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Flora Chong

SFU Student Undergraduate
Science › Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

Position Title
Performing hands-on research and playing a role in oral vaccine development has been an invaluable experience, and helped me gain skills to critical to my professional development.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips
  • Make sure you are well familiarized with the company of interest! Check their website, social media, or even a quick google search can help you be prepared for any questions thrown at you during the interview. Plus, knowing the company goes to show that you are actually interested in the position you are applying for!
  • Before the interview - practice common interview questions and prepare short answers to them. You want your answers to sound rehearsed and polished, but not scripted. For research positions, there is a good chance your interviewer will ask some technical questions regarding your experience with specific techniques. Make sure you are aware of what skills and techniques are recommended, or even required for the position.
  • During the interview - Some questions may catch you off guard, but stay calm and take a moment to compose yourself. If the answer doesn't come to you at the moment, you can suggest coming back to the question. It is okay if you don't know everything, but it is important to remain professional and friendly.
Introduction + Preparation

Prior to starting my position, I made sure that I was aware of the technology being employed at Symvivo. I knew that I would be working with an anaerobic bacteria - something I have never worked with before. I researched the specific bacteria and the different methods that are commonly employed in working this bacteria. 

Previous Experience

I previously worked as a research assistant at the Overall lab at UBC, which allowed me to gain a sense of working in an academic research environment. However, my experiences were limited to academia, so this position was the first opportunity I had to work in the industry. Aside from co-op experience, my coursework and labs allowed me to gain some textbook knowledge that I could apply to my experiments.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

My first day mostly consisted of paperwork. After being assigned to a work laptop and cubicle, I spoke to my supervisor and colleagues to get caught up on what work is currently being done in the company, followed by a tour of the lab. There were many words and abbreviations used that I was not familiar with, and it was quite overwhelming! Thankfully, my supervisor and colleagues were very supportive and patient with me as I tried to become more accustomed to using scientific language.

In the first week, I went through safety training and became more familiarized with the various laboratory equipments. Most of the training was a mixture of shadowing my colleagues or performing experiments side by side.

Day to Day

I arrive at the office and get settled down, have a quick coffee while checking my emails. I discuss with my colleagues about what experiments need to be performed for the day, or the rest of the week. After dividing our tasks, I begin planning out my experiment - looking up protocols, performing calculations, and gathering the reagents I need. Throughout the day, there are often short meetings to make sure that experiments are going well, or discuss next steps.

I typically perform back-to-back experiments to ensure that results are generated in a timely manner. Aside from performing experiments, I also update my lab book and perform data analysis.

Learning and Adaptation

The learning curve for this position was steep, as there are lots to learn in a short amount of time. I definitely felt overwhelmed at first and struggled with balancing my tasks. Managing my tasks became significantly easier once I took the time to plan ahead for the week rather than on a day-by-day basis. Although those plans may not pan out as expected, it is still helpful to have a general idea of what needs to be done, rather than going in blind! As a hands-on learner, I learn best when I actually perform the experiments myself. I found it very helpful when I was able to perform new experiments alongside my colleagues.

I spent my first 4 months are Symvivo working with the Manufacturing team, and the latter 4 months were split between Manufacturing and R&D. The time management aspect definitely became much more difficult when working with multiple departments, as experiments started piling. What I found most helpful is to take your time, making sure that no silly mistakes are made. It is more important to be meticulous, making sure all the steps of the protocol are performed as intended. Don't cut corners!

Accomplishments and Challenges

I found that my greatest accomplishment was being able to perform a Western Blot by myself. A Western Blot is an analytical technique used to detect protein in a sample. As an extensively used technique, I knew that it was an aspect I needed to improve upon. This technique is one that is covered by my coursework. However, due to Covid restrictions, I only had one chance to perform it in a class setting. 

There are several aspects I struggled with in this technique. From the fragile SDS-PAGE and the risk of ripping the gel to insufficient washing of the membrane. The long protocol also makes it punishing when the results aren't as expected, since there are limited samples and the entire process from generating lysate to finishing western blot can take up to a week.

I tackled this challenge by first going over the protocol, shadowing, and performing it alongside another colleague. I took detailed notes about not only the steps taken but the specific techniques that were employed, such as ways to prevent the gel from ripping or cutting the corner of the membrane to make sure it is in the correct orientation in the following steps. Once I felt that I could perform it by myself, I made sure that I knew where all the reagents were and went for it! This was something I was unable to perform alone in my previous co-op, and it weighed heavily on my mind since. Finally being able to overcome this challenge made me feel more confident in my ability to perform lab work!

Wrap Up

Working at Symvivo helped me establish and refine my goals for my future. I have gained valuable skills that will help me further my career development. Everyone I worked with was kind and caring, and I have learned so much from them. The time I spend here was invaluable and allowed me to gain an insight into the inner workings of a Biotech company.