American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
August 2009 Mentor of the Month Interview: Daniel Farkas
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background
  3. What are your Board certifications?
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
    I’m the Clinical Laboratory Director at the CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine. I’m Vice President, Clinical Diagnostics at Sequenom.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I earned a B.S. degree in Microbiology and Public Health from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the State University of NY at Buffalo [Roswell Park Memorial (now Cancer) Institute]. After a post-doc in St. Louis, I was in the right place at the right time and began a career in molecular diagnostics when the field was young. I was recruited to establish and run the Diagnostics Molecular Pathology lab at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, just 15 miles from my home town of New York City. Subsequently, I established and ran two more hospital-based molecular diagnostics labs; at William Beaumont Hospital outside Detroit and The Methodist Hospital in Houston. I’ve done two stints in the biotech industry and returned to Michigan to run the Center for Molecular Medicine (CMM) in 2006; a joint venture between Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. This cutting-edge laboratory was created to exploit new opportunities in genomics as they applied to molecular diagnostics. We were successful in our business plan in that CMM was purchased in late 2008 by Sequenom and I am now running the Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine, a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited, national reference laboratory focused (for now) on molecular diagnostics for maternal fetal medicine.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I was the first person in the country certified by the American Board of Bioanalysis (ABB) as a High-complexity Clinical Laboratory Director in Molecular Diagnostics. I have also earned their credential of Clinical Consultant. I am a certified laboratory specialist in molecular biology by the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I’m on ABB’s Board of Directors. I’ve been very involved with AACC since I joined its Molecular Pathology Division in 1989. I’ve been involved with the Association for Molecular Pathology since its inception and was its President in 2003; I was honored with the AMP Leadership Award in 2007.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      On August 1, 2009, I’ll have been married to Becky for 27 years. WOW! Our son, Josh, is about to enter Central Michigan University to study sports management and our daughter, Haley, will be a junior at Romeo H.S. in Romeo, Michigan. Our two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Peanut and Cosmo, are very much a part of the family.
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      I love to read for pleasure but don’t have enough time to do it; I almost exclusively read non-fiction, most recent history, public policy, that sort of thing. Photography is my hobby and I adore having the time to go out and compose, shoot and then share my shots with my friends and family. Some have even suggested my work is good enough for me to consider going pro. Sure, some of my shots are good and everyone takes a good one now and again. But not only do I not think I’m that good but also, going pro would make photography a chore not a hobby, and as a hobby, I absolutely love it.
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      Paris in May 2005 for a week with my wife and Goderich, Ontario where we vacation every year with our dearest friends in their cottage right on the shore of L. Huron; lousy cell phone service so I can (sort of) disappear for a week or two at a time.
    • Favorite book/movie
      I’ve seen a lot of great movies. If you force me to choose my all-time #1, I’d say “Annie Hall.” Favorite fiction book? “The Stand,” by Stephen King. Favorite non-fiction book? “Collapse,” by Jared Diamond.
    • Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
      Move. I had a great job at Wm. Beaumont Hospital and decided to try biotech in S. California in 1998. That was adventurous; it worked out well though.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    Molecular Diagnostics; laboratory administration; the intersection of genomics and business in the context of laboratory medicine.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    As with many things in life, dumb luck. I was a post-doc in St. Louis looking for a job and answered an ad for “Section Chief, Diagnostic Molecular Pathology” at St. Barnabas Medical Center in NJ. Had they been able to find someone locally they would not have placed a national ad in “Science.” I answered the ad, got the job and found myself in the right field at the right time; to be able to have participated at the start of Molecular Diagnostics created fertile ground for what’s been a great career.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    I like applying the concepts of continuous quality improvement to our clinical lab. I’m also interested in the intersection of genomics, molecular diagnostics, laboratory medicine and business.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    Education. Training residents at the bench, lecturing students and those interested in the business of molecular diagnostics and publishing articles and books on the field have been my most fulfilling accomplishments.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Trick question, right? Look, every job has its downsides but that’s why they call it “going to work,” not “going to play.” If you have more up moments than down, it’s a good day and a good job and a good career. I’ve had many more ups than downs. If you insist on a straight answer, however, I’d have to say “budget preparation”.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    Rewarding
    Holding in my very own hands a hard copy of my first book back in 1993; working with residents one-on-one during “sign out” at Wm. Beaumont Hospital; serving as AMP’s President in 2003 (how did the Marine slogan put it?  “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.”); serving as AACC AMOC Chair for the 2006 AM—now that was a blast.

    Challenging
    Turning the Center for Molecular Medicine into a success (as measured by our recent acquisition by Sequenom); whatever my task at hand happened/happens to be at the time. IOW, give what you’re doing (and need to get done now) your undivided attention and be successful doing it. That not only elevates everything to challenging, but also guarantees you’ll get it done and be successful.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    No one ever had an epitaph on their tombstone that read, “Wishes he’d spent more time at the office.” Do your job; do it with professionalism and excellence. But once you realize you’ve missed too many of your son’s baseball games or your daughter’s recitals, it’s time to re-evaluate the balance. And if you have a long commute, consider yourself lucky because you have found the time in a busy day to forget about work and get into “homelife mode” so that you don’t bring your work issues home (or at least have had the time to de-stress them).
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    “Excite” is not the right word, but I’ll freely admit that it is fulfilling and satisfying to approach the practice of lab medicine everyday with a sense of dedication and professionalism. If you can leave the office at the end of the day with a feeling of satisfied tiredness, it’s been a good day, whether it was exciting (actually, hopefully it wasn’t) or not.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    SNP genotyping will disappear as high-throughput, high-speed, low-cost sequencing comes to the fore; gene expression profiling will be routine for assessing the Achilles’ Heel of tumors; we will still be struggling with insurance companies, budgets and shareholders’ and administrators’ expectations and pressures.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    The bureaucracy of your organizations and, by extension, the pressures of what drives those organizations, whether it be Wall Street and shareholders (for those in industry) or hospital administration and reimbursement agencies will be the things that will balance, in a negative way, the fun and pride you will feel in the lab and in practicing lab medicine.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. Until you can’t possibly squeeze in anything more, say yes to every writing, speaking and teaching opportunity. Get your name and reputation out there in front of others; professional volunteerism will pay you back ten- to hundred-fold over a career.
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    I’m pleased to be a regular donor to the Van Slyke Foundation. I’m also pleased to continue to volunteer for AACC since the work, while not physically hard, does require time and that’s time away from my family and job. Still, the feeling of fulfillment is wonderful and I will volunteer as long as I can be helpful.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    Just ask. Find an organization or a job within that organization that appeals to you, on any level, and ask if you can help. I guarantee the answer will be “yes.” The 80/20 rule applies; in any organization, about 20% of the members (as volunteers) do 80% of the work. For example, in 1990 I asked Dr. Emily Winn-Deen, chair of the AACC Molecular Pathology Division if I could help. Not only did she say “yes” but a couple of years later, I was the Chair of the Division.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    See the answer to #11. Not only is the volunteerism rewarding and of note and value to your department but ultimately it’ll also pay off financially via honoraria, consulting opportunities, etc. But my number one piece of advice which has allowed me to solve any dilemma over my career is, “the patient always comes first.” If you use that mantra, it’ll solve any dilemma with which you may be faced.