The summer adventure continues! And what an adventure it’s turning out to be. It’s difficult to put how much I love my internship into words, but I’ll try: I love my internship. After only two weeks of working at Biogen Idec (BI), I already have a list of reasons why I’m enjoying myself so much this summer:
- The bike ride. Although this isn’t specific to BI, I love the fact that I can ride my bike to work. I leave my apartment pretty early, so traffic isn’t really an issue, and after a refreshing 15-minute ride, I can easily park my bike and get things going. Besides, I have no interest in driving around Boston/Cambridge/Somerville, and I think that life’s too short to sit in rush-hour traffic every day. Biking is the perfect solution, something I can easily see myself doing for a long time to come.
- The campus. Boston University didn’t have much of a campus (understatement of the century), and after 14 years at a small private school with well-maintained grounds, I really missed the continuity that comes with a concrete campus. I’m constantly surprised by how good it feels to turn onto the road running through the BI complex. Suddenly, everyone is wearing an ID badge and looks like they have somewhere important to be (as well as an advanced degree in molecular biology). There’s a tangible sense of community, and I like that.
- The work. I’m doing statistical genetics work this summer, an area in which I have extremely limited experience (my biostat class last semester touched on a couple of important topics). That said, I’ve thought for about a year that I’d really enjoy genetics, and I was right! It’s a really neat union of biology and statistics, with a good deal of computer programming necessary due to the amount of data. I’m still an amateur at best, but this is a topic I’d definitely consider pursuing in graduate school.
- The people. I’m still in the process of meeting the people in my department, and I won’t meet most of the BI employees this summer, but the people I’ve met so far have been incredible. (More on this later in the post.) I’m very impressed by the caliber of the other interns, too, and have really enjoyed eating lunch with them a few times per week.
The last two bullet points relate directly to a life goal I’ve had for a while now: to do cool things with interesting people. I’ve never had a specific career or destination in mind for my life. Instead, I’ve chosen to work hard on things that interest me and see where they take me. (So far, so good!) However, after reading Slashdot and BoingBoing for years and growing up at a place like Pine Crest, where a lot of people do extraordinary things, I realized that there are really smart people out there doing really interesting things with their lives. I’ve never really known where I’d find my niche or what exactly I’d be doing, but I told myself that one day, I would be one of those smart people doing the cool things. And working at BI, my goal suddenly seems very attainable. I have a lifetime of hard work ahead of me, but I’m finally in a realm where these cool things happen, working alongside the people who make them happen. What an empowering feeling!
I had a great opportunity to get to know some of these extraordinary people on Thursday, when we had a department day. In the morning, about 15-20 of us met in a conference room where various department members gave informational presentations about their research and recent results. I was quite pleased with two things about the meeting. First, the brainpower in this room was palpable. I was sitting among some seriously intelligent, accomplished people. Second, I understood most of what they were saying! Given my relatively weak background in biology (9th grade biology and the introductory sequence at BU), I thought I’d be lost for most of the morning, but I was able to follow most of what was going on. Around noon, we broke for lunch and took the T over to the harbor, where we boarded a ferry to Spectacle Island. Thursday was the first sunny day we’d had in at least a week, so it felt great to cruise around the harbor with the sun shining down and the wind in our hair. We went for a walk around the island and then settled into a clambake on the dock. The whole time, I had a chance to talk with many of the people there, and I can honestly say that they’re all interesting, talented, accomplished individuals. One of them participates in marathons and triathlons. Another bikes 19 miles to work every morning, and then 19 miles home at night. Yet another was interested in wildlife and botany, and was happy to tell me about all of the birds and animals on the island. The woman I sat next to on the ferry happened to be an adjunct professor at MIT and was heading to Sweden for a computational biology conference the next day. I could go on and on, telling interesting stories about each of them, but needless to say, it’s an incredible group of people.
A slightly unrelated but important realization I had early this week was the reason why all of my professors at BU used UNIX R while I used the GUI Mac R: the flexibility of UNIX. Yes, looking at graphs immediately instead of writing them to graphics files is nice, and yes, it’s nice to be able to point and click to install/activate packages, but when you take pointing and clicking out of the picture and use only text, you can write scripts to do the work for you! R has decent text-processing capabilities (the paste() function was a huge breakthrough for me), and UNIX has an incredibly flexibility that I’m quickly coming to appreciate; when combined, it’s almost effortless to process hundreds or thousands of files. Besides, every time I’ve used UNIX R, it’s been running on a supercomputer or cluster, which is always fun.
Finally, today I biked a marathon! For the last few days, I’ve been reading up on the various bike paths in the greater Boston area, and decided to check out the Minuteman Bikeway. I spent about two hours total on the path, making it to The Bikeway Source, and it was a great ride! The path was in good shape, there weren’t too many intersections with roads, it was an overcast, cool day, the scenery was beautiful, lots of people were riding, and my bike performed quite well. I took some pictures that I’ll post sometime soon, but needless to say, I’d highly recommend the Minuteman Bikeway if you’re looking for someone to ride around Cambridge. When I got home, I used a Google Maps Distance Calculator to figure out one-way distance, and it worked out to 13.099 miles, almost exactly half of a marathon. Not bad for my first real ride!