So when people ask me “what do you do?” and I reply with “Quality Assurance Officer”, I often get a confused look. To be honest it’s a bit difficult for me to understand what I do as well, so I had to do a little digging myself to figure out how to best explain it.
I fall into a general category of people that deal with Quality Assurance – basically, I’m supposed to maintain quality in a company/organization’s practices and services. So if you think of any industry, they most likely have a dedicated QA department whether it is the private or public sector. Software development, school, pop drink manufacturers, you name it, all of them have to uphold a certain quality or “standard” in order to offer their services/products. Because if something wasn’t quality, well who would bother?
Quality encompasses several things and depends on the context. When you think of the quality of a scientific paper, you’re usually looking at how many citations the author has, or at the statistics (p value). When you are determining the quality of a computer, you’re usually looking at cost, perhaps the customer service and technical support, the origin of the materials that the computer is made of, and whether or not it has the most updated processors and graphics cards.
For me, I work as a Quality Assurance Officer in an environmental lab, so I specifically deal with making sure the analytical services we offer conform to the international, national, and provincial standards. And while it is important to follow the experts, nothing could be more valuable than communicating directly to clients and my fellow colleagues for feedback on how to improve. So…as you may have guessed, I mainly maintain paperwork, draft procedures, oversee and audit lab activities, and hold regular meetings to discuss our progress.
But lucky for me, that’s not all I do. A great part of being in a small laboratory/business is you that more often than not, your position entails more than the job description and you’ll have the opportunity to juggle many different roles and experiences.
For example, I also perform research, get trained on a variety of cool instruments, write proposals, do consultations on the field, and create business plans. There is no “typical” day for me as a quality assurance officer here, because, in a small team, you have to wear many hats, which is what I love about my job.
So what do you have to do to become a Quality Assurance Officer? Well, first of all, you’ll have to be familiar with the services and products you are working with. That means if you’re maintaining quality for a lab service, you should be familiar with performing that service and following a general procedure. You also need to know what will enable a product/service to “pass” all the quality controls. For example, if you’re making a quality cheese, things you have to consider are the moisture, salt, pH, and maybe the ratio of fat to non-fats. For this, you can refer to a variety of standards that are developed by an international standards-setting organization like the International Standards Organization (ISO).
To be a Quality Assurance Officer, you have to be passionate about improvement. Quality is not set in stone. And that’s why you have to continually learn about what’s the next best thing. Which is basically what Research is all about. See? It’s everywhere.
So whenever you’re sifting through google searching for “the best running shoe” think about being a Quality Assurance Officer. Though it might not be a very traditional career path, it does exist – simply because everyone wants quality.