This past summer I had the great privilege of working at a pharmaceutical company as a high school intern. I spent seven weeks in and out of the lab working on my own research project, which was (in a very, very broad sense) developing a cure for obesity. In actuality, what I accomplished in those seven weeks was a mere cog in the grand scheme of gears turning to make this project a reality, but the skills I developed in the process were invaluable. Being exposed to a professional workplace setting while also taking on the responsibility of managing my own project made for an incredible learning experience.
One of the main things the company I worked for prides itself on is exposing young people to the realities of a career in pharmaceutical science. I can definitely say that it was quite unlike anything I expected. Within my first two weeks there, I was working directly with my own cells. Being given responsibility for living creatures was a big step for me as an intern, but above all it was exciting. On top of that, the laboratory equipment was beyond anything I’d ever imagined seeing, much less using. The bulk of my experiment involved using confocal microscopy to image slides of my cells using lasers, and one microscope can cost upwards of half a million dollars. Getting to use this cutting edge technology really elevated my experience and fueled my interest in continuing my studies in the field.
We had a program within the internship itself that focused on building problem-solving and presentation skills. One of the big things we did during the summer was to develop a ten minute oral presentation on research topic that interested us, and to present it and hold a discussion with our peers and their mentors. I decided to do mine on hepatic regenesis in human subjects, for which I had to dig up some fairly obscure scientific literature. Obviously, this isn’t information that I’ll likely ever need to use again, but I learned a ton about researching and presenting in a way that school just doesn’t provide. Like my research project, the entire presentation was done independently. I had to understand my topic inside and out to be able to present fluently, and most importantly, field questions on the spot at the end. In today’s professional world, presenting and defending your work is an essential skill, and one that is unfortunately under-emphasized in our current school system. Many people, myself included up until this summer, are able to get through high school without ever having to exercise these critical components that lead to workplace success. In the end, whether I decide to pursue science or not, the experiences I’ve had and the skills I’ve learned in my time working in the lab will serve me well, wherever I go.
Graphic: Erin Kim