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Do an internship!

Leah Johnson (joined the program in 2018)
Participation in the Plant Biotechnology for Health and Sustainability (PBHS) program has been an indispensable part of my graduate school training. Through the required coursework and events, I was able to meet leaders in industry, government, and academia to discuss how science is accomplished in the various work environments, such as how the goals and applications differ to drive the research questions. It has also been an opportunity to learn more about the current state of innovation, which has guided some of the classes and other training opportunities that I have taken to better prepare myself for the job market. This, in combination with the internship experience, has helped inform my career choices as I narrow down where I would like to go after graduate school. My internship was at a small start-up company, and I was able envision myself in a similar career path in the long-term. The funding allowed me to focus on my research full-time, and I am currently preparing a review and a manuscript from the work completed while funded by PBHS. My research publication will focus on the regulation of specialized metabolism by the plant hormone, jasmonate, and my review discusses the role of jasmonate signaling in senescence programming. Because the events sponsored by the PBHS program are largely student-driven, I was able to gain experience in planning the symposia and managing large-scale events, and additionally, I was able to make important connections with the speakers. The experiences the PBHS program has provided me are invaluable and I am very thankful to be a part of it.

Ron Cook (joined the program in 2018)

My internship from January to March 2020 was at Terragen Biotech, a small agricultural biotech company in Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Terragen develops microbial mixtures for use as animal feed supplements and soil conditioners for plants. Their soil conditioner product, Great Land, has been demonstrated to increase productivity in a wide range of crops, including ryegrass-based cattle pastures, avocados, and sugarcane. I was involved in R&D projects aimed at better understanding how the microbes in Great Land interact with the plants and affect the soil environment, with the goal of applying this knowledge to further development of the product. My work was primarily focused on developing reproducible laboratory assays for testing Great Land’s effect on plant growth in the presence of various biotic and abiotic environmental factors. In addition to research and development, this was also a great opportunity to learn first-hand about product distribution, customer relations, regulatory compliance, and corporate structure, as everything was discussed in the same small space. I would like to thank the PBHS program for the support that made this internship possible, which also included assistance for travel costs. 

Alshae' Ravelle Logan (Joined the program in 2016)
I completed a summer internship at BASF Plant Science in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. This internship lasted 10 weeks, from June 4th until August 10th, 2018.  During this time, I contributed to several microbial screening activities. The goal of the research project was to identify bio-control agents, which protect wheat from disease. Identifying and understanding how bio-control agents work could help researchers increase crop resilience. As a part of my research project at BASF Plant Science, I established new and modified existing protocols, shadowed my colleagues in conducting research, attended and observed professional meetings, and suggested new ideas for follow-up research. Alongside my efforts for my primary project, I was able to make several different professional contacts within BASF Plant Science by shadowing different people in varied job functions. Experiencing plant biotech research provided a breadth of knowledge on how the BASF Plant Science pipeline operates from gene annotation, vector construction, all the way to plant management. I adapted to a new working environment and worked effectively and collaboratively in a team setting, which is critical to the team itself and the success of the entire pipeline. Working in industry and shadowing people, I learned that creativity, critical thinking, communication, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills are very important because the nature of the work changes rapidly in the industrial sector. Important aspects that I learned for working successfully in industry are flexibility and a need to be proactive, which prepare you to adapt to new situations when they arise. With this fundamental experience, I was exposed to a breadth of knowledge in plant pathology. This expanded knowledge will be beneficial to my future due to my exposure to underlying principles of plant disease management. This experience was invaluable to me as I was able to enrich the skills obtained in my core training, through my participation in the Plant Biotechnology Research Forum at Michigan State, and expanded my professional network.

Angélica V. Medina-Cucurella (Joined the program in 2016)
I performed an internship at GigaGen in South San Francisco, California from May 14th to September 14th, 2018.  GigaGen is a biotherapeutics company that seeks to investigate natural immune system dysregulation, to characterize every immune cell, and to deliver the new generation of oncology antibody therapies. During this time, I was involved in two research projects. As a part of the screening for high-affinity antibodies pipeline, my role was to explore the potential benefits of using full-length proteins to identify superior candidates. For this purpose, I modified existing protocols to sort multiple sets of antibody libraries against membrane proteins in a cell lysate and to compare these enriched antibodies with the ones obtained by using the soluble form of the proteins. Along with this project, I conducted a proof-of-principle study to establish a standardized protocol to determine the binding sites of individual monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Our primary goal was to use comprehensive mutagenesis of specific target antigens and high-throughput sequencing to map the epitope positions of selected mAbs.  Moreover, these projects allowed me to implement some methods developed in my doctoral research. Indeed, these new pipelines will be continued by other scientists. By the end of those 18 weeks, I learned to work in collaboration with a team of interdisciplinary scientists in an industrial environment, gained knowledge of a new area of research, and expanded my professional network. Undoubtedly, being part of the GigaGen team gave me valuable experiences that have influenced in my future endeavors.

