DPI Research Coop Internship

Wow, this entry is long overdue, but  as they say, save the best for last! I guess I put off writing about my last coop internship because this marks the very last time I will have a coop/internship blog entry! I guess I’m a grown up now 😛

The Drexel Plasma Institute (DPI) is a biotechnology research facility where I was able to live the life of a research student full-time for about 6 months.  I retained part-time status for another 6 months, however, I wrote a small blurb about the differences between being a coop and a work study student here. Despite its name, DPI is affilited with Drexel, but NOT owned by Drexel.

Some logistics: I started at the end of April 2012 for this unpaid opportunity. Originally, I was assigned to help out in the Bacteria Lab, though by the end of the internship I was about to dabble in many things. This includes:

  1. The Plant Lab where plasma treated water was tested as an effective alternative to fertilizer and pesticide in various species of agriculture. And yes, I did write down on my resume I was the garden whisperer for 200 plants.
  2. The Cell Lab where plasma treated medium was being used in experiments that had to do with cell differentiation and regeneration in little worms.
  3. The Applied Physics Lab where I (if I remember correctly) physical properties of plasma was being studied.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

My motivation:

When I first started, and I was asked why I wanted to work here. I had always seen grad students running about like crazy, going on and on about their experiments progressing or not progressing. Sometimes they would think outloud, which always sounded like jargon to me even studying Biology as an undergrad. I think that once you start to pursue a Masters and/or eventually a PhD, you get so specialized in a specific part of your field that you realize how large and broad an undergrad degree is in comparison. Suffice to say, my response was that I wanted to know if research life was like and if it suited my personality. Devoting an additional 3-7 years to studies is a huge commitment, and I needed to know if I should even entertain the idea.

Not what I was expecting (but it’s all good!):

My manager was quick to tell me that this was not a traditional research lab and therefore it would not be a typical research experience as compared to working with a biology professor at school. DPI identifies more with the engineering departments.The experiments were much more application based than a science lab. It’s an amazing feeling when you get positive results for something that has a potential use already in mind. In some science labs, you learn about a relationship, but don’t know how to translate it to help patients.

What I wanted – Learning about life as a researcher.

If there is one thing I realized, it is that you need to LOVE what you are studying to get that wondrous PhD. I think that desire to study and persevere is driven by want to know WHY. Asking questions and seeking answers fro the sake of knowledge. It sounds a little romantic, but I think there is a little bit of romance in every scientist who is passionate about what the do.

You need to do a lot of experiments and sometimes you need to repeat it a ton of times with only minute changes to see if what you expected to happen is actually true. Just because things theoretically should work doesn’t mean they will do it in real life. Did I mention the importance of statistically sound data? Your results have to also be reproducible and not be a product of chance.

Not so awesome stuff.

As with every job, there are some drawbacks. One (potential) negative is that your PI (primary investigator) can make or break your experience. They can guide you or control how you run your experiments, what you do your experiments on, and how successful your project will be. Also, there is a hard push to pump out as many publications as you can because its a way to gather attention for more funding, however, this can be difficult to do on time constraints while maintaining good and sound data. No funding = no more experiments 😦 Finally, I listed above that reproducibility is important, and it can drive a person crazy repeating experiments indefinitely until getting the results they need or abandoning all that hard work when you realize that your hypothesis is most likely wrong. Also, if you need/want an immediately high paying job, academic research may not be the means.

Other random stuff I wanted to mention.

  • The research focus of this lab, plasma, is pretty neat and cutting edge, stuff. My boss called this particular lab “a big whale in a little pond.” In other words, the plasma field is still small and very new, however, DPI publications have a big impact on the field. I’m so lucky to have gotten both a poster and name on a publication on two different projects!
  • The lab is located in Camden NJ. It is a way scarier place than Philly, believe it or not. I used to be yelled at by prisoners every time I would walk to the train stations.  Yet another tough city down that I can say I survived being in.
  • God, how many times can I mention I love the people who work there? Such a chill place to work. And for the most part everyone is pretty receptive to any creative experiments you want to try out. You just got to prove it’s worth trying. I miss my managers and fellow students so much and felt like I belonged there.

What I owe the most:

Most importantly, this lab showed me how much I love engineers and engineering. I think there is a slight animosity towards the Sciences and Engineering, at least at our school. Engineering students are put on a pedestal and worshiped, which I sort of understand because their studies are hard, but hey other students work hard, too! And arrogant engineering students are the absolute worse! But the engineers I got to work with were SO awesome. I love the way they look at experiments differently than I do. I was more concerned with good technique, the theoretical background of experiments, and what the data meant. However, it’s important to get the damn experiment done first before worry about other stuff, and they knew how to think outside the box to use practical means to get things done.

There is a very “CAN DO” attitude carried by engineers (as my Micro prof once said), which enables them to make a bridge between the theoretical to application in the real world. Working in this lab gave me the balls to try and apply to an engineering job, despite the high chance of rejection. During the interview for said job, I remember saying without thinking (or meaning to sound arrogant) that “I am not intimidated by engineering work. I can do it.” despite my background in the sciences. Thanks DPI for being a key player in developing my confidence and skills I needed to get my current full time pharma job 🙂

trustengineer

 

Figure. One of my former DPI coworkers fittingly sent this to me today on Facebook.

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