Questions are as important as the Answers

Being the Inaugural Intern at a Start-Up

Over the last few years, I had the great fortune to be able to follow my curiosity and to try new things that piqued my scientific interest: I worked with mass spectrometry in a computational chemistry lab; I was introduced to the basics of data processing using python; and I was fascinated by stem cells and tissue engineering. It was this last experience that really made me want to work with living things.

I am now so grateful for those opportunities!  It was the realisation of  all the things that I loved about each of them that led me to apply (and with great delight be accepted) to the inaugural Internship program at Mass Dynamics (MD) as part of a collaboration with the University of Melbourne.

My internship project for the summer is to try to add some icing on the cake – adding another layer of information available to the users in the MD app by predicting peptide fragmentation to build in-silico spectral libraries and, in time, improve the peptide to spectrum match confidence.

As a chemical engineering student, the field of proteomic biotechnology was nothing short of exotic to me as I was more familiar with pumps, cooling towers and flash points of chemicals - but not proteomics.

To start my internship project on the right foot, I read articles and reports that were packed with unfamiliar terms. I instantly had many self-doubting thoughts and questioned whether I had followed my curiosity too far down the rabbit hole:

“I don’t know any of this. I have never learnt anything related to this in university. I have far too many questions that I don’t know where to start!”

Internal knowledge transfer sessions are a consistent part of MD’s ecosystem where scientists, engineers, data scientists and designers all come together  to share information. In my first session I was asked if I had any questions. Oh, if only I knew which question to start with! Luckily within a short amount of time,  I began to see that the people I was relying on to learn from were also constantly learning too. Soon I started to feel secure about asking questions, and even follow up questions that I would’ve otherwise thought would be irrelevant or stupid. The questions (stemming from work or even other personal interests) were always answered. My area of interests and choice of internship project were fully respected.

Mass Dynamics is a truly nurturing place. Being a start-up means dealing with constant change, almost turbulence-like which is a challenge for some people and not for the faint hearted as it can be difficult to practice constant support and encouragement. However, MD has strong values they abide by to navigate that turbulence; 

  • Find simplicity in complexity
  • Laugh hard, work hard
  • Strengthen and empower communities
  • Be a force for good
  • Learn and stay curious
  • Maintain integrity, stay humble

I’m currently half way through my internship and have already learnt invaluable knowledge from both a technical and business perspective but somewhat almost more importantly, a human perspective.

As a takeaway, I would encourage any student to apply for an internship and to have the courage to find your voice and ask questions.

This is because one of the biggest things I’ve learnt from this amazing experience at MD is that we will all be students for life and the faster we learn to feel comfortable and less vulnerable asking questions, the faster we will learn and can continue to follow our curiosities.   

by Arianna Xiao, Inaugural Intern, #massgeek

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