This Biotech Major Always Thought She’d Work in Academia—Until One Internship Changed Everything

Alyssa Greenfield
This Biotech Major Always Thought She’d Work in Academia—Until One Internship Changed Everything
Sponsored by, Thermo Fisher Scientific

When Jennifer Donato started college as a biotech major at the University at Buffalo, she knew one thing about Thermo Fisher Scientific: they made the equipment she and her classmates used in the lab.

As far as Jennifer was concerned at the time, that’s all she needed to know. “When I started college, I didn’t understand what an industry job was,” she says. “I always thought I’d be a professor.” In fact, she was so convinced of her future career path that she spent the beginning of college volunteering in labs to gain research experience.

Presenting her research on type 2 diabetes during a student conference at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Jennifer took home an honorable mention for public health

Then she took a career prep class during her junior year of college. As part of the class, Jennifer and her classmates toured different biotech companies in the Buffalo Area, meeting with the business leaders and scientists who worked there.

Working in one of the cell culture labs at Thermo Fisher Scientific

One of the last tours covered the R&D and manufacturing departments at Thermo Fisher. After the tour, Jennifer’s professor told the class that Thermo Fisher was looking for two interns for the following summer. She applied and was accepted into the internship program, where she worked with the cell therapy team.

It turned out to be much more than a great internship fit for Jennifer. When her internship ended, she joined Thermo Fisher as a full-time R&D Scientist. In her role, she develops cell culture media for vaccines and cell therapies. She explains it best: “If you want to bring a new drug or therapy to a patient, you need to show that it works. To do that, you have to demonstrate that cells can grow outside of the body using those treatments.”  She says it’s incredibly rewarding to know that her work is making a direct, positive impact on patients’ lives.

Checking cell cultures under the microscope

Jennifer says one of the most rewarding parts of her job is seeing a scientific publication or news story that cites the products and work of Thermo Fisher. “Recently, there was a story about the first FDA-approved cell-based gene therapy, a new cancer treatment where our products were used to develop the treatment. It’s amazing to know that I’m helping develop products that are curing diseases.”

Working in the lab at Thermo Fisher

You may be wondering: “how DO I know if a research and academia-focused job or one in industry is the right fit for me?” Jennifer says that keeping an open mind and volunteering or interning in both areas is key. Even her research-focused work helped prepare her for a career in industry.

She also wants students to know what it’s really like to be a scientist at a company like Thermo Fisher—something even she didn’t fully understand when she started college. “A lot of people think that we spend all our time in the lab and never see daylight,” she says. “But it’s also a lot of reading, analyzing, presenting, and talking to customers. Every day is different.”

Think a job or internship at Thermo Fisher is the right match for you? Jennifer shared the three things she did to make herself stand out as a candidate:

  1. She emphasized her volunteer experience. “For over 10 years, I taught children at my church,” she says. “It helped me learn how to work effectively with people who might learn differently than I do.”
  2. She talked about her part-time job at her university’s grants and contracts office. “This job was more administrative,” she says. “I created training materials and helped with audit documentation.” Highlighting this job helped Jennifer emphasize her organizational skills and show how she could apply them on the R&D team at Thermo Fisher.  
  3. She showed that she’s team-oriented. “I shared specific examples of group work, whether it was at school or during a part-time job,” she says. In academia, it’s more common to do solo work, but an industry job or internship requires a lot of teamwork. Jennifer wanted to show that she could do both.

If Jennifer’s story has you considering a career at Thermo Fisher, you’re in luck. Learn more about Thermo Fisher here