We are introducing Dr. Nadine Tappe, Head of Oligonucleotide Production at Eurofins Genomics, where she manages the oligonucleotide synthesis. In this interview, we talk about her educational background and prior experience as a lecturer, her responsibilities as Head of Oligonucleotide Production, her leadership style, what motivates her, and the books that had the most impact on her.

We hope you enjoy finding out more in this interview!

Hi Nadine, welcome to the interview.

Thank you for inviting me.

When and how did you start working for Eurofins Genomics and what was your position?

Honestly it was a blessing in disguise. COVID-19 had hit Europe and many companies had implemented hiring freezes, at the exact moment when I started to look for a new job. In June 2020, I applied for the position of Technical Assistant for the qPCR analysis within the COVID-19 Testing Project at Eurofins Genomics and was hired. That’s where my “genomics adventure” started. I quickly moved up to a position un which I was responsible for the manufacturing of the qPCR kit for in-house use, then became Shift Supervisor, followed by Process Lead. Within one year, I became Head of the COVID-19 Testing Project, leading more than 1,000 employees in a three-shift system with a testing capacity of 100,000 samples.

Many companies had implemented hiring freezes, at the exact moment when I started to look for a new job.

Could you tell us a bit about your educational background?

I studied chemistry at the Technical University of Munich and graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. I then continued on to do my PhD at the Professorship of Molecular Catalysis.
I really enjoyed the teaching aspect and gave tutorials and supervised practical courses for students during my BSc studies. While doing my Master’s degree, I became the chemistry training supervisor for the mechanical engineering department, and gave chemistry lessons to more than 1,000 engineering students. During my PhD studies, I supervised the practical courses for five of my doctoral supervisor’s classes, who was the Academic Dean at that time. I would say that during this time, I learned to organise myself, be productive under stress, and motivate others.

Image: Technical University of Munich, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tech_Univ_Munich,_Location_Garching.jpg, Created by: Hwehui, License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License)

Wow. More than 1,000 students attended your lectures. Why do you think your lectures were so successful?

I think it was my own enthusiasm and excitement for chemistry and science. For mechanical engineering students, chemistry was a necessary evil. Nevertheless, I tried to show them that chemistry is a lot of fun if you understand what happens. In the end, all of them attended my lectures and passed their exams in chemistry.

I should also add that scientists are all young at heart, and if they love what they do, you can feel it, and that excitement is contagious. Two people inspired me a lot. The first one was my teacher in high school, a chemist with a PhD who loved to show us experiments and explain all the details. You could literally see his inner happy child, and at this time he was 62. The second person who inspired me was my professor of quantum mechanics. He told us that everything can be explained in simple terms, if you understand what you are talking about… and with quantum mechanics, this is quite a challenge, but he managed.

I think that meeting people at their level of knowledge and taking them to my level of excitement through easy-to-understand explanations helped a lot.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:5th_Floor_Lecture_Hall.jpg, Created by: Xbxg32000, License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

What are your responsibilities as Head of Oligonucleotide Synthesis at Eurofins Genomics?

In short, I lead the oligonucleotide synthesis team to deliver high quality oligos very quickly to our customers.

This includes ensuring my team can focus on the production, as well as collaborating with our R&D team to improve our methods, processes and portfolio.

I also have the responsibility of building up a support team around the production. In my eyes, the benefit of support functions is often underestimated, although absolutely necessary. When the right support is there, the production staff can concentrate entirely on their main tasks and goals.

We established a very open-minded culture at Eurofins Genomics, not just regarding problem solving.

How do you lead your team?

We established a very open-minded culture at Eurofins Genomics, not just regarding problem solving, but also in terms of the implementation of improvements and ideas, as well as addressing any needs and challenges. I’m convinced that this corporate culture leads to higher motivation among employees and the team as a whole, eventually benefitting the entire business.

We tackle issues and improvements together and everyone is encouraged to give their input.

Could you tell us a bit more about the quality assurance of the oligonucleotide synthesis at Eurofins Genomics?

Yes, of course! Our oligonucleotide production is ISO13485 certified, which means that the production is carried out according to the medical devices standard and directive. Naturally, this includes stringent regulations on production standard and quality.

Besides this, we also pay special attention to LEAN management. Our Business Unit Manager, Mandy Deimel, has a Lean Black Belt, and we also have a LEAN Manager who supports us in improving and further implementing production and communication according to the LEAN principles.

Our daily meetings also involve the senior management and we use the time to evaluate all our KPIs (key performance indicators). This high visibility within management really helps us to identify any deviations and immediately take action to solve them, so the quality never suffers.

What drives and motivates you?

Improvements and solutions, not just for the short-term but for the long-term. This is linked to my love for challenges and achieving objectives. I have always been like that. When I see an issue or a process that is not running smoothly, or any opportunity for improvement, I immediately think about solutions A, B, C, D and who to involve with discussing, developing and implementing the best option. I have thought like this since my childhood, when of course my biggest challenges were how to get some sweets or a new bike.

I must also add that seeing my colleagues and co-workers being motivated and enthusiastic about their work gives me great satisfaction.

What is your vision for the oligonucleotide synthesis business?

Here, I would like to speak on behalf of not only for myself but also my whole team and all my colleagues and management. We want to be the best oligo producer and the leader of the market. Therefore, we established a high-throughput production process of high-quality oligos, and are currently improving our oligo customisation process to increase flexibility and agility in order to offer our customers the perfect solutions.

There is no limit to the extent of oligonucleotide customisation.

You just mentioned customised solutions. How much customisation do you offer customers?

We offer oligos at different scales, concentration adjustments, in plates or tubes, with customised labels, dried or in solution, and so on.
I enjoy talking to our customers directly and discuss their needs, so we can develop a highly customised solution for them together. So, to answer your question, we are very interested in offering individual solutions tailored to the requirements of our customers.

A lot of work can mean a lot of stress. How do you deal with stress? What is your strategy for keeping cool in stressful situations?

As long as I am motivated, I do not feel stressed. To motivate myself, I remind myself of past improvements, events – including in my private life – that made me happy, and also good things that happened lately. In stressful situations, I need to think about solutions and action items. As long as I can do something, I’m feeling fine.

How do you start your day?

I wake up at 6 a.m. and need a couple of minutes to collect myself. From there, it is straightforward.  I have my breakfast and coffee (the most important meal of the day!) and drive to work. So, my morning routine is very basic.

How do you spend your spare time?

I love doing sports. I work out at the gym and also enjoy seasonal sports, like volleyball in summer and snowboarding in winter. I also like to spend time with friends and I love to travel. I have set myself a target to visit a different country each year. This year, I will be traveling to Oman.

Could you recommend any books that had an impact on you?

I really like to read in my spare time to immerse myself in another world and clear my thoughts. For this, I can really recommend books from Sebastian Fitzek or Simon Beckett to anyone who likes thrillers. To come full circle on my passion for chemistry and science, I highly recommend “The Chemistry of Death” by Simon Beckett.

Thank you for your time and the interview.

Thank you. I enjoyed it.

More interviews with the Eurofins Genomics team members and experts

Stefan Koloska, Team leader of Process Engineering at Eurofins Genomics.

Franz Oswald, bike courier of Eurofins Genomics in Vienna, Austria.

By Dr Andreas Ebertz

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