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My internship at the FIU NASA MIRO CRE2DO Center

My internship at the FIU NASA MIRO CRE2DO Center

January 6, 2021 at 11:00am

Name: Melissa Venedicto

Hometown: Miami, Florida

What is your major?

My major is biomedical engineering, and I am pursing a minor in physics.

Where did you intern? What was your role there?          

My internship was with the NASA MIRO CRE2DO Center at FIU, under the guidance of Cheng-Yu Lai, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. My internship role as an undergraduate student researcher was to work on a project focused on nanomaterials, which is one of my strong research interests. 

How did you get your internship?

While at FIU, I have been interested in attending graduate school to further my education as an engineer. My goal is to develop the necessary research skills that can guide me through a successful career in academia or industry. As my interest in nanomaterials resonates with research areas in the materials science and engineering area at FIU, I contacted the graduate program director, Daniela Radu, and discussed my options for graduate school in materials science and engineering.

Given my background as a biomedical engineering student and my interest in nanomedicine, Dr. Radu suggested a few options, and I decided to intern with Dr. Lai and get a feel for the graduate student experience. In meeting Dr. Lai, I was able to get familiar with the research lab environment and obtained a position as an undergraduate researcher.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process?

My advice would be to understand what your passionate about and not to be afraid of speaking to your professors. If you want to do an internship at FIU, do not limit yourself to your major. Look at all the departments that FIU has to offer and see which professors are doing research in your area of interest.

Once you find the professor that you feel is the right fit, reach out to them and tell them a little bit about yourself. Try to show the professor what you are passionate about, how you are a good fit for their research lab, and why they should take you under their wing. It’s best to try and set up a zoom meeting with them. This way they know that you are serious about conducting research and that you want an internship. Do not be afraid of these meetings, and be yourself!

What projects did you work on?

I am currently working on developing nanoplatforms with the capability of encapsulation and controlled delivery of molecular cargoes. Throughout the project, I treated two different types of cell lines, cervical cancer cells and epithelial lung cancer cells, with various drugs and materials to understand their response to the drugs.

In addition to the biomedical side of my project, I had the opportunity to shadow the graduate students in materials science and replicate their experiments. 

How did your internship connect back to your coursework?

While my internship is under the materials science and engineering program, I have been able to use my understanding of biology and biomedical sciences to better understand my experiments. For instance, I used the knowledge I gained in my organic chemistry and biology courses to adapt my learning for the experiments.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship?

The most exciting thing about my internship is being able to work in a laboratory setting. I’m a very hands-on person, and I love being able to learn through this type of approach. Learning how to use the different techniques—and being able to teach others how to master these techniques—is astonishing to me. I would love to continue to work in this type of environment as I feel that I will never stop learning something new and interesting.

What did you like most about your experience?

Besides the never-ending learning, having the opportunity to collaborate with graduate students and professors is an unforgettable experience. This has solidified my decision to attend graduate school and has given me a chance to network with my professors.

What did you learn about yourself, or how did the position increase your professional confidence?

Through this experience, I learned how to think on the spot by analyzing mistakes, how to fix them, and how to avoid the mistake from happening again. When doing a research internship, there are a lot of errors that can occur when you are first doing an experiment. Understanding why these errors occurred allows me to improve my protocols and my skills within the lab. These are necessary skills for working in any environment. Once someone knows how to adapt quickly to a change in a procedure or an error in a result, they are more suited for intense work.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” 

I have been working as a learning assistant for the past year and a half, so I have developed a sense of leadership and public speaking. Acquiring this internship has allowed me to use my leadership skills and further develop them. In addition, I was able to learn how to manage my time efficiently and enhance my ability to do multiple experiments in one day. This “real-world” lab experience has allowed me to show that I can handle numerous things assigned to me all at once. Really understanding how to manage your time accordingly is important for establishing a reliable workplace relationship with your professors.

What was it like to have a “virtual” internship during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I began my internship at the beginning of the fall semester. During the first month of the semester, I was doing an online training program under FIU Develop. This program provided me with certifications to learn different safety protocols and the awareness of the hazards that come with working in a lab setting. As the semester progressed, I was able to get clearance and work physically in the lab. 

What tools were you provided with to succeed in a virtual internship?

To succeed in a virtual internship, as well as an in-person internship, it is important to always be checking your emails. Even if you don’t get a notification, check your email at least twice a day. You never know if your professors or your colleagues sent you an important email. In addition, being able to be flexible with your time and incorporating weekly meetings into your routine is also important. By having those weekly meetings with your professor, it allows you to see what needs to be done over the following week. These meetings also allow you to ask any questions that puzzled you during your experiments and to get clarification on your results.

How did you connect with colleagues and build connections through a remote work environment?

Thankfully, this was not too much of an issue as I was able to network with my colleagues in-person throughout the semester. However, if the internship were strictly virtual, keeping each other updated via weekly meetings or emails allow everyone working in the lab to develop a connection.