My practicum was at a private biotech company in Columbia, Maryland called Ravgen, Inc. I remember being extremely worried about finding a practicum project during my third semester of college, because I decided I wanted to complete it over the course of my winter break. I had heard about the company through word of mouth first. I decided that it sounded interesting so I did some additional research on it from their website (www.ravgen.com and www.ravgendiagnostics.com). There wasn't a lot of contact information on the website, but I called and expressed my interest in volunteering over the winter. My site supervisor was the CEO of Ravgen, Dr. Ravinder Dhallan, MD/PhD, MBA.
At Ravgen, I helped in a variety of tasks. There was some basic lab work such as creating solutions and dilutions as well as clean-up, and equipment monitoring and testing. Everything from having a readily available supply of solutions to an empty sink was important to maintain the efficiency of a lab. I also made up the solution for the Acrylamide gels that we used in electrophoresis, made molds for the gels, actually ran electrophoresis, and scanned finished gels into the computer. This required me also to learn how to use several programs such as the scanner software for the scanners we had, and a program called ImageQuant that we used to look at our scanned gels. In addition to this, I also "numbered" the gels, meaning that I labeled columns on the scanned gels in order for the different columns to be referred to and so that the date could be quantified. I also prepared syringes of formaldehyde to treat blood samples with.
I learned a lot about lab technique during this internship, from electrophoresis to scanning. The machinery we worked with needed specific procedures to handle, and I had to learn how to use two programs to some extent in order to complete my tasks. I also learned a lot about what makes a laboratory more efficient. Small things can potentially hinder the quality and timeliness of work. The sinks couldn't have dishes in them because they would have to be used to cleaning the gel molds before scanning. The gel molds that had gels rise had to be put into an NaOH bath to clean which took a lot of time. However, if put off, there would not be enough gel molds to use, so it was important to find time to clean the glass without interrupting the flow of work.
One of the goals of my work was to provide a net gain in efficiency. One of my efforts at improving lab efficiency went particularly well when I had developed a new protocol for cleaning binder clips. We used binder clips to hold together gel molds and they became very dirty very quickly. Unfortunately, cleaning the binder clips was much more time consuming than getting them to an unusable state. Using my protocol, binder clips could be cleaned much more efficiently and could be put back into circulation as useful clips much quicker.
But the application of science is not all I learned at Ravgen. I also learned the business factors of laboratory work in a private company. These I can't explain because of confidentiality agreements, but I also learned that even if something beneficial for society is created, it would likely not reach the ones that it is geared for unless a business can produce it and gain profit from it.
I had not changed my plans at College Park or any post graduate plans after taking this internship. But I did decided that whatever I decide to work with when I step onto my career path, it should be something that not only benefits society, but will easily gain companies that produce it profit. That way, I can make sure my beneficial product will actually leave the dusty shelves and benefit people or the environment.
This practicum project really did help me out in terms of understanding lab work and finding that I really do enjoy it. I learned a lot, even though I didn't realize it at first! I am very thankful to Dr. Ravinder Dhallan for granting me the opportunity to work at Ravgen. I am also very thankful for Drs. Merck and Holtz for this opportunity as well - without ELT, I would have never thought to go to Ravgen over the winter.
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