This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
As a chemistry major, it is not common to elect to do a summer internship as an undergraduate. Most chemistry majors at Caltech will opt to participate in our Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. Through my SURF last summer and synthetic chemistry research throughout the academic year, I have been exposed to research in an academic setting. Around January of my junior year, however, I had a mid-college crisis when I considered whether I wanted to pursue a career in academia or industry. I then decided that the best way to resolve this crisis would be to experience what industry looks like as a synthetic chemist.
After submitting job applications and undergoing interviews, I accepted an offer to join the Process Chemistry Department at Gilead. As I quickly learned, Process Chemistry focuses on designing and developing synthetic routes to drug targets that can be performed on an industrial level. For this reason, it is essential that process chemists fully understand the ins and outs of their procedures as well as the safety and availability of their materials.
My project this summer focused on exploring the substrate scope of a reaction used in the synthesis of a drug substance. Substrate scope refers to the range of starting materials that can be exposed to the same reaction conditions and obtain the desired transformation. Essentially, I set up a bunch of reactions with different starting materials and observed the reaction progress and product yields. In doing so, I gained a better understanding of how the reaction actually occurs and what its limitations are. This project helped me develop skills in experimental design based on previous results. I also learned more about how Process Chemists think about synthetic design.
Taking part in this internship has provided me with more than just experience in industry. The Gilead Early Talent and University Relations team organized fun outings for the interns including a bowling night and a Giants versus Cubs baseball game. There were also a series of events including the executive speaker series, which connected interns with leaders within the company. I also had the opportunity to get lunch with full time workers in Process Chemistry – including an alumni from my lab at Caltech – and hear about their career paths. Outside of the workday, I also worked on my cooking skills (shoutout to the New York Times Cooking student subscription) and explored the area. With San Francisco a short train ride away, there were a lot of sights to see and nature to explore on the weekends.
Overall, the summer internship experience and all of the opportunities that stemmed from it made this summer quite unforgettable. In only 10-weeks I learned a lot about Process Chemistry means and entails. I developed a lot of skills and made some new connections. While I don’t know where my life will go next, I am excited for what the future holds.