December 20, 2019

Core Internships

UMass Amherst students gain professional skills in the sciences through IALS

Last January, when UMass Amherst student Hayley Green saw the deadline to apply for a core internship at the university's Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), it struck her as the perfect way to invest a summer towards her career path: examining cell cultures and forging professional skills at the IALS Cell Culture Core Facility. Green then brought her skills back to her startup company, iSPY (a device used to identify bacteria), and undertook an accelerated program at the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.

With the guidance of core facility director Jim Chambers, Green, a sophomore in microbiology, took on projects like testing dyes that stain DNA in a nucleus: “We worked to see what concentration works best, trying to find the optimal condition so when people want to use these dyes they’ll know how much to add and how many cells per drop of dye.”

Students in IALS’ Core Internship Program receive experiential, intensive training in the Institute’s 30 Core Facilities. Each Core—such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Mass Spectrometry, and Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication (aka “AddFab”)—is directed by a professional scientist. The facilities provide lab resources for academic and private enterprise. Through an initiative championed by Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, companies such as FTL Labs Corporation, Silicon Therapeutics, Bose, Novartis, and Volo Aero are incentivized by the Commonwealth to take advantage of the services the cores provide. 

The internships aim to train students “how to be scientists in the real world,” says Peter H. Reinhart, founding director of IALS. “We are creating an experiential workforce,” he asserts. “Whether students in the sciences choose to go into industry or academia, this gives them a relevant training option.” Because the work students produce with the labs has an immediate real-world application, Reinhart emphasizes, “the data and analysis they produce really matters.” 

In addition to giving experience in a working lab, the IALS program trains interns in “soft skills” that will give them an advantage in the private sector. Chambers explains that not only do interns multiply his effectiveness as a core director, but by interfacing with clients, interns receive their own benefits as well. “Working with users is a skill that a lot of scientists do not have,” Chambers explains, “but it’s critical. A huge part of your job as a scientist is interacting with other scientists and the general public, being an educator and an ambassador.” Woven into the program are workshops in how to transition from academia to industry, as well as in professional communication skills like writing cover letters, acing interviews, in-person networking, and making stellar presentations and pitches. A LinkedIn group for interns helps them maintain connection with one another after completing the program. 

IALS interns receive stipends funded by the Institute as well as individual academic departments. Candidates are interviewed by prospective core directors. Internships begin late May to early June and run through early August. If you are a student, you can start working on your application and dossier now—for 2019, there were 1200 applications for 25 available slots. 

IALS begins accepting applications on January 1 for summer 2020.