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Melissa Harnois - Sanofi Tucson

Melissa Harnois at a Sanofi LabOver the summer I had the opportunity to conduct pharmaceutical research as an intern at Sanofi’s Tucson Innovation Center in Oro Valley. I applied to the internship through Bio5 early last spring and was accepted to work on a project related to diabetes. I have always been interested in the disease, and it was part of the reason why I became a Biochemistry major so needless to say, I couldn't wait for the summer to start. On my first day, I drove up to Oro Valley only to arrive far earlier than necessary, full of anticipation, adrenaline, and excitement, but slightly tired all at the same time.    

 After the eight other interns and I received our temporary badges and an overflowing folder of safety information and agreements to sign, we were taken into our first safety meeting and orientation. At the beginning of the meeting the site’s Safety Manager informed me that he wasn’t sure who I would be working with because my original mentor was no longer with the company. This took me by complete surprise— my first hour in the building and already I wasn’t sure what the rest of my summer was going to look like. Was I going to have a project? Who would I work with? Were they even going to keep me on board as an intern? All of these questions had my mind racing during our orientation, but my biggest fear was that any second someone would walk in and tell me that they could no longer offer me an internship.

Luckily, that was not the case and I found out later on the first day that I would be working between three different mentors— Teri Suzuki, Vasu Badarinarayana, and Mark Pincus. None of them were expecting to have another intern but all of them agreed to take me in on the first day, really without having even met me before. I was immediately impressed by the openness, positivity, and willingness to help that my three mentors exuded on my first day, and these were all things that I continually witnessed throughout the summer among the scientists and other employees at the site as well. Constant exposure to such positive personalities made me realize how crucial that type of team-oriented attitude is to maintaining a successful work environment— especially in research-based fields.

 Instead of working on a diabetes project, I spent my summer primarily conducting gene expression studies related to Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). I also worked on various biochemical assays and teamed up with biomedical engineers to help develop a method for measuring muscle contractility. These were all completely different projects than I was originally expecting to take part in, but this taught me another important lesson about the reality of working in industry: the uncertainty of the duration of any given project.

 Reflecting on my experience at Sanofi this summer, I believe that what was initially an unfortunate event turned out to be a blessing in the end. The opportunity to work between three mentors exposed me to multiple projects which really forced me to expand beyond my comfort zone. My biochemistry knowledge provided a solid foundation for all of the lab work I did this summer, but due to my unique situation I was able to gain experience in many areas— such as biomedical engineering— that I have never been exposed to before.

 Aside from the experience I gained in lab, I think the most important lesson I will take with me after this summer is the importance of being able and willing to adapt to new situations. Through this internship I learned a lot about my own ability to adapt and I believe that whether a situation takes a turn for better or for worse, the way that a person chooses to receive the change can make all the difference in the world.

My summer at Sanofi provided some truly invaluable experiences and insights into the world of pharmaceutical research. I learned far more than I could have ever anticipated and had a lot of fun along the way, which is why I am thrilled to be continuing my gene expression research with them throughout the academic year as my Honors Senior Capstone