It’s an old Catch-22 situation: Students at the Georgia Institute of Technology want jobs in the life science industry, but they often need experience to get the gig. So, what do they do?
“Students ask me all the time, ‘how do I approach life science companies, how do I get my foot in the door,’” says Cynthia Sundell, director of life science industry collaborations for the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, and Georgia Tech’s Office of Industry Collaboration. “Summer internships are a great way to open those doors.”
This summer, there is a new door for students to walk through. Sundell is spearheading a student innovation internship program with two of Georgia Tech’s biotech industry partners. Ten students from multiple disciplines will spend the summer working at pharmaceutical company UCB’s U.S. headquarters in Smyrna, and two students from the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) will work for Boston Scientific in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
“Our students will see what the working world looks like, and get a sense of a company’s unique corporate environment, which is important because all companies are different. Their cultures are different,” says Sundell, who has taken a ‘One Georgia Tech’ approach to the new internship program. Life Science companies often require diverse expertise that crosses over multiple schools and academic units at Tech. So, the summer interns represent a wide range of disciplines. In addition to BME, other areas represented by the student interns are mechanical engineering (ME), bioinformatics, industrial & systems engineering (ISYE), computer science, statistics, and business administration.
The students serving internships at UCB, and their disciplines, are: Stephanie Alberts, BME, undergrad; Sophia Pan, ME, Ph.D. candidate; Hamid Hassanzadeh, Bioinformatics, Ph.D. candidate; Hang Wu, BME, Ph.D. candidate; Stephanie Zhang, BME, undergrad; Kartik Kaila, ISYE, masters candidate; Yanjun Zhu, ISYE, master’s candidate; Nikhil Howlett, computer science, undergrad; Kaiyan Ding, statistics, master’s candidate; Divad Miles, business administration, undergrad. Spending the summer with Boston Scientific are Katherine Neuberger, an undergrad, and Jada Selma, a Ph.D. candidate, both from BME.
“These are high quality people going into high quality internships,” Sundell says. “It’s great experience for them, but it’s also good for the companies, because they’re getting a glimpse into the future workforce. What companies want, the reason they come to Georgia Tech, are our students, which is our greatest resource.”
At both locations, students will play important roles in helping to chart each company’s path going forward. Boston Scientific wants its interns to research new medical innovation opportunities. The students will research regulatory and reimbursement landscapes for different opportunities and help decide whether the technology fits with the company’s strategic direction.
“Both companies want students that are going to be creative in helping to solve some interesting problems,” Sundell says.
Bruce Lavin, UCB’s vice president heading up the medical neurology division, sees this as an opportunity to engage with the next generation of scientists and engineers, “brilliant minds that have not yet been exposed to the pharmaceutical industry,” he says.
In a sense, the students at UCB will help the company discover more about itself.
“We want to tap into their knowledge and passion,” says Lavin, who will personally mentor four of the students. “We’ll present them with challenges we’re facing, such as, how do we bring greater value to our partners and make a difference for our patients suffering from neurological diseases. As an organization, we’re involved in dialogue with healthcare practitioners and scientific thought leaders in the area of neurology. How do we capture the experience and the value of those encounters?”
When Lavin says "capture the experience," he imagines something like Yelp, a crowd-sourced business review and social networking website, or TripAdvisor, a site where vacationers can rate their experiences.
“How do we come up with a way to coordinate and consolidate all the experiences that our thought leaders and healthcare providers are gaining from their interactions with us,” Lavin says. “How do we identify the impact we’re having as an organization? At the present time, there is no systematic way to do this. We’re looking for these students to help come up with solutions.”
He likens it to the Google approach. “I call it ‘student sourcing.’ We present them with problems and let them work together on the solutions.”
Lavin sees his job as a mentor to ensure a meaningful experience for the interns – to make sure they are deployed in the most appropriate way, not relegated to doing tasks such as editing papers or updating files, “but truly challenged,” he says.
“These students are pioneers, the first students to come into our neurology unit. We want their experience at UCB to be the most rewarding, worthwhile experience they can have over the course of a summer.”
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience