As vaccines and the discourse around them continue to become bigger parts of our lives, the opportunity to see how immunizations are created is special for any student. And as a lab technician co-op with Sanofi, a global biopharmaceutical company, junior chemical engineering student Anh Mai is doing that and more.
Because she started her co-op in March, at the end of the typical flu season, Mai has been able to see the process of developing the upcoming yearly flu vaccine from scratch.
“Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) studies which strains of influenza against which people will need the most protection and makes recommendations to companies on what to include in the vaccine,” Mai explains. “My company wants to be a little bit ahead, so they try to predict what strains the WHO is going to choose, and our lab takes that idea and starts developing vaccine. They are going to make a lot of tests afterwards to get the approval from the FDA.”
Sanofi was the perfect choice for Mai. The commute is short, and the job description fits what she wanted to do. Her co-op includes elements of not only chemical engineering, but also chemistry and biology.
“The good thing about the work that I do right now is that I am able to see the whole process of making the flu vaccine. So that’s pretty cool,” she says. “If I applied to be part of the production team, I would have only been able to see one step of the process, instead of the whole.”
Mai says that, in addition to the practical work she’s learned, she has also picked up on two valuable lessons: doing research by herself and teamwork. Being in an environment where her team must work together to complete their tasks has shown her the importance of collaboration.
Meanwhile, lab work requires a good deal of research prior to the hands-on experience, compared to a class environment, where a professor is leading the way in real time. Mai says that her job taught her how to do all the research she possibly can before starting a new task.
For her next co-op, Mai hopes to apply her experience to a new area.
“This job helped me realize that I am not a good fit for the lab work,” she says. “I am more interested in the production scale rather than just being in the lab and do experiments, and I hope to use my remaining co-op time to explore that more.”