Professional experimentation: Leverage internships and shape your science career

matt
Matthew O’Bannon

Scientists are intimately familiar with designing experiments for research, but the same process can be applied to career growth, especially when you’re just starting to venture into “the real world.” In my case, I knew I wanted to major in science when entering college, but didn’t have a solid answer to the dreaded “What do you want to do with that?” question. Luckily, students have a built-in option for experimenting with their interests before committing to a certain career path: internships. I took full advantage of internships, and doing so gave me greater insight into where to start my post-collegiate career.

As a child, I would stand on our kitchen counters, grabbing and mixing any powder or liquid I could get my hands on (much to my parents’ chagrin). Naturally, I later gravitated toward chemistry. A research-based career seems to be a great fit for anyone studying the natural sciences, so I tried my hand at the lab bench the summer after my freshman year of college.

My first stage of career experimentation was a research-based internship at a pharmaceutical company. I spent the vast majority of my time running assays and analyzing the data derived from them. At the end of that summer, we went down to a basement room, put on special glasses, and looked at a 3D model of the drug pocket my data created. This remains, hands-down, the coolest project I’ve ever worked on. But while I thoroughly enjoyed my lab experience, I decided that I didn’t want to be confined to a lab for my entire career.

My next step was a stint on the marketing and commercial operations team at another pharmaceutical company the summer after my sophomore year. My time there involved data analysis almost exclusively. Again, a great experience, but I decided that I liked people a little too much to eternally stare at spreadsheets.

On a whim, I applied for a sales internship at a medical-nutrition company the following year. Sales is certainly not top-of-mind for most science majors, but there’s a strong industry need for employees who enjoy interacting with people and who can clearly communicate scientific concepts. I spent that summer building relationships with clinicians and learning the sales process, which revealed to me how much I enjoyed interacting with customers. Healthcare sales let me exercise my customer-facing strengths while staying in the scientific realm, so I accepted a full-time offer with this same company upon graduation.

Since then, I’ve transitioned to Quartzy as a Customer Success Associate, which has helped me further refine my skills relevant to providing customers with excellent product experiences. Of course, I’m still experimenting with my career. One of the reasons I enjoy working at Quartzy is the flexibility to test out my strengths in multiple areas, such as event planning, marketing, and product support.

My professional experimentation will be a lifelong process, but those early internships gave me valuable insight into what I do and don’t want out of my career. Ironically, an internship’s long-term value lies in its finite nature. An inspiring internship can reinforce your interest and catalyze your career, whereas a disappointing experience can expedite the process by which you eliminate unsatisfying options—all within a few months.

Read these tips for finding an internship that will help you design your own career experiment.


Quartzy is the world’s No. 1 lab management platform. We help scientists easily organize orders, manage inventory, and save money. We’re free and always will be. Visit Quartzy.com or reach out at info@quartzy.com.

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Matthew O'Bannon

Matt graduated from Purdue with a BS in biochemistry. This bio isn't long enough for him to list his extensive experience in

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