The LIFE of A TRANSCRIPTIC INTERN

Chris Taylor on 12/6/17 6:41 AM

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As we head towards the end of 2017, inquiries about 2018 intern opportunities are already ramping up. I thought it would be interesting to have one of our recent interns write about his experiences. If you're starting your hunt, whether at Transcriptic or elsewhere, here's a little bit of what you might expect:

Hi, my name is David McIntyre. This past summer I was an applications intern at Transcriptic. They asked me if I'd share some thoughts about my experiences so here you go. (Yes, it took me awhile but I've been busy applying to PhD programs!)

Before the summer, I had just finished my junior year as a bioengineering major at the University of Washington. When looking for summer opportunities, I hoped to find something that would not only expose me to a new area of biotech, but also expand my problem-solving and technical skills. As the days got closer to the end of the quarter and I was having no luck, I decided to utilize my well-trained, targeted research skills and typed “biotech internships” into a job board site. A few pages in, I came across Transcriptic and was fascinated by the cutting-edge science and engineering done at the company, so decided to apply. (No, they didn't force me to write that!) With my main technical experience in developing paper-based diagnostics for global health, most of my time spent had been in a wet lab, not coding. Despite being the opposite side of the technological spectrum from Transcriptic, both have a similar end goal: to simplify and improve user interaction with science through automation.

I had taken a few coding classes at school to learn the fundamentals of Java, Python, and MATLAB, but the majority of my time in lectures has been spent learning the science and engineering fundamentals needed for biomedical research, coding sparingly for data analysis and homework assignments. As the applications intern, my main fear before starting was not knowing how to code well enough. While I knew the languages, I had no clue how scripts were put together to make a cohesive project, nor how my work would fit into the entire Transcriptic workflow.

I was still nervous during my first week, googling “what is git” or “list of CS jargon,” however I was able to quickly learn the necessary skills to work with Autoprotocol and implement protocols onto the Workcell. In the end, the most challenging part of my summer was not the coding, but rather adapting experimental design from the bench into the context of an automated system. From this, I have been able to develop more detailed-oriented experimental design skills, as any error in a protocol is perpetuated to all runs, rather than isolated to a single test when human-run.

As a bioengineering undergraduate, I am exposed to a broad curricula, ranging anywhere from learning about biochemical conjugation techniques to building a pulse oximeter. While I am worried at times of becoming a jack of all trades yet a master of none, the interdisciplinary nature of Transcriptic has shown me that the skills I am developing are directly applicable to industry. For example, within a single day, conversation within the company can go from debugging code to the thermal stability of streptavidin to troubleshooting pressure sensors in the Workcell. Although I am by far not an expert in any of these topics, I know enough to get a general idea of the conversation, enabling me to grasp most parts of the Transcriptic platform.

My main project for the summer was adapting an existing protein Thermal Shift Assay (TSA) into a core protocol, working directly under Dr. Jim Culver. Also known as Differential Scanning Fluorimetry, the TSA enables high-throughput screening of the thermal stability of different proteins, as well as testing for binding interactions with small-molecule ligands. This project consisted of 3 major milestones: adapting the existing protocol for general use; developing a data analysis module of thermal shift data; and validating the assay on the Workcell with different biological tests. The finished core TSA can be used across both protein engineering and drug discovery, and is easily tunable for any client-specific needs.

Another new experience from this summer was working within the startup environment: previously, I have only ever worked in a kids’ camp and research lab. Transcriptic is much more fast-paced than my previous endeavors, focusing on a holistic company mission rather than separate discovery-based projects. One of my favorite parts of Transcriptic (beyond free food and coffee) are the weekly All-Hands meetings; being able to gather as an entire company and hear input from everyone made me feel more like a full-time employee than a temporary intern.

I had the opportunity to present my summer work at one of these meetings, helping me both with my presentation skills as well as understanding how to translate specific ideas to those without a scientific background. 

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After the summer, I returned to the University of Washington for my final year in their bioengineering program, where I am currently applying to PhD programs. My time at Transcriptic has inspired me to pursue research on developing automated systems for use as a biomedical tool for both research and industry. Additionally, exposure to working within the private sector highlighted the numerous skills that can be developed outside of school, providing yet another post-graduate option. Whatever I end up doing, my summer at Transcriptic was an extremely rewarding experience, and definitely will be conducive to success in the future. (No, they didn't make me write that either!)