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 🙂

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

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Why Gen Y Yuppies Are Unhappy

First off who is Generation Y? This article defines it as the generation born between the late-1970s to mid-1990s. I was born in 1990 on the dot, so I fall in this category and find this bit of info pretty relevant. 

I had to post this link, despite the somewhat somber connotation the title gives off. It gives some interesting views (and sarcastically funny stick figures) on why post-college-graduation or young adult life may feel like its taking a larger toll on your mental health and happiness. If you are just starting off, like me, on the long and arduous path to full-fledged careerhood, just understand this:

The struggle is real. We are all experiencing it. Don’t feel like you are the loneliest, unlucky person out there. So stop comparing yourself to your peers. It will do you no good, man.

Happy Sunday from a reasonably happy (at the moment) yuppy 🙂

ARTICLE: http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html

GYPSY expectation

Figure. Image is from “wait but why” article on “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.” Lucy is our example Gen Y girl.

My Year in Review (so far)

Well, its been about one week since I got home, so I think its time for a personal update! I must say, 2013 has had some amazing things for me in store academically and career-wise already, though stress and other personal issues have taken a big toll on me. Thus is life though, ups & downs. Some highlights I’d like the share since I have fallen off the face of the planet:

1) My laptop has been broken since December. I stupidly spilled coffee on it one morning before a phone interview while stressing out about the call and thinking about the pending doom of a project due that same day. I had gotten a USB keyboard whose life was short lived when it started to fizz and smoke one night while doing homework. Then I ran out to my local university Radio Shack (couldn’t wait for Amazon to ship!), and I got this cute Logitech wireless one. It’s still been a pain in the ass and a half lugging it around campus though along with books and having to explain to people why I have an extra keyboard. At least it survived til the end of term. Hopefully my computer does not clonk out any time too soon. I can’t afford another one for a while ;_;

wireless keyboard

Figure 1. My cutesy Logitech wireless keyboard! And stop judging my desktop background. It’s entitled “SUPERnova” from Threadless.

2) I will be presenting a poster at my university’s Research Day! It’s always been my dream as a freshmen to participate, and when I didn’t get a chance to do join in academic research because of my coop program, I thought it was hopeless. I was wrong because my former coop employee (DPI) is awesome! The data I compiled from working on one of their lab projects was enough to get my abstract approved for my poster presentation! The poster is a collaboration with another student from the University of Maryland, and it is about plasma treated water with the addition of propylene glycol and its antimicrobial effects.

ResearchDay2013

Figure 2. I love how colorful the Research Day logo is!

3) I was coauthored on a real scientific publication! Another debt to DPI! With some hard work and lots of guidance from my former lab managers & supervisor, I’m lucky to have my name squeezed onto there. I’m still in awe! Never thought as an undergrad I would have my name in anywhere else, but “special acknowledgements” haha. Look for my name in an issue of Applied Physics (free to read if you have university access!). The article is about the use of water treated with the Glid-Arc plasmatron, and its benefits to plant biology and growth.

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Figure 3. Yes, I am that silly undergraduate student who screenshots their name on an article so they can show their parents. Shoot me, I am happy!

4) I have successfully made two types of pie recently, one of which on Pi Day (3/14)! The first is a retake of the Caramel Apple pie recipe that caused all the fire alarms in the land of Philadelphia to go off. The second is Caramel Pumpkin Pecan pie.

2013-01-13 21.50.25 2013-01-13 23.18.53 pumpkin pecan pie

Figure 4.1. Unbaked Apple pie with lattice crust. So pretty!
Figure 4.2. Baked Apple pie with caramel encrusted crust. Kind of ruined the pattern in my opinion 😦
Figure 4.3. Baked Pumpkin Pecan Caramel pie. Took forever for it to stop jiggling! haha.

5) I am finally finished with my undergrad! Graduated a bit earlier than anticipated, taking about 4.5 years with 3 full time internships, a ton of volunteering, and part time jobs to boot 🙂 I could rant on about the blood, sweat, tears, and lack of a normal college life I had to get this degree, but I will leave it at “I am content” now that its mine and extremely appreciative for the learning experience, knowledge, and people I have been fortunate to meet. I am still waiting for my diploma and my actual walking ceremony is not until June, however.

6) I actually scored a job already! I have been a bit hush-hush about it because I am still in shock. After passing the phone screen in December (SO WORTH sacrificing my laptop as an offering; see bullet #1), I was offered a job back in the end of January with Merck & Co. down in Virginia as an Associate Specialist Engineering. I’m really humbled that anyone thought I was a good fit, especially in such a big and reputable company. I took a two day trip in the earlier part of the term to interview in Virginia, leaving Philly and school behind for a bit. I had met with about 10 people throughout the day, representing different teams within the department. It was intense, but I’m glad I made an impression on someone/some people!

