Scroll to top

Discovering Life as a Research Intern:  An Eye-opening Experience

03 May 2023

My first exposure to chemistry was when I was fourteen and decided to enroll into an edX course titled ‘Big Bang and the Origin of Chemical Elements’ by Prof Hie-Joon Kim during the holidays. I discovered that light elements, like hydrogen and helium were created at the start of the universe. After that, my interest in science became apparent as I entered the science stream where I met my chemistry teacher who was extremely passionate in her teaching. Her passion and guidance combined with my interest was what ignited me to join IMU’s Foundation in Science programme and subsequently, the Pharmaceutical Chemistry programme.


I chose IMU because I was interested in the Pharmaceutical Chemistry programme from the very beginning and IMU is the only university that provides this course. Since I was a student in IMU since pre-university, I had tons of great memories in university, ranging from the people I’ve met to the knowledge I’ve picked up in school.


During my time here, I have taken up many roles for extracurricular activities such as being the campus tour guide, moderator for forums and co-project leader for events.

Additionally, I was also involved in the Malaysia Schools’ Analyst competition which was held by IMU in collaboration with Institut Kimia Malaysia, The Royal Society of Chemistry and American Chemistry Society. This was an incredible experience as it gives me great fulfilment to see our hard work become educational and advantageous to students on a national scale.

Another great experience that I had in my last year of study in IMU is the internship. Looking back, it’s amazing how much I’ve learnt these past few years in IMU’s Pharmaceutical Chemistry programme utilising the knowledge I’ve acquired in previous semesters to carry out my work during internship.

Personally, I found that topics like Pharmaceutical Analysis, Medicinal Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry and Heterocyclic Chemistry were useful to me during my internship as understanding the concepts helps you approach your work better. In addition, having adequate comprehension of various topics allowed me to provide input during discussions.


Stepping foot into the gates of Monash University, my life as a research intern started, making me part of a three-month study. I was tasked with the synthesis of novel benzimidazole derivatives which are potential anticancer agents. For my project, I was taught and assisted by my colleague who shared a similar project, ranging from equipment use to theoretical knowledge. I distributed my tasks into different time frames for simplicity and better structure, following the order of synthesis, fluorescence studies and cytotoxic studies respectively.


At this internship, I was given my first opportunity to perform cell work. When I was first exposed to cell culture, I didn’t know there was so much to do before being able to perform the MTT assay. MTT assay is an indicator of cytotoxicity and involves three steps namely, seeding, treatment and the assay itself. It was important that the cells cultured beforehand were of sufficient quantity, passaged and survived before the assay.

If those conditions were met, cell counting could be performed to determine the average number of cells available and needed to test the compounds.

At the beginning of internship, I did not have many issues and my progress went smoothly. As my confidence levels grew, my ability to adapt to both the work environment and the instruments improved.

However, I learned that research will not always be smooth sailing as things are unexpected. As I struggled to comprehend why my reactions and yields were unsatisfactory despite following the protocols, my anxiety intensified. Moreover, the equipment was shared among my colleagues, and there were instances when it was fully occupied, which disrupted my carefully planned schedule and increased my stress levels. Despite this, I learned to maintain a positive attitude and not take failure to heart in order to persevere. I repeated the steps independently and sought guidance from my colleagues and supervisor when necessary. This internship taught me to be more self-reliant, use critical thinking, and avoid putting excessive pressure on myself.

All in all, this internship at Monash University was definitely an eye-opener. It is satisfying to be able to apply the knowledge that I’ve learned from IMU’s Pharmaceutical Chemistry throughout the internship while being able to enhance my skillsets and proficiency in different fields at the same time. I believe that having more experience is always valuable and that’s why I’m keen to continue working as a research assistant again after graduation and before continuing my postgraduate studies. I have seen many brilliant individuals persevere to set up major advances in the field of clinical research and it takes a lot of determination and hard work to strive.


My advice to my juniors would be to step out of your comfort zone to pick up as much knowledge as you can during your internship. It is also very normal to feel anxious when you first start your internship but with more time and experience, things will get better!


Written by Siaw Qing, Final Year Pharmaceutical Chemistry student

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published.