GlaxoSmithKline Coop Internship

The long awaited entry! I kid of course, but I have been meaning to write this for a very long time.

In March 2011, I started my internship at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in the Biopharmaceutical Process Technology (BPT) department. I gave the basic information on the company and the project I was assigned to here in my first progress report:

I worked in the department that worked with the process engineering problems behind bringing a drug product from the research and discovery side to being produced in larger quantities for commercial sale. In this case, it was a cancer drug called Provenge. Our department was concerned with not only increasing amount of the product yielded at the end of the production process, but also how to do it efficiently with a better drug quality, safe for consumer use.

Now that my time there has long been gone and done, I have decided it is time to reflect upon it! My new internship (yet another blog post) is very different because it is a research position versus an industry point of view, which is where I held my other two coops. I cannot say which one I like better yet, but three weeks in, I can see what a big difference. It inspired me to write about my GSK experience, which was truly one of the most impactful, helpful experiences I have ever had.

Initially, I was hired to help with the BPT small scale lab. This is not where the drug product was made for commercial use, but instead where experiments continued per our clients request.  This to me was great because I got to really understand the science behind all the protocols, daily meetings, client discussions, and documents I had to help write or read. Sometimes very repetitive tasks, it really helped me gain and sharpen my cell lab skills. I got to hone my aseptic technique working in a fume hood and on the production floor. I learned how to gown up and what Good Manufacturing Practice was. I even got to train & over see another production employee in a particular protein detection assay I had become familiar with in the small scale lab.

(This dog is how I felt at the beginning of my coop >.<)

I also really enjoyed all the trainings and meetings at my job. My supervisors were very open to let me sit and observe the daily meetings within our department, with other departments at GSK, and external meetings with our client via teleconference. Essentially the same topics were discussed throughout the week, however, how and to what detail they were presented was strategically changed depending who was in the room. I appreciated how high my company lab standards were. Even as an intern, I had to follow the rules closely, which made me feel like I had to pull my weight in responsibility just like  any other employee there.

One of the more hectic things I got to be involved with was writing the summary process run reports for our clients. While it may sound like a simple task, it was super crazy. I never thought that I would be apart of a task so important, but my engineer supervisor was determined to get me and another intern aid him in writing these reports. Essentially, they follow the production run all the way from scale up of tiny cell flasks to the harvest and purification of our target protein. Any problems that were reported must be compiled in one report per run. Unresolved issues must investigate personnel involved during that run. Deviations outside of the accepted value ranges had to be explained and accounted for. It was like lab report on steroids!

I also did a lot of written assessments, a lot smaller than reports, but still with the ability to be challenging at times. Many times I worked with vendors to figure out parameters and what their products were made out of, which eventually lead to a potential recycle program in our production suite.

So it sounds like I did a whole bunch, but I didn’t realize it until I had time to think about it! The most challenging part of the job to me was managing my time between the BPT lab, the production floor, writing stuff at my desk and talking to different departments, and attending meetings.

They liked me so much I got to work part-time with them when I went back to full-time classes. Sadly, the project I was assigned to was cancelled due to client request. So instead of being able to work part-time for 6 months, my contract was cut to 3 months. Despite the smaller contract time, I was still able to learn more about another drug product, this time an in-house or in-company product that is targeted towards diabetes. My time in the lab ended, but I still did a few written assessments for them, which helped me appreciate how difficult it is to track drug production process changes from its initial research days to commercial production.

During my short time, I met the 3 new, fun, younger coops that replaced me. I got to enjoy their company, teach them what I knew, and I got a free sushi party when I left. While I still miss the ever exhilarating busy schedule of working at a big company and taking hard classes, I almost didn’t make it to the end of my school term in one piece. It was a blessing in disguise that my job ended earlier, but man what a wonderful experience.

I was surprisingly super busy up until the very end of my days at GSK. I had the luxury to take off once in a while to relax and visit friends and family. I got paid amazingly. The people I was exposed to were some of the nicest, yet intelligent people I have ever met. I worked hard, I played hard. Got to eat delicious food, too (my department’s motto is that no one is allowed to be on diet/must love chocolate)!

I was so sad when I left; I made my trifecta of specials: banana walnut bread, apple streusel pumpkin bread, and carrot cake. I also got some donuts for the shuttle drivers who always got me safely to and from the train station, always with a smile and as quickly as possible. (On a side note, one of my favorite shuttle drivers saw me during my interview for another GSK coop. He gave me a hug! :D)

So, if I could say in a nutshell how this experience was, it would be this. I came in expecting a job with daily lab tasks, nothing too complicated, mostly repetitive. My supervisors skillfully knew how to gradually add more and more to my work plate, without overwhelming me or keeping me too bored for too long. I got to learn more cell assays and instruments and solidified a good lab working practice. I worked across departments with microbiologists, cell biologists, chemists, engineers, quality control, production floor, and more. I not only learned how to work the science, but also how to write and analyze the science over a larger experimental scale that I ever had before.

At what I think is a pretty young age, I felt like a real, working scientist surrounded by amazing people.  I made strong network connections and even a potential job for when I graduate, should I chose to stay in Philly. Not to mention, I can officially say I held an engineering job. I loved my GSK experience at BPT, whicch had inspired my blog about the life cycle of an internship :)! I strongly recommend those in biology, biomed engineering, or pre-med to consider an internship in a biopharm or pharmaecutical if the opportunity arises. It’s a great eye-opener.


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