Past Internship Highlights
Contributed by: Zach Shao (2017): This summer I had the pleasure of joining Roche Sequencing Solutions (Pleasanton, CA) as a bioinformatics intern within one of the early development teams. During this experience, I was able to apply the technical skill set I learned at Caltech while cultivating new expertise in genomics, data analytics and software evaluation. In addition to programming projects, I also had the unique opportunity to participate in two smaller business development projects. I finished the internship as a better bioinformatician and with a better sense of the commercial medical diagnostics market.
In addition to being a great learning experience, the internship was also fantastic as a networking opportunity. Throughout the summer, I had the pleasure of sitting in on talks by senior company leaders where I learned about their career path and their current function at the company. To take it one-step further, Roche also actively encourages the interns to branch out and network throughout the company. By taking advantage of these opportunities, I was able to connect with many scientists who transitioned to business development, marketing and other roles that are away from the bench while still utilizing their scientific training.
In summary, I found my internship to be a great learning experience as well as a fantastic networking opportunity. It was satisfying to be able to apply my technical background on several development projects while also appreciate the fact that many previous bench scientists were able to transition to meaning roles in the industry. Personally, this internship expanded my view of research in the industry and I highly encourage other students to take similar opportunities to explore their career interests.
Contributed by: Kevin Yang (2017): During the summer of 2017, I was a computational intern in the bioinformatics department at Ambry Genetics in Aliso Viejo, California. Ambry Genetics is a genetic testing and diagnostics company that develops, manufactures, distributes, and interprets genetic tests. At Ambry, I worked with a structural biologist and statistical geneticist to develop predictive models for human genetic variation. As part of this work, I applied many ideas and computational skills I learned at Caltech while also learning new techniques as needed for my project. Working with patient data also introduces privacy issues, and I saw how Ambry strives to balance patient privacy with a belief in open data.
Compared to academic research, research at Ambry was much more focused. Generally, scientists there were focused on helping interpret specific cases or on building the scientific and technical framework to make more accurate or novel tests. Many of the scientists there were motivated by seeing their results used directly to help patients, which is much rarer in the academic setting.
I am grateful to Ambry Genetics and to the Biotechnology Leadership program for the opportunity to work at Ambry. As decisions about my post-PhD career approach, the experience doing research in a commercial environment will help me to make a better-informed decision about the type of work I want to do and where I want to do it.
Contributed by: Josh Brake (2016): This past summer I had the opportunity to intern for Instrumentation Laboratory, a medical device company headquartered in Bedford, MA. Instrumentation Laboratory has two main diagnostic product lines: hemostasis analyzers which assess the clotting properties of blood and critical care analyzers used at the point-of-care in hospital emergency rooms to quickly analyze blood samples and determine the levels of key analytes and diagnostic markers. While I was there, I worked with a group of R&D engineers on the development of some new ideas for optical detection in their next generation critical care analyzers. As part of this team, I had the chance to work closely with several of the engineers and learned about blood diagnostics and the optical techniques they use in their current devices. Additionally, I got to see and work to solve some of the engineering challenges that need to be addressed to improve future generations of the product. I particularly enjoyed the chance to see how research is done outside of the academic setting of my research lab at Caltech. The experience of an internship as a PhD student is rewarding and one I would recommend for all graduate students. Even though I am interested in pursuing a career in academia at this point in my studies, understanding the constraints on research and product design methodologies in a commercial setting is a valuable asset for framing research questions in a practical and compelling way. This experience taught me to think critically about simplifying and distilling devices so that they are reliable, easily made at scale, and cost efficient. These skills have translated back into the lab, helping to hone my entrepreneurial thinking and to elucidate the right questions to ask when translating technologies from the lab to real world practical applications. I am grateful to Instrumentation Laboratory for the chance to work for them this summer and also for the Biotechnology Leadership Program at Caltech which provided me with the opportunity and support to explore this opportunity. The experience was a valuable one for me, and I hope that other PhD students will consider taking an internship during their studies to explore potentially fulfilling career opportunities outside of the typical academic track. I suspect that you’ll learn, like I did, a lot of valuable lessons!