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Research Internship Leads to New Interests and Experiences for IMU Medical Biotechnology Student

02 Oct 2019

The IMU Medical Biotechnology programme incorporates a 3-month internship component as part of its curriculum for final year students. It has always been my belief that internships would provide an individual the platform to sharpen existing skills and learn new ones, so I was really happy to have the opportunity to undergo a research internship at Monash University Malaysia from April till July 2019 under the supervision of A/Prof Adeline Ting Su Yien and Dr Thoo Yin Yin. I was fortunate that I was assigned to work independently on a mini research project and was exposed to a new field in scientific research: food science. Coming from an entirely different background, it was initially a challenge to adapt to concepts and techniques related to food science, but I welcomed this experience to promote my own personal growth and as an introduction to a new field.

My project title was ‘Integrated Sanitation Methods for Salads’. Basically, I had to test the effect of different reagents (calcium chloride, acetic acid and ozone water) combined with two treatment methods (dipping and washing) on vegetables found in pre-packaged salads (lettuce, carrots and cherry tomatoes).

The vegetables were subjected to different analyses including changes in colour and texture, chlorophyll and carotenoid contents and total microbial count for a period of 10 days with analysis every 48 hours. This project was aimed at producing alternative sanitation methods besides the industrial use of chlorine which would lead to formation of cancer-inducing agents upon consumption. During the period of my placement, I had been exposed to various equipment including the use of colour spectrophotometer, texture analyser with different probes and ozone generator to produce ozonated water at different concentrations. I also managed to polish my skills in obtaining chlorophyll and carotenoid contents using acetone and obtaining microbial counts using spread-plate technique which were previously learnt in the course. Lab work would not complete without the need to analyse results using a statistical software. The research team at Monash were abundantly kind in providing training to the use of Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) specialising in one- and two-way ANOVA as well as post-hoc tests (Tukey). I was also briefed on reflecting the output obtained through the software on graphical representation in my scientific report. There were challenges which I had mostly viewed as lessons for self-improvement. I was introduced to a new field that required immense reading on various journals and books to acquire the necessary concepts and the use of equipment. In terms of time management, I was only allowed to be in the laboratory on weekdays until 6pm, therefore there was the need to fit and adjust my analyses according to the stipulated time without jeopardising the progress of my research. These barriers provided a further strengthening of research skills as well working independently and time management.

How has the IMU Medical Biotechnology Programme Prepared Me for the Internship?
I believe that the IMU Medical Biotechnology programme has prepared me well for my internship via the various practical sessions and skills learnt from faculty members each semester. The skills learnt have been invaluable in providing the independence to carry out research projects and practical work. Modules such as Applied Microbiology and Parasitology as well as Objective Structured Laboratory Examination (OSLE) gave me gain the confidence to work independently on the given project without intervention from the supervisors. In addition, my supervisors in Monash and their research team always provided adequate doses of support, encouragement and flexibility in task execution and one-on-one weekly progress meetings.

Throughout my internship, I had the chance to observe the work of various students undertaking postgraduate studies and their hurdles. This further strengthened the notion that a myriad of skills and patience would be needed to survive the journey towards a postgraduate qualification.

An event that caught my eye was the 3-Minute Thesis Competition whereby students were required to compress the findings from 3 years of work into 3 minutes and that experience was quite an eye-opener. Another unforgettable memory that would be etched in me would be the newly found connections and friendships that were bridged throughout my internship. In a nutshell, I am very fortunate to have been able to carry out my internship in Monash University Malaysia under two amazing supervisors and their research students as well as gaining a newfound interest in food science. I am also happy to announce that I would be undertaking my postgraduate studies, Master in Science in Monash University Malaysia under the same supervisors commencing in December 2019.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do” -Steve Jobs-

Written and photos by: Ruben Amirthalingam (MB116)

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