Pharmaceutics Pre Grad intern and Kuhn Scholar Irnela Bajrovic
As part of her IE Pre Grad Internship Irnela was on the UT team
conducting research on an Ebola vaccine.
Read Irnela's OpEd in the Austin American-Statesman
Read Irnela's OpEd in the San Antonio Express News
When I first joined the IE internship I did not know what to expect. I have been doing research since I was a freshman at UT and always figured graduate school was the most direct path to my dream of working for the Centers of Disease Control. However, after this past semester in the internship I have gained a kind of clarity I have never had before. Not only do I know that graduate school is the most direct path to the CDC, but it is a journey I look forward to embarking on due to my experience conducting hands on research, presenting at lab meetings, attending a national conference, observing a TA session, interviewing my mentor and my Principal Investigator.
Early this semester, the lab was in the progress of finishing a paper summarizing studies where we immunized primates with our Ebola vaccine and one of the senior graduate students in the lab asked me to help her to process and prepare samples for real time PCR. Excited to actively participate in a project that addressed a global disease, I devoted all my spare time to processing more than 40 samples of urine and fecal matter collected from primates after receiving our vaccine and isolating DNA from them. Because this helped determine how long it took to clear our vaccine from the body, I was added as a co-author to the paper that was just published in the Molecular Pharmaceutics Journal and won an Editor's Choice Award. As the semester progressed, I also learned how to titer cells to test for the success of infectivity in HeLA cells.
Additionally, I have had the opportunity to discuss my project ideas with graduate students, pharmacy honor students, and the principal investigator of our lab, Dr. Maria Croyle, during lab meetings where I present my weekly progress. These presentations are expected of graduate students so that they may practice speaking about science to a group of their peers. Although the experience was nerve wrecking the first few times, I soon learned how to prepare for the lab meetings and now have very few qualms about presenting my work in front of my peers.
Another invaluable experience made possible by IE and the Kuhn Scholars award, was attending the annual meeting for the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. I learned about the dynamics of oral and nasal delivery of drugs as well as the keys to success in the field of Pharmaceutics. One of my favorite lectures was on Women in Pharmaceutics. They touched on the struggles women in STEM fields experience and how by having the right mentors, this struggle can be simplified. I believe this experience has given me new approaches on developing an oral vaccine, my current project, that eliminates the need for complex materials and low temperatures, as well as providing me with an insight into the dynamics of presenting posters as well as research data to colleagues. I also feel it gave me insight into what is expected of graduate students well as the value of a PhD in Pharmaceutics and how it contributes to the overall betterment in public health.
I also attended a virology lab lecture and observed my graduate student, Kristina Jonsson-Schmunk, TA. I realized how much work goes into preparing for a simple lab. Beforehand Kristina wrote out every single step to the lab on the blackboard. Then she spent the first half hour explaining why each step was performed. Finally, she went through various versions of the different calculation questions in the post lab. This required the ability to explain something in a few different ways so students could fully grasp what was actually happening in the equation. Then she let the students start working, but continued to observe them, both for their safety and to insure that they were practicing safe lab techniques. Kristina had to have an in-depth understanding of all the nooks and crannies of the labs in order to teach the students how to do the lab. This helped me understand why graduate students feel like TA jobs can sometimes take over their schedule and use up valuable research time. However, I do think it is an essential experience for anyone who wants to be considered an expert in his/her given field.
Lastly, I interviewed Dr. Croyle and Kristina in order to get a better idea of what the real life experience was going to be like. The most poignant piece of advice they gave me was that "work-life" balance is a myth. You simply choose one or the other, but it is impossible to do it all at 100%. Kristina also spoke about the importance of not always choosing work. It is important to sometimes choose one and other times to choose the other, but if you consistently choose work you will find yourself to be overworked and exhausted. Dr. Croyle also explained to me why some professionals choose to pursue a post doctorate while others jump straight into the work force. She said it was more a personal choice based on the individual. If you feel prepared to take on the work force then a post doc is not for you; however, she did mention that very few students feel ready to write grants after receiving their PhD and that it is the one of the most common reasons for pursuing a post doc.
In conclusion, my time in IE internship has calmed any fears I had about graduate school. Corrected any misconceptions. Clarified any confusion. I feel that I am embarking on this new journey in my life with my eyes wide open. I know it will be hard. I know I will be tired. But I also know, that it will absolutely be worth it.