How an internship can be useful

Are you not sure about whether you want to be a researcher? If you’re in high school, you still have time to decide. But an internship can definitely give you clarity about what you want to do. My first internship was at the Molecular Biophysics Unit at the Indian Institute of Science last year under Prof. Raghavan Varadarajan.

Ever since the beginning of 11th grade, I knew that biology was my favourite subject. I just wasn’t sure if it was research that I wanted to pursue. This opportunity gave me experience outside my school lab. When I first entered the lab, I barely understood what I would be doing there for the next one week- “checking the antibacterial action of a CcdB based peptide”. But as my PhD student mentor explained it to me, it became clear that I could understand much more than I thought I could. The internship made me see peptides, DNA and other biology terms in a new way- a hands-on way. I felt more connected to the subject than ever. Everything that I studied in textbooks was suddenly coming to life.

Research in a professional lab is very different. I used all sorts of equipment which I was fascinated by. The first day I just watched, but by the fifth day I could use them without assistance. I was introduced to the lovely world of micro-pipettes, and I realized the importance of precision while measuring a quantity to six decimal places. Even a tad too much pressure on the micro-pipette can cause the whole experiment to go wrong, which is what happened to my agarose gel electrophoresis. After this experience, I am much more careful about precision while working in my school lab. Other new apparatus I used were the spectrophotometer, the Nanodrop, mass spectrometer, centrifuge, incubator, transilluminator, Biolog and flow cytometry. Most of these words will probably just breeze past you, but believe me, one week is enough time to remember them for the rest of your life. The internship also forced me to think more than I usually do. I had to do more advanced calculations and use my judgement in various situations. In that one week, I grew more as a person than I did in months.

While working in the lab, you become familiar not only with the apparatus, but also with the people. I made friends with many of the PhD students. I ate lunch with them and they were kind enough to give me sweets and a special pen. But more than these material gifts, they gave me invaluable advice, and the warning that research isn’t easy. They said that it sometimes feels like there is no end in sight and no purpose to their research. You must be extremely passionate about your subject of choice to be a researcher. This uncertainty is the only part of research that scares me.

From the hustle and bustle of the lab, to the feel of apparatus in your hand, the internship gave me a glimpse into what my future as a researcher might look like. It also gave me invaluable friends and career guides. After this internship, I knew that I wanted to be a researcher and work in that environment. Though a good internship will be hard work, you come out of it a person with more clarity about what you want to do.

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