7) Things still to come…! So right after I finished exams last week, I have been (re)learning how to drive. I need to pass the road test, which I will be taking on in about 2 weeks (eek!). Then, another wisdom tooth extraction, apartment hunting, car bargaining, and then the big move! Not to mention squeezing in seeing people I may never see again/for a very long time in both Philly and NYC 😦

So much for a break, but this is real life! I feel like everything is happening in a blur.I legit just finished taking exams less than 7 days ago.  I’m anxious, nervous, and excited to see where it takes me. I would be lying if i said the life transition doesn’t scare the crap out of me (and I like to take risks). It’s sad that I have got to leave behind friends and family and places so familiar and dear to me. I had always thought that I could come home to NY for a bit to relax and catch up with people I love, and then eventually find a job. Even hanging around Philly seemed like a cool idea, especially if my roomies were willing to hang around with me. Perhaps if I stayed long enough I would have caved in and applied straight to grad school.

But if there was ever at time to be daring, here it is. I have spent so much time planning for the real world that I am almost confused as to what to do now that “the big time” is here! Adventure is out there, and I’m lucky to have this opportunity, though it seems scary and lonely right now. Time to grow up and get a pair of real ovaries! For now, I’m taking it one day at a time until I leave for my new job.

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Figure. Screen shot image of Winnie the Pooh movie  from Disney’s Facebook page. Their caption was “It’s always good to have a plan.” So true!

The Big Kid Job Search

While everyone else is enjoying the Superbowl, I’m starting to study for midterms and doing my research poster. As a break, I have decided to write about my strategies for tackling the Big Kid Job Search, aka “I need a job before I graduate!”

I have actually taken a month off of job applications to take a break, but I was SOOO in the groove from mid-Fall term to the end of Winter Break (October – December). Here a few fast tips on how to keep organized while applying for post-graduation jobs.

1) Make a folder dedicated to your job search

folderscreencap

Figure 1. I named my folder “Senior Year Job Search” and keep it on my Desktop so that I don’t forget about it. Side note: Don’t be fooled by how clean my Desktop looks; it’s usually cluttered with Sticky Notes of 100 reminders for myself.

This is the first step to keeping a careful track of jobs you have applied for. Since the internet is wonderful, all (if not all, then most) job applications these days are submitted online. It can get easy to get carried away, and while you usually get an email confirmation after applying, it’s good to have your own copy. I’ll go further into detail what’s in my job search folder.

2) How to organize your job search folder

foldercontentsscreencap

Figure 2. Here is how I personally like to organize my job app stuffs.

> Job folder: Anything not inside a folder is my generic resume and generic cover letter. I have two copies of each because the address in the header in one copy is for my New York home address and the other is for my Philly school apartment address. The date of when I last edited the docs are also in the file name (so in this case December 2012). I will explain the excel sheets later on in a bit.

> Job folder > Applied: Though I have a generic cover letter, I try to re-write and edit a cover letter specifically catered for each job position I apply for. So that’s what is in this folder! Each cover letter’s file name is saved as the company of the job, job title, and sometimes location. Example: If I applied for a Microbiologist Technician job at Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals in La Jota, CA I would save the cover letter file as “JJMicroTechCA.doc”

> Job folder > Contracts: Dubbed my “Wishful Thinking” folder. If the time should arise and you get more than one job offer, here is a place to house their contracts! I haven’t done this, but if you are super conflicted you could make an Excel sheet to compare salary and benefits.

> Job folder > Old Edits: This houses older versions of my resume and cover letter. I like to have them on hand just in case I find that  a newly edited resume is not as strong as a previous one or if I need a description of a previous job I have edited out.

> Job folder > Peer Reviews: The best way to  become better at writing your own job stuff is to help others, too!

> Job folder > Sources:  This is sort of a miscellaneous folder. I keep things like .pdfs of special programs big companies have for newly graduated students looking for job experience. Also here is a list of companies that I want to actively mine through their job database.

I have a screen shot of my “projected salary” that the market will most likely offer me based on my job experience, what job title I am applying for, and location of that job. I don’t know entirely how reliable this estimate is, but you can calculate your salary estimation here: http://www.jobsearchintelligence.com/NACE/jobseekers/salary-calculator.php. It’s great so you at least have an idea of what type of salary you should be looking for (ball park estimate) and maybe an idea if you can salary negotiate an offer.

jobsalaryestimator

Figure 3. My very own salary calculator estimate! Keep in mind this does not take into consideration cost of living.  65K in Philadelphia is a lot less money than 65K in a suburban area of Virginia, for example.

3) Excel sheets are an awesome way to organize lists

There are 3 lists I would recommend using. I have blanked out these templates for your reference.

A. Job applied list.

excelsheet-jobapp-screenshot

Figure 4. Job applied Excel sheet.

I would recommend making a line entry per job position. I tried grouping all job positions under each company, but it ended up exceeded the text limit of the Excel cell. The great part is you can apply filters to group entries together if it helps you organize better. Also, under “No.” put the number of jobs applied entered in that line. That way you can do a SUM= formula in another cell to find out how many jobs you have applied to so far. I also tend to gray out jobs that have rejected me as an indication of when to start another job application party since I like to do them in large bulk at a time.

B. References list.

This is just handy so you don’t have to constantly go through your emails and phone for contact info.

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Figure 5. Reference contacts Excel sheet.

C. Contract comparison list (as mentioned before)

These lists modified could also help out if you are applying for programs, like grad schools.

jobenterkey

Best of luck and I hope this helps 2013 grads and everyone else looking for a job or program!

“I Could Be the One” Video

I saw this video on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s called “I Could Be the One (Nicktim)” a Avicii vs Nicky Romero mix. It’s quite a catchy song. Now, what I can’t decide is whether I like the video or not. I like that it perfectly describes how life can become so mundane and routine if you let it. I’m not a fan of the ending, though it kinda fit the crazy and somewhat vulgar themes of the video haha.

My First Career Fair

For the first time while attending school here, I wasn’t paired via Drexel’s coop database/pairing system. It works pretty much like any regular job application process, however, the jobs are searched through a system of employees the school has. It is set up in 3 rounds: A, B, C. Because it is through the school, positions and companies are pretty limited and competitive, but it’s a great learning tool for how job searching works.

As I said before, I wasn’t paired for my third internship, so I decided to sign-up for my school’s career fair. It was rather overwhelming for me because of the large number of companies that were there. Also, because I was looking for 6 months full time coop, not very much was available for me. There were mostly recruiters looking for permanent hires or graduating seniors.

I also attended a career fair workshop that tried to prepare me for what to expect and what to do to stand out to employees. I’d like the share them with you all below!

Before Fair:

  1. Proof read your resume! Preferably 1 page only. Make 20 copies to hand out to companies.
  2. Look ahead at the list of companies attending the career fair if possible. Highlight the ones that are related to your industry.
  3. DO RESEARCH. Companies love students who can relate their own experience to what they do. This is about you telling companies what you can offer to them, not only why you should would to work for them.
  4. “30 Second Commercial” – Think about what you want to say to each company. First impressions are very important! They always suggest starting with your name, major, what experience you have, what job you are looking for.

During Fair:

  1. Dress business professional. Suits are preferred, but neutral pants and tops are good as well. Neat hair, nails, and appearance are important, too.
  2. Breath mints, deodorant, shower. You are going to be talking to a lot of people, so don’t offend 🙂
  3. Take notes on companies that interest you. Ask for names & business cards. Ask good questions. Take free stuff from places you interact with!
  4. Give out resumes to companies where you share mutual interest. Some places will not take your resume, but will instead direct you to their online application.
  5. Handshakes when you introduce yourself and after talking are encouraged!
  6. Try not to get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the fair itself. There are a lot of booths, but remember to look at the map and directory.
  7. Don’t get discouraged if your industry/major is not emphasized at the fair. Try to be open minded and see where you can apply your work experiences as best you can.

After Fair:

  1. Send thank you emails to those you talked with.
  2. Follow up with any promises you made (like sending more information or resume to employers you interact with).
  3. Look up online companies that you were interested in but did not have the chance to talk with.

Hope this helps a bit!

Philadelphia Water Department Coop Internship

My very first internship was in the spring-summer terms of 2010 with the City of Philadelphia. I worked for the Water Department under the Aquatic Biology lab. What I did at the water lab was far from what I wanted to do with my future career. At the time I had my heart and soul set to be a doctor and nothing less. It was after this job that I realized I needed to expand my narrow mind of thinking (and have some fun with life and stop being so grave & serious about school).

Now, I won’t lie, when I first signed up for Drexel coops, I really thought I was going to be doing fancy stuff like synthesizing my own medicines and running my own experiments. But the naivety came with my young age, and I am not ashamed of it.

What I did At My Internship

The actually internship was pretty repetitive with the same daily tasks. My main duty was to run 2 (later 3) lab tests on drinking water from different water treatment plants across the Philadelphia area. We received about 60 to 75 samples on a daily basis and ran every day (including weekends, though I was not required to come in). Each sample was marked with a particular code which was associated with a certain area. The experiments I ran were specifically targeted to detect fecal colonies growing in the water (which would cause unhealthy living conditions if consumed by the good citizens of Philly).

