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Oct 10 / Sarah Sheesley

Q&A with Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Pharmacology

Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Pharmacology

BS, Biology, Aquinas College, 2009

Joanna is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Pharmacology at Wayne State who participated in the BEST Program during 2016-17. She entered the business track and completed an internship at Proteos, a contract research organization, during the summer of 2017. She says that the BEST program helped her to make the decision to pursue a career in industry after her anticipated graduation in spring 2018.

Q. Why did you decide to apply to the BEST program?

I was having a lot of thoughts about transitioning into a career in industry, but I didn’t want to make a decision without knowing what I was getting into. BEST seemed like a good way to test the waters.

Q. When did you decide that you didn’t want to pursue the academic track, and how did BEST help you in your decision?

Participating in the BEST career exploration solidified my decision to pursue a career in industry, rather than academia.

I love research and benchwork, but I have my reservations about the academic research timeline. In academia, you can spend years working on the same disease, protein, pathway, and so on. There have been times during my Ph.D. where this “neverending” timeline made me feel like I was drowning in experiments and data that didn’t seem to have much of a purpose. Working at Proteos was great because the project timelines were much shorter, sometimes even just a matter of days or weeks. Upon completing a project, you could actually see the physical protein your work yielded for the client. You feel very productive when you can look back on all you’ve accomplished in such a short time. This business approach to research really appealed to me, and it is something I hope to continue with after graduation.

Q. Can you describe what you did during your internship?

I participated in an internship at Proteos, which is a contract research company primarily serving the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. They provide protein expression, purification, and analytical services to their clients. My daily responsibilities included producing recombinant protein in bacteria, purifying protein through affinity or size exclusion chromatography, and analyzing protein yield through SDS-PAGE, HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography), and other biochemical techniques. Upon completion of a project, I was responsible for writing a technical report that detailed the results for the client.

I found that this work was a good fit for me.

I also learned a lot about working together as a team. I worked with the Protein Purification team, which was a very close-knit group. We all had a combination of solo and shared projects. For the shared projects, this often meant one person would begin the project and carry it out to a certain point, and then the next person would take over until project completion. Communication, organization, and trust were all required to carry this out effectively. Each week we had company-wide staff meetings to review all of the projects that were currently in the pipeline. Although I personally did not present at every meeting, listening was still a great way to learn how to effectively communicate the status of a project to the rest of the team. At the end of the summer, I presented my work to the company via an oral presentation.

Q. What did you learn about the skills you had (and those you needed to work on) during your BEST experience?

I gained proficiency in biochemical techniques including size exclusion chromatography, analytical HPLC, thermal shift analysis, and autoinduction of recombinant protein expression. I learned about the relationship and communication between Proteos and its clients through the technical reports and the customer relations software that they use.

I felt that my lab experiences and participation in BEST activities prepared me for the internship.

Q. What advice do you have for graduate students who are struggling with what direction to take with their careers?

If your gut is telling you to explore options outside of academia, don’t be afraid to pursue those experiences. It’s never too soon to start looking. You should confirm that track is indeed what you want before you close any doors. BEST can help!

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

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