One of the perks of being a student in the Molecular Techniques in Life Science Master’s programme at KI is that we have access to a wide range of opportunities within the SciLifeLab facilities, in particular the unique SciLifeLab Summer Internship. This paid internship is awarded to six MTLS students in their first year of the programme, and it must be carried out as a research project in a lab of the student’s choosing during two of the summer months.
Considering that many of us first-years are currently in the process of applying to this fellowship, I decided to interview three of last year’s (2020) recipients of the SciLifeLab Summer Internship to get their insight into my most burning questions about this opportunity.
But first, here is a little background on the three awesome people I interviewed and what their projects were about:
Project: Investigation of deletion site via DNA purification followed by gel electrophoresis and Sanger sequencing. RNA sequencing data analysis of the same cell line.
Research field: Genomics on CRISPR/Cas-edited cell line (Kutter Lab)
Project: Mass Spectrometry-based Protein Quantification Using Novel Enzymes
Research field: Mass spectrometry–based targeted proteomics (Edfors Lab)
What follows is my Q&A session with each of these recipients.
1) Do you have any tips or advice for those of us applying to the summer internship right now?
The grades you get from your KI semester matter and so does your motivational letter. Motivate for a specific project and express why you are especially suited for that particular project. Show your passion!
Grades are important but focus on the motivational letter. Try to find a common denominator between your top 2 projects that can help you motivate your choices. Help each other proofread your letters, keep a positive spirit in spite of the competitive nature of the internship.
Also, if you don’t get the scholarship and you would like to work in a lab, talk about it with your PhD mentors, other PIs, and ask if you could eventually get paid. There are other paid opportunities doing research in Stockholm if you look for them.
When going through the projects available, try to find something that relates to what you want to do later on in your studies/career. This will also help you justify/motivate your interest in your choices.
But make sure that you have some background or experience pertinent to the research area of the project, otherwise you will probably feel very lost in the lab.
2) What was the onboarding like at your lab? Were you paired with another student there or were you left to work independently for the most part? Did you have a say in how your project would be conducted?
First, I had a Zoom meeting with my PI, which then matched me up with a PhD student. It was a bit messy at the start because it is all very new and you are trying to adjust after just finishing a heavy course at SU.
I was given a tour of the lab facilities. For the first couple weeks, I was working with my PhD supervisor and learning by watching others follow certain protocols.
My project was part of the pipeline of my PhD supervisor’s project. The work can be pretty repetitive at the start, just doing some protocol over and over. The later part of my project became more computational.
Last year, it was a very special situation because of COVID-19. I approached Sam (PI) first and I continued to work directly with him.
We started with some reading materials, independent learning, and getting some training about the MMB program. Even before the “official” start of the internship in June, I had already had some online meetings with Sam. I worked remotely during the entire summer. And yes, I was very much involved in the project planning and design, which made me feel very included in the process.
My project was like a “side” venture that my lab needed a student to explore, so its purpose was already quite well-defined when I got involved.
The lab was working with COVID testing back then, but they still took the time to show me around basic lab work and gave me enough guidance to be able to work independently.
At the beginning, I was just getting used to the techniques, trying to understand and develop the protocol for the method. Later on, I got to give more input about the direction of the project, especially as it has now bridged into my Master’s thesis work.
3) How flexible is the schedule and how much are you expected to work during the duration of the internship? Are you given any training or adaptation period before you dive right into the experiments?
After the SU semester, I suggest taking some days off to recharge your batteries. Then, you can jump into the internship with a fresh head.
For me, the project was semi-structured so that I still had some flexibility about how to manage my time in the lab. Of course, for certain parts of the project, the wet lab component would involve spending several consecutive hours in the lab at a time.
In regards to summer vacation time, I took specific days or weeks off in between the 6 to 8 weeks of the internship.
The schedule can vary the most, as it is highly dependent on the supervisor.
For my project, I was doing computational work so I got to work from home (especially due to COVID-19). The meetings with Sam (PI) were scheduled, and that’s where we discussed the progress of the project. Make sure to set realistic goals with your supervisor(s) and set deadlines.
Sam and I started talking even before the SU semester was over and I also attended some workshops/seminars even after my project was done in September. So for me, it was overall very flexible!
It was super flexible for me, I created my own schedule and I held myself accountable for what had to be done in a certain amount of time.
When running stuff on the machines, of course, I had to stay longer hours in the lab.
At the beginning of the project, I devoted a lot of time to it because I was mostly interested in learning a lot about the technique. At some point, I took three weeks off.
Also, I got to attend all the lab meetings and participate in the discussions.
4) What was the biggest challenge(s) that you faced during the internship and how did you overcome it?
Some of the biggest challenges I faced were struggling with the adaptation to the new lab, figuring out a fixed plan, and knowing when you have done enough and are free to go home (i.e. it’s fine to work less than the PhDs).
Having a project plan is important, so if your PI doesn’t give you a clear plan, you can suggest to go over the outline for your project.
For independent work, one can feel very overwhelmed about when to ask for help and how often to “bother” your supervisor. Especially, working from home can add extra challenges because you can’t just ask questions to your colleagues on the same floor across the “aisle” like in pre-COVID times.
Learning how to identify key issues versus wasting time on little things was my biggest challenge. I overcame it by brainstorming and forcing myself to try to figure it out, and setting a personal deadline for a particular problem. If you have tried out everything you could already, and you still can’t solve it, then go and ask your supervisor.
Because they gave me so much freedom, the biggest challenge for me was to get to know the technique (i.e. Mass Spec) very well and then be able to plan and execute everything on my own.
In spite of always being able to ask questions and receive lots of constructive feedback from my colleagues, it takes time to become comfortable with working with the technique and being confident that you are doing all the right things. Give yourself the time to understand what is going on and become more effective at troubleshooting your own issues.
5) What was the biggest reward(s) that you gained from this experience? What was one skill that you developed that has helped you further in your studies/career prospects?
This internship is valuable for context in SciLifeLab, networking, meeting people from other research groups, etc. I also became more aware of what I wanted to do my thesis in, and what I might not be so interested in.
Skills: contributing to group meetings, speaking up, appreciating your own work as part of a team effort.
The biggest reward for me was the connections/ networking I made; it opens up possibilities for other opportunities.
Additionally, I realized I really enjoy working independently and doing computational work.
Skills: becoming more resourceful, more autonomous; learning to work from home; becoming more confident in expressing my opinion.
The biggest reward is when you actually see the peaks on the MS that are supposed to be there haha. In other words, when the experiment actually works, it feels great!
Skills: becoming better at troubleshooting by yourself, and understanding the technique very well will help you in the long run (especially if you continue to work with the same technique).
I hope that this brief glimpse into what the internship looks like gives you something to look forward to in your current or future application, albeit each person’s experience very much depends on their chosen lab group and research project. At the end of the day, the SciLifeLab Internship is an excellent opportunity to experience the best KI has to offer in terms of research innovation, facilities and funding, and it can help you build your network in academia and open doors for future collaborations (i.e. potential Master’s thesis work, Ph.D. fellowships, etc).
Now that you know more about what to expect, do not hesitate to apply to this fantastic opportunity! Best of luck with your application!
Hej! My name is Francisca. I come from the faraway land of the supreme maple syrup, aka Canada. I’m the blogger for the Master’s Programme in Molecular Techniques in Life Science at Karolinska Institutet. I love to write about my experience as a student in my programme, a newcomer to Stockholm, and a rookie at life in general. In my free time, I enjoy playing tennis, making music, sketching the city’s landscapes, and reading about anything and everything that interests me.