Skip to main content

Biology Alumni Spotlight: James Elliott ‘16 

SSU biology major now a process development scientist 

Where did you grow up and what was your major(s), minor(s), concentration or option, and year of graduation?

I grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts primarily, but I spent a large portion of my childhood in Florida as well. My major was in biology (general) and I had a minor in chemistry and psychology. I graduated from Salem State University in 2016.

Since graduating, I have also obtained a Master of Science degree at the University of Maine studying wildlife disease genetics.

What is your current title and role? What are you responsible for day-to-day?

My current role is "Process Development Scientist" at New England Biolabs, a biotech company that offers the largest selection of recombinant and native enzymes for genomic research.

It is my job to research and develop ways to manufacture products and monitor existing processes and products for quality and efficiency. More specifically, I frequently use a wide variety of screening tools to look for the best chromatography, formulation and filtration for making products related to PCR, gene expression, synthetic biology, glycobiology, epigenetics, and RNA analysis. Often, this bleeds into other responsibilities involving new product discovery and assay development for quality control.

What encouraged you to pursue this educational or career path?

My path was quite non-linear, as I went into Salem State interested in biomedical sciences. My interests shifted into Marine Science after my first year because of the great opportunities available to me in that discipline. My commitment to marine science and wildlife biology grew as I became more involved in applied research relating to local marine invasive species.  

Several faculty at Salem State helped facilitate my desire to learn more by encouraging me to apply for a position at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a prestigious international center for research and education in biological science-based out of Woods Hole, MA. I was accepted as a research technician there, and for a summer I studied the effect of alkylphenols on early lobster development.

While there, I was introduced to the world of biochemistry through the many seminars that were held all over the campus. I didn't understand it and was honestly intimidated by the complexity of it all. However, it was so unifying for all other aspects of biology. I was hooked. Today, I am just as captivated by biochemistry and molecular biology and I continue to learn more every day.

What skills did you learn as a biology major and how did your time at Salem State prepare you for life after graduation?

While the courses at Salem State University are high quality, the greatest preparation for life after graduation came from outside of regular coursework. This primarily took the form of independent research.

The nice thing about independent research is that it has so many transferrable skills no matter what you are studying. Some examples include proper experimental design, perseverance during long projects, where to acquire funding for research, and how to read and write scientific literature. Also, due to the diversity of opportunities, I became drawn to interdisciplinarity. I worked on or co-led projects involving inorganic water quality testing in southwest Morocco, invasive marine invertebrate ecology, crustacean endocrinology, applied aquaculture, insect phylogenetics, marine microplastics, and even a directed study in scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

Was there a particular faculty member or class that had a lasting impact on you?

It is difficult to highlight just one faculty member because they all had such an impact on me. If I had to select one though, Professor Alan Young invested the most time and energy into developing me as a scientist. During my time at Salem State, he seemed to make it his mission to teach me how to write effectively in science. In fact, since I first started working with Professor Alan Young, we have published three scientific articles together in peer-reviewed journals.  

Whereas most principal investigators take a more administrative role, Professor Young never backed off from hard work and leads by example. His approach instilled traits in me that I use to this day and will continue to use all throughout my scientific career. I will always thank him for that!

If you completed an independent research project, an internship, a study abroad, or a similar immersive experience, please describe that experience and how it has helped you.

My most unique experience was through Volunteer Morocco, an organization that is directed by a chemistry instructor at Salem State, Aziz El Madi. This non-profit sets out to improve the self-sustainability of underprivileged communities and their members in Morocco. Volunteer Morocco has done this by strengthening health care access, education, farming technologies, assisting in the formation of micro-enterprises as well as creating an atmosphere for the intercultural exchange of ideas and understanding.  

My role in this massive international project was to perform water quality fieldwork in two Moroccan regions; Imsouane and Shtouka. Underground inorganic water pollutants were studied in both regions. Our measurement was the first in both regions, and this work ultimately supported at least one peer-reviewed publication looking at both inorganic and organic contaminants.

While attending the University of Maine, I found out that the reason that I was accepted to the graduate program was because of this international experience.

What is the most exciting professional opportunity you have had since graduating?

My time at New England Biolabs has been a roller coaster since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, I was working on some fascinating technologies, but since the start, we have supported and supplied many customers who have worked to develop better diagnostic tools and vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In such an important time in history, I have never felt more fulfilled by my work. Supporting that effort has been by far the most exciting professional opportunity since graduating Salem State.

What advice would you provide to an incoming biology major at Salem State?

I would say: NEVER say no to any opportunity that is presented to you. Your undergraduate experience is a time to “speed date” all the things that come your way. Of course, the work you do in the classroom is important, but I believe what you do outside the classroom is what really counts. Your GPA is a very small part of your resume at the end, and the experiences you gain from independent research give you relationships and stories that will last forever.


Learn more about the biology department at Salem State University.

Back to top