Adam Seroka (Joined the program in 2016)
My 2018 summer internship was spent with DuPont-Pioneer at their Bay Area Innovation Center, a research site in Hayward California that focuses on generating new agricultural traits for their target crops. One of the major projects of this site was to screen diverse microbial and plant species to identify novel compounds that target problematic agricultural pests and pathogens. My research project on the biodiversity screening pipeline focused on two aspects; improving the abundance of these novel compounds in microbial and plant samples, along with characterizing and isolating some of these active compounds using various biochemical and chromatographic techniques. By the end of the internship, I had found a treatment method that enhanced production of a subset of these actives in plants, along with confirming biochemical properties of some of these active compounds. Because of the monumental amount of research required to develop novel agricultural products, I gained a profound respect for the sheer magnitude of collaboration between multiple interdisciplinary research groups on-site. Working within the company, I also had the unique opportunity to interact with collaborators at smaller local biotechnology companies and universities to see how research projects are managed across institutions. My time at DuPont-Pioneer was an exceptional opportunity to see how such a large biotech company conducts research and gain exposure to new research methods and disciplines in a unique setting.

Danielle Young (Joined the program in 2017)
I completed a 12 week internship at Synthetic Genomics Inc. in La Jolla, California from June to August 2018. My internship project in algal biofuels was focused on generating protoplasts in a saltwater alga of interest. Protoplasts are cells that have had their cell wall removed, and they can be useful in improving the transformation efficiency and DNA extraction efficiency of organisms. I developed a protocol to generate viable protoplasts in the alga of interest, and methods to quantify the proportion of cells in a population that were protoplasts. I worked with the Tool Development team to transform the protoplasted cells, and my methods ultimately led to higher transformation efficiency. Although my project was in Tool Development, I was able to collaborate with several people in Phototrophic Systems to explore other applications of protoplasted cells. My internship was an excellent opportunity to explore industry and conduct research for a company, and it has helped clarify my interests and what I wish to pursue after graduate school.

Daniel Lybrand (Joined the program in 2015)
I performed an internship at Synthetic Genomics, Inc. in La Jolla, California from June to September 2017. During this time, I evaluated various methods of growing photosynthetic microbes for accumulation of proteins of interest and continued this work by improving existing methods for protein extraction and purification. I also investigated methods of cleaving and isolating protein-bound small molecules. The products I worked with have numerous commercial and industrial applications as well as significant economic value. I was able to test the effectiveness of methods at lab scale and also to assess the feasibility of scale-up for industrial production. While my assignment was in the Phototrophic Support department, I also worked closely with a number of scientists in other research departments as well as members of the Marketing and Downstream Processing divisions.

Brian St. Aubin (Joined the program in 2015)
My internship during the summer of 2017 with 3Bar Biologics in Columbus, Ohio was a rewarding and exciting experience. 3Bar Biologics is a relatively young company that develops products to modify the microbiome of agricultural soils to improve crop productivity. My role at 3Bar involved improvement and validation of their bacterial delivery system that farmers use to boost crop yield. Working at a relatively early stage company provided me with exposure to a large number of activities during the internship. I conducted research, helped others with their projects, streamlined workflows, set up new equipment, established new and modified existing protocols, participated in collaborations with academics, visited a farm where the product is being put to use, presented findings to management, and contributed my scientific prospective to marketing.  Interning for a small company that is part of a startup-incubator provided me with an insider’s view of small company culture and operations. In addition to learning about a new area of science and technology, one of the highlights was getting to meet a wide variety of people inside and outside of the company and expand my professional network.

Colleen Friel (Joined the program in 2014)
I did an internship with Spartan Innovations at Michigan State University from September 2015 to April 2016. I worked on a team composed of business students and STEM PhD to assess the commercialization potential of technologies developed by MSU faculty. We identified possible applications for the technologies, conducted market research for these applications, and ultimately determined the viability of the technology for licensing or commercial production.

Bryan Leong (Joined the program in 2014)
I performed an internship at Synthetic Genomics in La Jolla, California from May 23rd to August 12th, 2016. My project involved developing and refining methods used to extract and quantify compounds of interest in multiple phototrophic organisms. The goal of the internship was to assess whether the selected strain would be viable for commercial development. I successfully developed and refined the technique involved in extracting the compound of interest, in addition to quantifying the amount of the compound produced in that organism. Additionally, I worked on characterizing DNA binding targets of different proteins of interest that the company had identified in the course of their strain development. This project is being continued by other scientists at SGI. Overall, the internship was a great experience, and I learned about the atmosphere and collaboration model that exists at SGI. Each of the teams that I observed worked together closely to solve the problems that they encountered. It was an enlightening experience, and has better prepared me for a potential career in industry.

Tomomi Takeuchi (Joined the program in 2014)
I completed my industrial internship at Abbott Laboratories in Wiesbaden, Germany from June 6th to August 26th, 2016. Abbott Laboratories seek to advance cutting-edge science and technologies with a potential to significantly improve human health and health care. For my internship, I was in the Wiesbaden Abbott Diagnostics Division, which is the major manufacturing site of Abbott diagnostic products in Europe, including immunoassay-based test kits for the detection of hepatitis A, B, and C, HIV and Toxoplasma gondii induced antibodies*. Within the division, I was in the department of Investigation and Customer Support (ICS), where I gained experience working with a team of scientists to troubleshoot manufacturing problems relating to its array of diagnostic kits in an industrial setting. I learned that ensuring and controlling the quality of products is an essential process to the company since compromised diagnostic products have many severe implications. Therefore, ICS worked closely with the quality system to find the root cause of the observed issue and implement a corrective action to ensure that the problem does not reoccur. I learned that communications between different groups are essential in achieving a common goal, and overall, it was a great opportunity to experience and get insights into how biotech industries operate.