Owning My Own Project While Interning in the UK

Current student Sanjana Rao talks about her internship at UCB and how she'll apply the lessons she's learning to her remaining time in Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program.

Sanjana Rao — a student in Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP) — is currently in the United Kingdom, where she's interning with UCB, a global biopharmaceutical company. UCB's office is in Slough, approximately 20 miles west of London. 

Rao's internship lasts until Christmas when she'll return to Evanston to complete her final two quarters in MBP. She recently talked about what she's been working on at UCB, why she wanted to intern in the UK, and how she thinks she will be able to apply the lessons learned through this experience to the rest of her time in MBP as well as her professional career. 

What are your roles and responsibilities at UCB?

I have been assigned a project to work on under the supervision of Dr. Nicola Roberts that involves developing and fine-tuning a high throughput protein purification process using microscale and robotics. I'm working on the downstream aspect of antibody production. My project is aimed at reducing the overall time required for the development of a process for a new project that comes to the downstream purification team. I am also expected to present my results, decisions about the experiment and plans for the project to my department.

What was it about this opportunity that appealed to you?

The appeal of this opportunity was two-fold for me. The first was that process development is an area I'm extremely interested in pursuing a career in after MBP, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me. The second part of the appeal was that since the position was in the UK, it gave me an opportunity to travel to a new country and gain more diverse experiences with the culture and the industry here.

What are some of the most important things you've learned from this experience?

I believe the most important aspect of my experience here has been working with a good functioning team. Also, having a separate project to myself and being accountable for outcomes of the project, analyzing outcomes and then deciding on the direction of the project with guidance from my supervisor, were experiences that have contributed immensely toward my growth as a good scientific researcher. 

How do you think you'll be able to apply lessons learned from the internship to the rest of your time in MBP and your career after graduation?

I look at this experience as the building blocks on top of the foundation that MBP provided me as I move toward my goal of a career in biotechnology. I have a clearer understanding of the direction I want to take to reach my goal. I believe this experience will also help me when I come back to MBP for the remaining two quarters of my coursework. I am looking forward to integrating my experience with the academic coursework I have to complete at MBP.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Deciding to take this position and gain industry experience was a decision, in hindsight, I'm extremely glad I made, and I am beyond grateful to MBP for giving me this opportunity.