A young woman with dark hair stands against a backdrop of leaves and flowers.
Nicola Thorne. Image: BMS

How an internship ‘changed my mindset’ about the biopharma industry

29 Aug 2022

Nicola Thorne is an associate scientist at BMS, having first started working at the company as an intern during college.

For many students, experience in the world of work starts with an internship while still in college.

That’s how Nicola Thorne began her biopharma career. She told SiliconRepublic.com that she was drawn to Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) after learning about one of the company’s anti-cancer drugs in her second year of college.

“This particularly struck my interest because I realised the significant work that BMS employees were doing to help patients prevail over their diseases,” she said.

“Upon conducting further research, I came across a news article that read that BMS won the Irish biopharma company of the year award in 2019, and they were offering a bespoke internship programme. I knew this placement would give me hands-on experience in the biopharmaceutical industry, which I could take back and utilise in my final year in college.”

Following the internship, Thorne completed her undergraduate degree in biotechnology from Dublin City University. She is now working at BMS as a materials science and technology downstream associate scientist.

‘I wasn’t just seen as an intern, I was being valued within the team’

What expectations did you have before you began your internship?

I knew I was going to be in a lab-based role and that I would be gaining hands-on experience in the small-scale chromatography steps and conducting troubleshooting activities for the large-scale manufacturing process.

I thought I would be shadowing my colleagues and helping with their projects. What drew me to that particular role was the offering of a large project which would develop both my technical skills, such as good laboratory practice skills, alongside my soft interpersonal skills, such as presenting to a large audience.

However, I didn’t realise the extent of work I would be doing. No two days were the same, which I loved.

What duties and responsibilities were you given initially?

On the first day of my internship, my manager gave me an internship integration plan. This plan detailed both a list of projects and tasks that I would be completing throughout my placement. It also contained my responsibilities and learning outcomes which are expected for the duration of my internship.

Did the scope of your work change as the internship progressed?

Yes, the scope of my work did change. As time progressed, I gained more responsibilities when my manager saw that I was completing all my current tasks correctly and on time.

This was great knowing that I was excelling within the role and that I was being trusted to take on more work. This was great for me as I wasn’t just seen as an intern, I was being valued within the team and my colleagues could see that I could complete more studies and give valued input into study designs.

Can you describe a typical day in your role?

While working as an intern for the first few months in the manufacturing science and technology department, I spent time shadowing my colleagues who were conducting studies in the laboratory, to gain as much as exposure to each of the operations as possible.

I also got trained on each unit operation I was shadowing. Towards the end of my internship, I got a project of my own in which I designed the study plan, executed the study in the lab, and wrote the associated report. I took on additional responsibilities as the internship progressed as I was becoming more competent.

What key things did you learn during this internship?

The knowledge and practical experience gained from the internship were truly eye-opening. I didn’t think I would get such hands-on experience with the process, nor did I think that I would learn so much.

The experience I got from the internship is invaluable to me. I developed my soft and interpersonal skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication and presentation skills.

Working on these skills helped me through my final year as there were a lot of projects and group-based assignments. I gained new technical skills such as technical report writing, downstream processing, design and execution of experimental studies and Lean Six Sigma.

I achieved my yellow belt certification during my internship. I completed a 5S project which created and sustained an efficient, visual workplace station within the lab, and completed a problem-solving project to obtain the certification.

Did this internship make you feel as though you were on the right career path?

I wasn’t sure before starting my internship whether I wanted to go the biopharma industry route or further my studies by doing a master’s or PhD. After completing the nine-month internship, it completely changed my mindset to focus solely on the biopharmaceutical industry.

My colleagues on the team were fantastic at giving me advice as they were in the same scenario I was in when they were in college.

Also, interacting with different teams and gaining exposure to the endless amounts of opportunities available within biopharma shifted my focus. After weighing up the pros and cons of both, I realised that the biopharma industry was the correct career path for me, and I haven’t looked back since.

Did you feel more prepared for working life following your internship?

Absolutely, I gained so much exposure to the different departments within BMS. Even just speaking to the different interns throughout the placement gave me great insight into the endless opportunities BMS has to offer.

Before starting the internship, my presentation skills were a roadblock for me and throughout the internship I worked with my manager to develop and improve them. The internship also gave me a taster of what the working world looked like, which helped make the transition into a graduate role after college much easier.

Why should someone take up an internship at BMS?

At BMS you are empowered to apply your individual talents and ideas so that employees can learn and grow together. The key word in that sentence is ‘together’ and that even though you are an intern in the company, your voice and feedback is heard by your manager and fellow colleagues.

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