From a Field Trip to an Internship

By Gabrielle Bodet, former New Hope Student

As a former New Hope Tutorials Chemistry student, my interest in Chemistry began during a field trip with Mrs. Pinho to the Sigma-Aldrich site in Natick. My current high school, Lexington Christian Academy, required all the seniors complete an internship during the month prior to graduation. Mrs. Pinho put me in touch with the site director of the now Millipore Sigma, Dr. Watling, who was happy to provide me with an internship opportunity usually reserved for college students.

Millipore Sigma’s primary objectives are developing, manufacturing and finally selling small bioactive molecules to health research scientists. The company places a large emphasis on the purity of their compounds with a minimum 98% standard.  The Quality Control (QC) department checks the purity of both the products made in-house and those bought from various vendors around the world. QC personnel use special machines and techniques such as High Pressure Liquid Chromatography, Ultra Pressure Liquid Chromatography, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to name a few, when measuring the purity of a compound. As orders for the product come in from customers, a packaging form is initiated to include packing labels, the packaging department grabs the bulk compounds from storage, and the filled orders are placed on the truck and shipped out from the facility.

While at the company, I was able to experience each department. I enjoyed getting to know the different perspectives and roles of everyone working at the company and picking their brains about their career paths as I formulate my long-term plan for entering the industry.  One thing that came up with nearly everyone I spoke with is that learning about chemistry only makes up a small portion of knowing how to perform it and make molecules. Gaining lab experience and actually practicing chemistry is what really taught them the most in the long run. A Northeastern college student temporarily working at Sigma told me that the organic chemistry classes in school did not help him as much as he expected. It took him at least three months of working in the labs and asking for help to really understand what he was doing and to be comfortable on his own.

It was also great to see that the people at Sigma are friendly and personable. They shared stories about their families, vacations to Disney World, as well as hobbies and which TV shows they enjoy. As a very social person it was reassuring to see the friendliness extending beyond chemistry towards me as the scientists worked tirelessly towards their individual work goals because at the end of the day, Millipore Sigma is, after all, a business. There are always customers to please, investors to satisfy, and money to make. If a product is backordered, there is money on the table and the customer is waiting for it. This makes backordered products a priority.  Sometimes a chemist will be working on a compound for a long time, costing Sigma money, and be told to “drop” the project because the return on the invested time and capital will not be great enough. With the classroom lab constituting the majority of my experience, the principles of profit, returns, and funding are aspects of business I never considered in regards to the science field.

At Sigma everyone is only concerned with completing their work. People arrive at the office at times convenient for them whether at 5am or 8am.  They can leave whenever they feel it necessary.  Some leave soon after lunch hour while others remain in the lab until about 5pm or later. People show up, get their work done, and they leave. The people working there must be self-motivated and possess a strong work ethic to get all their work done. The project organization is also very different from school in that there are lots of smaller teams making up one big team all striving for the same goal, unlike school where everyone is competing to be the best in the class.

In the end, this internship was an amazing experience, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. I met friendly people who were willing to talk about their careers, I got to see a lot of the business aspect of scientific research which is difficult to experience in classes at school, and most importantly I learned about the different types of chemistry careers available to me.