Don't be afraid to push outside your comfort zone! Talk to that professor, make those connections, ask for help, and pursue work-integrated learning, even if it seems scary or intimidating at first. I tend to be very nervous talking to new people and reaching out to ask questions, but in the long run, it helped me out immensely.
As Jenna Sullivan (BSc Co-op ‘22) prepares to walk across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry, she reflects on the ULethbridge experiences that helped shape her journey, particularly co-op.
Jenna understood fairly early in her degree that she wanted to get lab experience in her field of study before graduating! She signed up for co-op and that summer, headed out on her first work term at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. During this work term, she expanded her knowledge in the field of biochemistry. In addition, this experience cemented that this would be the first of many co-op work terms for Jenna. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit, it became increasingly difficult to find lab work, so these plans were stalled.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was difficult to find laboratory work. After not being in the lab for a long period of time, I realized how much I missed in-person work and decided to start looking for jobs again. I heard about Allos Bioscience, a small biotechnology start-up company based in Lethbridge, and thought it would be a great place to get hands-on experience in the lab and learn more about how a scientific start-up is managed.
Allos Bioscience specializes in producing protein-based biosensors for a range of target molecules using a patented computational design platform. Jenna landed a twelve-month co-op work term with the company in May 2021. Her project involved the characterization and purification of a novel starch degrading enzyme that would produce a small sugar to be used to further test biosensors, and potentially put onto the market for use by the food industry.
Jenna gained an abundance of fundamental laboratory, research and writing skills during her work term with Allos Bioscience. Equally as important as the tech skills she gained, her confidence grew, as did her understanding of the topics of biochemistry that really piqued her interest. These skills and knowledge will be extremely useful as Jenna continues her scientific career.
These experiences meant so much to me and with them, I have discovered a love for research and laboratory work. Before them, I never thought myself capable of pursuing graduate school or if it would even be something I'd enjoy. However, now I have gotten to work in a laboratory and get more experience, giving me the excitement and confidence I needed to pursue a Master's degree.
Career Bridge co-op coordinator and career coach, Brittany Lewis, adds that she has been impressed by the growth she has seen in Jenna, stating “through her time at Allos Bioscience as a co-op student, I have seen Jenna develop confidence in her skills, specifically in her ability to run lab experiments independently.”
What’s next for Jenna? There is a ton of buzz about her next step as Jenna has already started her Master of Science in biochemistry in Dr. Trushar Patel's laboratory studying honey bee RNA viruses. A summer spent relaxing in the sun is off the cards for Jenna, but it sounds like the lab is exactly where she is meant to be.
I'm very excited to start my research and I can't wait to see where it will take me. In the future, I plan on either continuing to pursue research or starting work in the biochemistry/biotechnology industry.
Jenna would like to encourage all students to join co-op because it helps develop essential transferrable skills that will be useful throughout their life. Co-op is a fantastic way to ensure that you are studying the thing that sparks your interest, AND that the spark does not burn out too quickly. The Career Bridge office encourages all students to try things out, take action, and see where it leads — co-op is a great mechanism through which to explore!
Jenna has a few words of wisdom for those about to begin their studies at ULethbridge. "Take time to relax! Your journey will go much faster than you realize, so take time to enjoy it, even when it gets hard. There will be challenges and times when you may want to give up, but it is so worth it in the end." Adding, "ULethbridge has many resources available to help, so make sure you take advantage of them."
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