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Freely-Speaking: The Beginning of my Journey into the Bio-based Industry

Today's blog post is not about any bio-based events, I attended. It's not about any great ideas, or moving news either. This time I thought I would just briefly touch upon what happened in the last few weeks.

For me the end of graduate school was also accompanied by some anxiety of what would come afterwards. But I also realized that it is an opportunity to make changes for the better in that I have a chance again to pick a direction I like. And so I searched every possibility that would bring me closer to starting a career in the bio-based biotechnology industry. The result? I am very happy to have been selected for a Molecular Biology internship for the next 3-4 months (until the end of November and the beginning of December)! I was told that quite a few people interviewed for this position but did not get it. Not knowing anyone at Amyris previously, I consider myself very lucky. Having been picked for this internship out of all the people is also both a humbling experience, and one associated with a bit of pressure to perform up to the expectations set. This being an internship, of course, is not a permanent situation. Talking to some friends and acquaintances, I have often received some hesitations of why I would want to do an internship after a PhD. After two weeks, I can say that instead of waiting for more permanent opportunities to arise, this was THE BEST decision, I have made so far.

The company I am interning for is called Amyris (which I had summarized before). They are known for making Artimisinin, an anti-malarial drug, more cheaply by reprogramming yeast instead of extracting that substance from rare plants. Amyris is also a renewable energy, and chemicals company. So this is the perfect match to learn the thought-processes and work-flow of a dynamically growing biotechnology company, and it's my opportunity to gain some real and meaningful industrial experience. A friend of mine said that the transition to industry from academia is quite drastic. After two weeks, I can confirm what he was saying. While things in grad school seem much more artisan (NOT a bad thing), in industry everything is more stream-lined. In grad school, if I wanted to run a gel, I made the gel. Here, at Amyris, every possible reagent and gel and everything is already made. You just need to do the experiment. With this stream-lining, of course come much higher expectations in terms of not just working hard, but getting most impactful actions and results in as short a time as possible. Make everything count! And so experiments need to scaled-up. Waiting times need to be minimized and filled with other meaningful actions. This is another reason, I am happy to have started the internship at Amyris rather than taking a bit more time to obtain an academic post-doc. Now this decision will not be right for everyone, but since I am sure about building up a career in industry, I think that for me this was the right decision.

The work culture itself at Amyris is quite amazing! I once visited Google, and have to say that in some regards it is very similar. People here work hard, but also know how to enjoy themselves. Everyone here is very motivated. People constantly talk to each other, and there is team-work all around. Although the background of everyone here is very diverse (people coming from all kinds of fields like infectious diseases or pharmaceuticals), I think what unites all people working at this company is the desire to make a difference - a relatively large, and immediate impact for the sake of our children's future. My Tai Chi teacher also told the students once that if you want to change in a certain direction, you should surround yourself with people of the same energy. I think I can do exactly that at Amyris. The people who work on the same project with me are all very knowledgeable, and smart. But in addition, they are also just down-to-earth and cool  people with lots of patience to answer all my questions. All this makes learning and working here extremely enjoyable. 

My supervisor also has high expectations - that at least is what my first impressions are and what I have heard. Thinking of the lessons my Tai Chi teacher gave me, I have realized that the lessons he taught me also apply here: Change brings challenge, challenge brings growth and, growth leads to success. In this light, I am embracing the opportunity that was given to me with this internship, and will work my butts off to rise to the challenge!

What will the future hold? Even my wife's best friend's mom could not foresee the future. So I guess I will worry about it when I get there :-)

Meanwhile, check back here occasionally, as I will continue to keep this site active!

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