This summer, I’ve been blessed to have the privilege of being able to continue to work with the Franciscan Institute for World Health (FIWH). I’ve worked with the institute since last May (2012) when I interned as a medicinal chemist at Abbott (presently AbbVie), a pharmaceutical company based in North Chicago. This internship was a pretty incredible experience. What’s even better though, is that this spring and summer I’ve been able to put what I learned into practice as I have stepped into a significant leadership role on main campus in this ongoing collaboration with AbbVie.
Honestly, I haven’t heard of an internship that is able to compare to the Summer Internship Program with FIWH. FIWH is an institute that helps seek out and foster collaborations, as well as provide financial support for Franciscan undergraduates in their pursuit of professional, industrial, and advanced educational experiences in the sciences. Dr. Jeffrey Rohde, previous medicinal chemist at Abbott and current professor of Chemistry at Franciscan, has made this internship possible as the director of FIWH. He and his family even move to Chicago for the summer to make it all happen! The 2012 internship allowed me to step into the shoes of a medicinal chemist. I was able to go to one of the earliest steps in the drug development process: I made unique, never-made-before compounds that could one day end up as the “powder” that you find inside of a pill! The internship provided the means to further learn the organic chemistry necessary to make this happen, as well as provide a real world, real time experience of collaborative research (and work life in general). I had my own lab coat with my name on it, my own work e-mail address, my own chemistry bench and I even took the Chicago Metra into work everyday! It must be mentioned that every morning also started with Mass and the weekends we were able to take the Metra into downtown Chicago. “Incredible experience!” is an understatement!
This summer, I worked as a student supervisor and led an undergraduate research team here in Franciscan’s labs that worked in collaboration with the 2013 Summer Internship Program at AbbVie. Dr. Rohde, my research advisor, supervised me remotely with Tanya Dillon, the Chemistry lab manager, but for the most part, I pretty much ran the show! I put what I learned into action daily. I was responsible for teaching 4-5 students the methods necessary to perform the medicinal chemistry, overseeing their work, and trying to keep things moving in the right direction at all times. With research, though, unexpected obstacles are simply part of the game, and I loved the challenge of having to think critically on the spot in order to, at times, save the experiment at hand. It was a great opportunity to learn organic chemistry further, as well as exercise and grow in my leadership abilities. I now have an appreciation for what it takes to manage a project and bring it to completion.
One of the most important aspects that can’t be left out is why we are doing this project. While the educational experience is the primary factor, the public health effort is also a major component that cannot go unmentioned. The project’s primary research aim is to help synthesize small organic molecules that have activity against tuberculosis. These small organic molecules will be sent to AbbVie, worked on a little further, and then sent off for biological testing. The data will tell us the efficacy of each specific molecule towards killing Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which helps us make decisions regarding what direction to take the research next. While research has slowed down for the summer, it’s all about to start ramping back up in just a couple of weeks!
It’s all very exciting. God is good!