.  

Life gets busy and courses steal away all of your energy sometimes but take the time to network with professionals in careers you may want to pursue. Joining BBE's FaBEO student group was one of the best decisions I made at UMN. Not only was I able to get hands-on experience working on projects that BBE students are passionate about, but I was also exposed to BBE alumni each week. Each week, a speaker comes to talk about what they really do at work, share what they wish they'd known, and open a door for us to add them to our networks. I would not be at Pivot Bio today were it not for such an event where our BBE-EEE track alumnus, Anna Andresen, spoke to our group about her job at Pivot Bio. I reached out afterward, and she ended up giving me application advice and a recommendation that helped me land the job.  

And that leads me to another bit of advice. Do not close any doors. When I was applying to Pivot Bio, I went for a coding heavy role that required a background in statistics. My first technical interview did not go well. I had not finished the task that they'd given me, and I knew that I was in over my head in the statistics department. I thought about quitting the interview process to spare myself the additional embarrassment in my coming interviews. But I didn't quit. I saw it through and did my best. Long story short, I did not get that job. But I did impress some of the fermentation and formulation team members with my understanding of the data involved in my technical task, and that led to me being offered a different job as a liaison between data science and the fermentation and formulation teams. So, do not close any doors or burn any bridges because you just don't what you're missing out on.