Internships at the GMP Facility: Our short experiences as Mentees
News Article by Brianna Shares, PhD Candidate in Cell Biology of Diseases, and Robert Maynard, PhD Candidate in Cell Biology of Disease
Brianna’s experience: I joined URBEST during my second year of graduate school to start delving into career exploration. I know, it may seem early, but anyone who knows me knows I am not one to procrastinate on anything. During the orientation for URBEST I learned about internships and I knew I would want to take advantage of that during my more senior years. Now, here I am, in my fourth year of graduate school, learning the advantages of URBEST and my ability to do a paid internship, while still finishing up my PhD work.
I came into graduate school knowing my end goal was to work in industry within the realm of cancer therapeutics. I have never wanted to end up in academia. Therefore, when a Biomanufacturing class was offered I took it, even though that meant taking a class while trying to qualify. The class was run by Luisa Caetano Davies, the manager (and now Director) of the cGMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) facility located at the University of Rochester. Throughout class, I became even more interested in industry through the various industrial speakers who came for lectures. However, it was not until the Leadership Management for Scientists course offered by Tracey Baas and Eric Vaughn that I took advantage of talking with Luisa outside of the classroom about her path through an informational interview.
During the informational interview with Luisa, I learned of the cGMP’s ability to take on interns, along with potential projects coming down the pipeline that dealt with cancer immunotherapy! The cGMP is set up much like industry, with clinical products being manufactured according to a specific protocol in a sterile environment. After talking with my PI and with Tracey about potentially doing a paid internship, I was able to start working with Luisa and the team at the facility through URBEST. This internship is flexible in that since it is located in UR’s basement, I can still complete my PhD while devoting 8-10 hours a week at the facility, which made the decision to do an internship with Luisa that much easier.
My internship at the cGMP facility will last for one year (June 2018 to June 2019), which means I will able to get a lot of hands on experience, not only manufacturing but also documentation. Both aspects are crucial in any industry setting. Almost every job posting I have looked at calls for GMP experience, and at the facility, I am getting that and more. So far in my internship I have aided in a successful tech transfer (I actually was able to go to the biotech company with Luisa to learn about their process!), wrote Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and am working on qualifying and validating a process, all the while getting hands on experience in the cleanroom watching and aiding in the manufacturing process. Taking this internship has helped me solidify my decision about my future, further confirming my want to go into industry for cancer therapeutics while also increasing my skill set to land such a job after my PhD.
Robert’s experience: I was going into my 5th year in the Cell Biology of Disease program, searching for a non-academic career in science and determining what skills and experiences would make me more competitive in my job interviews. I had already joined the URBEST program back in 2017 and was attending both URBEST and Center for Professional Development (CPD) seminars and career stories to gather as much information as I could. One of the ways to determine what skills would be beneficial to future employers is to simply look at job postings and see which skills you have or don’t have. I noticed a recurring theme in the job descriptions: GMP experience was commonly a preferred or required qualification. If you’re thinking ‘what on earth is GMP?’ you’re not alone. A quick internet search gave me my answer: Good Manufacturing Practice (hence GMP) is essentially the standard for manufacturing and testing a product, such as a pharmaceutical drug, so that it is safe for human use. GMP was something that I had no experience with, so I decided to do something about it.
Even though I’d already prematurely celebrated taking my “last class ever” years before, I decided to enroll in MBI 406 Biomanufacturing. One look at the syllabus was enough to convince me that it was worth my time since the schedule was filled with lecturers from a variety of well-known biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, Vaccinex, and others. The course material was directly relevant to careers in industry and ranged from the basics of GMP to upstream and downstream biomanufacturing processes. Each in-house and visiting lecturer provided a different perspective of biomanufacturing, the current techniques used by top companies, and an inside view of how biotech companies operate. After class, we had the opportunity to have (free!) lunch with the guest speakers and ask questions about the material, career choices, or even how to purchase homes for rental income (yes, that actually happened). Taking this course is an excellent way to learn about biomanufacturing, to meet and network with people in industry, and it will be an asset during your job interviews.
Another benefit to taking this course is that it introduced me to Dr. Luisa Caetano-Davies, the course director for MBI 406 and Facility Manager (now Director) at the Upstate Stem Cell cGMP Facility (USCGF). I agreed to do an internship at the USCGF to gain experience in GMP production. Although I’ve only recently begun the internship, I’ve already learned a tremendous amount. I’m gaining experience by modifying batch records and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for use in the production of a specific cell-based cancer immunotherapy, observing and checking the work of the manufacturing process from delivery of human samples to the collection of the clinical product, and will be developing a protocol for the qualification of equipment and techniques for storage of the final product. In addition to the production and GMP experience, I also have had opportunities to work alongside and network with scientists from industry. Networking; we all hear about it, some of us do it, but it is absolutely essential. The hidden job market is real. Whether you hear the statistic from Eric Vaughn at the CPD, or some obscure website on the internet, at least 6 out of 10 jobs are never posted. With that in mind, go network.
My internship opportunity has already been and will continue to be beneficial to me in many ways. So, if you haven’t already, go ahead and join URBEST, register for a professional development or biomanufacturing course, consider an internship, or, most importantly, network! You’ll be glad you did!
Read the mentor's perspective about the GMP Facility
Tracey Baas |