MS Student in Biomedical Engineering, Graduate Co-op Option
Co-op Employers: Spark Therapeutics, Inc.
My name is Victoria Nash and I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering at Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems.
I am currently doing research under the direction of Dr. Kara Spiller, who leads the Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine Lab here at Drexel.
What sparked your interest in choosing Drexel and the co-op experience?
After graduating from Tufts University, I worked for Moderna Therapeutics in Boston. About a year into my time there, I developed a yearning to return to graduate school, but was unsure if I should pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.
I decided to try and create a list of schools to apply to, just to see where I could study. Location was a big part of my original search criteria. My husband is a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware, and I wanted to move from Boston to be closer to him. I sent a list of ten to fifteen universities to one of my professors from Tufts, David Kaplan, and he endorsed five or so schools, but was very enthusiastic about Drexel.
Looking more into the Biomed program here at Drexel, their graduate co-op program was very appealing to me because I thought it would be a fantastic way to really explore if I want to do a master’s or a PhD. I could do the master’s coursework, participate in academic research, and then work for a biotech company in their process development department and have a direct comparison between industry and academia to better inform my decision about whether to pursue a master’s or a PhD.
What did your co-op experience entail? Did you have any mentors who worked with you?
I worked as a graduate co-op with Spark Therapeutics, the first company to have an FDA approved gene therapy in the United States, and it’s located right across the street from Drexel. I was in their Process Development department, working with the Upstream team on cell line development. What really made my time worthwhile there were my team mentors. The entire Upstream team took me under their wing, but my supervisor and the Lead of Upstream met with me weekly to provide support and discuss bigger life goals and how I could achieve them.
Was there a clinical project or aspect to your co-op? If so, how did you choose your project?
Process Development is this unique bridge between Research and Development and Manufacturing. R&D will identify a unique target and give specifics about the drug substance and drug product to Process Development. Process Development then has to take these specs and figure out a way to scale the process from a benchtop to a 200-liter bioreactor, from R&D lab standards to good manufacturing practices, which are approved by the FDA. While I did not directly interface with patients, the department worked on projects that produced materials for clinical trials that would directly impact patients.
What impressed you the most about your co-op experience?
I began to realize that your work experience really depends on those with whom you work. The team I got to be a part of for six months was phenomenal. And working at a company with an FDA approved drug made me feel like I was helping the portion of the population living with a genetic form of blindness and hemophilia. Being a part of something bigger was one of the best feelings that I left with.
What one piece of advice would you give to encourage other Biomed graduate students to pursue doing a graduate co-op in Biomed?
Don’t give up! Companies haven’t always heard of ‘co-op’ and don’t always know what a ‘co-op program’ is, let alone one for master’s students. Don’t be afraid to use the Drexel alumni network and reach out to alumni at different companies and ask for a phone call. I think I sent out over 30 LinkedIn requests, and about the same number of emails to different companies, thus resulting in at least five phone calls with different alumni from Drexel. And I ended up getting the co-op that was listed on DragonJobs! Even though it wasn’t listed as an undergrad or master’s co-op, I thought I had nothing to lose by applying. Not giving up and applying through DragonJobs landed me an incredible co-op at a fantastic biotech company!