One test had me filter the water through a thin membrane and culture it in broth. Another assay had me mix the water with agar which allowed for heterotrophic colonies to grow on it. The newer test we did a parallel study for simply put a tablet of chemicals in the sample and a color change & peak under fluorescent microscope would be indicative of a positive test. I never analyzed the results; my lab supervisors did all the counting of colonies and evaluations.

As my lab team warned me on my first day that by the time I got the hang of things, it only would only take me half the day to get my tasks done daily. Prep for assays early morning, wait for samples, run samples, clean up, basic lab sanitary maintenance & chemical restock work, throw out trash. That’s a straightforward run- down of a day in a life for a PWD coop. I got easily bored once my tasks were done, so I took 2 night classes (one per term) to keep my mind occupied on something.

Now if I sound like I hated my old job, that’s not true! I loved it so much and I could not have asked for a greater first coop.

Reason#1 I loved my 1st Internship: I LOVED MY LAB PEOPLE!

First of all, I really loved all the people I worked with at my old job. They were smart, witty, and funny. True sharped tongued and sarcastic city people. I really miss them. We would talk about random stories and facts, and I really felt like I learned a lot of about many things just listening to them. Also, they loved to eat like me! We would go out to cool places like the Navy Yard to have long lunches. Even the people I didn’t work directly with were awesome, too! I can’t remember one person who was not kind to me.

One of my most favorite supervisors reminded me of my dad. He told great stories, and he had such a great variety of jobs he used to do in the past. For example, he used to work as a microbiologist in a burn unit of a hospital trauma. He explained to me API tests for microoganisms and advised me to take Microbio (which I will be in this winter) because he found it to be the basis of a lot of medical things.  My lab team really made me feel like I was one of guys in the group, and I will never ever forget them for that.

On a more personal note, they were also there for me emotionally when my mother got sick. They gave me a private spot in the lab to cry & recollect my thoughts. They let me leave work right the day I found out she was in the hospital, no questions asked when I would get back.

Reason#2 I loved my 1st Internship: It Wasn’t a Hard Student to Worker Transition

Secondly, for a first internship, the job was relatively easy for me to pick up and learn how to do. I wasn’t losing sleep because I was overly stressed at work, and my lab technique improved with the months because my supervisors were there every step of the way whenever I needed to be trained. I also got a glimpse on how sterile and strict proper lab technique is in an industry job. It was a great way to “ease” me into the concept of the working world.

Also, this job taught me that if I am bored or have finished something, I should ALWAYS ask how I can help or do more. I got to do so much more than my job scope described because I would always assist my supervisors with their tasks. I didn’t just get to play with drinking water, but also industrial and waste water! I got to learn a lot more about algae identification, water treatment, and how exactly the water system worked because I always tried to be involved in work, even if my own tasks were done. This tidbit of wisdom helped me tremendously in my second internship.

Reason#3 I loved my 1st Internship: It Was Fun & the Commute Was Awesome

Of course I can’t ignore the fact that I genuinely had a crap load of fun during this internship. I was under a lot of stress from my personal life at the time (between my family, myself, my feelings, ect.), but I will always associate this job with happy memories. From playing video games during my breaks (portable gaming systems FTW!) to funny stories my supervisors told me and hanging out in the lab. The job had its tough moments (omg sample overload or mistakes I made), but for the most part it was a chill job. I got to train a high school student and met another Drexel coop. After conquering my anti-social complex I became friends with both of them.  During the later portion of my internship, the three of us would hang out and grab pizza or have lunch together every day. Sometimes I would try to sneak outside when the guys took their second break.

Another bonus was that because I worked for the city, I got a paid lunch and only had to work exactly 8 hours. I got in early and left early. This was fantastic because it was summer! The commute was short (I would say 45 minutes on a bad day) so I got to take classes on campus (thus leading to a slightly earlier graduation). Not having to work on the weekends meant I could hang out with my friends and play video games a lot. This also gave me my chance to fulfill one of my dreams & start volunteering at a museum!

Conclusion (What I learned besides how to test drinking water)

So overall it was a great coop and amazing people were met that I was fortunate enough have entered my life. Strangely, I realized how much I love school. After 6 months of only taking a few classes, I was itching in September to hit the books (which lead to the 2 strongest academic terms I have completed to date. Ironic because before this coop, I was sick of school because I kept performing horribly in classes >.<). Suffice to say, I wasn’t ready to jump into the everyday life of a working person just yet.

I also found out that I would not fare well working in a lab doing repetitive tasks, which was great because sometimes knowing what you DON’T want to do helps you figure out what you DO want to do with your life. I would never call any of my jobs a “waste of my time” because everything you do, even if it doesn’t seem relevant at the time, does contribute to the bigger picture that is your future. Skills can be obtained, but more importantly wisdom can be, too.