A Paid Internship: Money is Not the Only Benefit

BioXFEL internship

By Kara Zielinski
B.S. in Biophysics
(Expected 2018)

My name is Kara Zielinski, a sophomore biophysics major, and I would like to talk to you about the benefits of a paid internship. I know that may not make too much sense; the benefit is in the money itself, right?

A lot of people are convinced, especially while going to school in DC, that paid internships are a myth or only reserved for your junior or senior year. So, how could there be something more than just finding an internship that pays in the first place? The summer after my freshman year, I had an internship with the X-Ray Free Electron Laser National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center. It sounds super fancy, but basically I just had an internship with a lab at Arizona State University that was part of a highly collaborative network.

The plus in it for me was that they had lots of money to fund their internship program and I was essentially integrated into this huge network of people all within this field. The internship program paid for my flights, housing and provided a stipend. Going into it, I could not really ask for anything more. When I got there, the perks of the internship only seemed to keep growing. The first day there the other interns and I were more formally introduced to X-Ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs), as they are the center of the Science Technology Center and our internship program. This is when I started to realize money was not going to be the only perk as I got to learn how cutting edge XFELs truly are. They basically give high-resolution pictures at the atomic level, which has huge implications for both biological and chemical research as the structures of many molecules can be determined and this will help elucidate their function.

This immediately inspired me to work really hard in my lab because I was just so excited about the technology itself. My project was to purify a protein from the SARS virus so that we could use the XFEL to determine its structure. This requires a high yield of pure protein, which is not the easiest task. However, I immediately wanted to achieve this. So I worked hard to improve upon my bench work and started reading as many articles as possible. I kept very detailed notes about these articles and different methods that had been useful for other researchers. I made sure to bring these up in group meetings and talk to people that had experience in this field to try to improve upon these ideas further. I became extremely well-versed in the literature and field itself and I gained the respect of many people in my lab.

By the end of the summer I had produced the purest yield my lab had ever seen. Going into the summer, I was so caught up in the benefits that came with the internship program that I forgot how valuable was the actual internship experience. I fell in love with the field of structural biology and I basically think XFELs are the coolest thing ever. I would have never even known about this technology or adequately explored this field without this internship.

Also, this internship has been instrumental in securing my internship for this summer. At the end of last summer, the head of my lab spoke to me about returning to work there, however, I informed her how I would love to go abroad and she quickly said she had connections in Germany with whom she could put me in touch. By October, when I first reached out to her about possibly going to Germany, she connected me to her colleague and I secured a spot in his lab by the end of the week. Now, this summer I get to go to Hamburg, Germany to work at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) to continue my work in structural biology with XFELs – and I could not be more excited.

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