Deciding Between Industry and Academia

William 'Dubby' Wiseman (MBP '18) reflects on how his internship prepared him for his current work as a Research Associate at Zymergen.

When he was an undergraduate, William "Dubby" Wiseman (MBP '18) focused his energy on chemical engineering, but he later discovered that it was actually biology that he had a true passion for. He decided to enroll in the Master of Science in Biotechnology program (MBP) at Northwestern University because he felt it gave him the best opportunity to marry those two interests.

William 'Dubby' WisemanOne thing Dubby was not as sure of was whether he wanted to build a career in academia or industry. Wiseman felt that the MBP optional internship would go a long way in helping him make that decision. And he was right.

Today, Dubby is a Research Associate at Zymergen, which integrates automation, machine learning, and genomics to rapidly accelerate the pace of scientific advancement.

Wiseman took time to reflect on his internship and the role it played in his career choice, as well as his overall MBP experience.

What was it about MBP that first appealed to you?

My undergraduate studies were in chemical engineering, but I found, from working in a laboratory, that biology was a subject that I was more passionate about. MBP provided an opportunity to tune my chemical engineering training to a biological setting. In addition, it provided me a better environment to experience both industry and academia, and decide which of the two was the better path for me.

Where did you do your internship?

I did my internship at Genentech in South San Francisco, California.

What were your responsibilities during your internship?

I was in the Purification Development department, but my specific role was as part of an interdepartmental team which expressed reagents for use within the company in various protein-based assays.

What were some highlights from your internship experience?

The biggest highlight for me was when my managers gave me the opportunity to oversee the purification of a reagent without any assistance. In this series of experiments, I had the chance not only to design and execute from the ground up, but also to coordinate with multiple people across departments to make sure that the assay was successful.

Another highlight was the company’s Genentech Gives Back week, where I was able to participate in various charity workshops, such as packaging food for third world countries and acting as a chaperone for a science field trip.

What were two or three things you learned from your internship?

The biggest thing that I learned was how to communicate with a variety of groups within a large organization. Up until that point, rarely did I need to reach out to more than one person to get a job done, but at Genentech, I was able to participate in both large and small teams working toward a goal.

On a more scientific note, I gained a lot of respect for those who are skilled at protein purification. Two different proteins will rarely, if ever, behave exactly the same when purified using the same methods, and the research associates and scientists whom I worked with were able to look at preliminary information about each reagent coming through, and design and tweak their platforms in order to obtain the highest purity and yield.

How important is the internship to the overall MBP experience?

I think the internship is a vital part of the MBP experience. Entering the program, I was very indecisive with regards to pursuing a PhD or entering the industry, and exposure to the real world outside academia greatly helped shape my decision.

How would you describe your MBP experience?

I thoroughly enjoyed my MBP experience. The core classes of the program were all directly applicable to the industrial internship and beyond. In addition, being a part of a cohort with a myriad of backgrounds made the program even more enjoyable.

How do you describe what you do in your current role at Zymergen?

At Zymergen, I’m part of a development team that engineers different strains of microbes to produce chemicals for industrial and consumer use.

How did MBP prepare you for your current role?

For my current role, MBP’s laboratory requirement helped me solidify my molecular and synthetic biology techniques, which have been a huge boon in my current role.