Trainees get behind-the-scenes insights into scientific careers through mini-internships

BEST trainees gather under the MedImmune sign
Trainees in Virginia Tech’s BEST program undertook a series of mini-internships, including one in the Gaithersburg, Maryland, headquarters of MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca. Pictured with them are the program co-directors, Michael Friedlander (back row, fifth from left) and Audra Van Wart (back row, third from right).

Virginia Tech’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training program—known as the BEST program—recently hosted a series of short, intensive internships at several biotechnology companies.

The BEST program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, supports professional developmental activities for doctoral students and postdoctoral trainees in the biomedical sciences. These trainees participate in a range of educational opportunities, including a series of on-campus mini-internships.

In early August, the program went on the road for the first time, with 16 trainees visiting four biomedical companies in Virginia and Maryland.

The host sites included two Charlottesville, Virginia–based companies: Diffusion Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company with a major focus of the development of novel combinatorial treatments for malignant brain tumors, and Hemoshear Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on understanding human disease biology with proprietary discoveries in metabolic, cardiovascular, and inflammatory disorders and unique in-vitro platforms composed of normal and diseased human tissue for evaluating new therapeutics.

Trainees also visited the Gaithersburg, Maryland, headquarters of MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, and Perthera, a McLean, Virginia–based company that uses state-of-the-art diagnostic tools and comprehensive multi-omic molecular profiling for design and delivery of personalized cancer therapies.

“The visits provided exciting glimpses into the companies’ technology platforms, leading research projects, business plans, and career opportunities for students and early-career scientists in the biomedical sciences,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and co-director of the BEST program. “It was an educational and enriching experience for all of us.”

The trainees also had the chance to meet with company leaders.

“The trainees were given deep insights into the inner workings, scientific decision-making, and real-world economic forces at play in implementing strategic health care innovations and investments,” Friedlander said. “Our hosts were particularly gracious and welcoming. The entire group not only received an enormous amount of useful information, but they also made contacts that will likely be helpful in their future careers. I think it was eye-opening for the trainees to see how ideas and discoveries move out of the lab and into the real world to affect people’s lives.”

Audra Van Wart also co-directs the program.

“It was an excellent opportunity for scientific trainees to be exposed to the different professional environments and business models found in the biomedical industry,” said Van Wart, who is also the director of education and training at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. ”They also gained insight into the skills needed to prepare for industry careers.”

Participating trainees include postdoctoral fellows from Virginia Tech’s Department of Biochemistry, the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, and the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, as well as Virginia Tech graduate students in biological systems engineering; biomedical engineering; electrical engineering; human nutrition, foods, and exercise; molecular, cellular, developmental, and computational biology; and translational biology, medicine, and health.

In 2013, Virginia Tech became one of ten academic institutions to receive a first-of-its-kind BEST grant from the National Institutes of Health to help prepare graduate students and postdoctoral scholars for biomedical research careers that could take them beyond conventional academic research. The Virginia Tech program provides exposure to multiple diverse career paths in the biomedical sciences, early career guidance and skill development, and preparation for pursuit of a variety of career paths.

Early-career scientists interested in participating in future BEST program activities may learn more on the BEST website. Additional opportunities will be announced this fall.

Written by Ashley WennersHerron