15 Years of BioTrain

Inspiring the Future of Biotechnology Careers

As they enter the building, an intriguing trio gathers: the digital lead at Nike, a distinguished bioinformatician from one of the nation’s premier labs, and a dedicated 8th-grade teacher from the local community. One might expect this to be the setup for a joke, complete with a predictable punchline. However, the setting is far from a comedy club; it's the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. These remarkable individuals were once BioTrain interns, roaming the halls of the Institute at different times and years. Now, they join forces to make a profound impact on the world, revolutionizing the realms of footwear, cellular research, and education, one step, one discovery, and one student at a time.

The BioTrain Internship program is one of the longest running programs at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Over the last 15 years, the program has encouraged and enabled students to explore the ins-and-outs of a biotechnology career. Some of them continued their journey into the world of biology, some of them changed courses, and some decided to help the next generation of scientists discover their true potential.

HudsonAlpha is celebrating 15 years of discovery, progress and innovation. During this milestone year, the Institute is also looking forward to the next decade and a half of exploration. The start of the BioTrain Internship coincides with HudsonAlpha’s conception in 2008. Now in the midst of its 15th year, we want to celebrate the program's success, meet and learn from the students the program inspired, and look forward to where the program will be in the next 15 years.

The HudsonAlpha BioTrain Internship is unlike any other internship offered across the country. Through its training, professional development, teambuilding and poster presentation, BioTrain enables students to connect their classwork with real-world job experiences. “It was like test driving having a career, which was really nice,” Abbie Ruesy, BioTrain class of 2021, said. Interns gain skills and knowledge that will prepare them for biotechnology and related professions. 

Undergraduate students through master’s level graduate students can get experiences that range from in-depth laboratory research to biotechnology marketing, communications and business strategy throughout the summer program. They can also gain experience at one of the resident biotech companies on HudsonAlpha’s campus, something unlike any other experience. “I think the fact that the internship is here in Research Park, where you are surrounded by science and biotech is really nice,” Myrah Hoskins, BioTrain class of 2015 said. “The fact that you can run into a faculty researcher here, they're always good about talking to you and answering questions. It’s like a community.” Myrah interned for a resident biotech company, what HudsonAlpha calls an associate company, and now works for another, iRepertoire, just a floor away from the Educational Outreach space. 

While BioTrain interns can learn from faculty investigators and other professionals, they also learn from each other. “I was one of the older interns, if not the oldest, and I enjoyed that,” Myrah said. “I liked having the age range because you learn from the younger people just as much as you do from those that are older than you. I liked that aspect and the diversity of it.” 

BioTrain interns gain skills and knowledge that prepare them for the workforce, as well as related higher education coursework. “The opportunities at HudsonAlpha definitely prepared me for and enabled me to get opportunities to work with really cool computational labs,” Claudia Chu, BioTrain class of 2015, said. Interns are also able to see discoveries happen in real-time and take part in that process. “Rick's (Myers) lab was just amazing because it gave me a glimpse into what the real world was like,” Dalton Greenwood, BioTrain class of 2015 and 2016, said. “It was just innovation after innovation. It was science fiction, but it was real. It was here and now.”

Simultaneously, interns improve their professional skills through weekly lunch seminars that focus on learning to work in a professional setting and dealing with workplace values, something that separates the program from other laboratory experiences. “It definitely made me more professional,” Jared Taylor, BioTrain class of 2019, said. “I come from working at a Mom and Pop place in Athens. So coming to a bigger company and learning the ins and outs of a profession, definitely helped me grow in that sense.” After starting the BioTrain program as a 27-year-old, Jared is now a computational biologist in the Cochran lab at HudsonAlpha.

While interns work on their professional skills, the program allows for personal development and connection with team-building events, like paint nights, trivia nights and bunking together for the summer. “I remember my roommates in the BioTrain dorms, we had lots of fun,” Jada Pugh, BioTrain intern class of 2015, said. “We explored Huntsville a lot. I had this kind of weird niche and interest, so I got to meet a lot of different people with similar, niche interests and like the genetics realm and learn from them and what they were hoping to do. That was really fun.” Jada now works as a genetic counselor for the Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine on HudsonAlpha's campus.

How many positions are there?

The BioTrain Internship is the most coveted internship at HudsonAlpha. The program accepts anywhere from 25 to 35 students every summer, depending on the departments and companies hiring interns that year. In 2022, the BioTrain program saw its largest number of BioTrain interns, with 38 students coming through the program. On average, the internship hires 28 interns for different departments and resident biotech companies.  “I was really lucky to be the first BioTrain intern in Josh’s [Clevenger] lab,” Patricia Sanmartin, BioTrain class of 2021, said. “It was everything I was looking for in biotech and this multidisciplinary field.” 

Sometimes, BioTrain students continue past their internships and become full-time employees at HudsonAlpha, as in Patricia’s case. She is now a full-time research associate in the Clevenger Lab. “I am really passionate about sustainable agriculture, and I am so impressed and lucky to work in the lab.” Now, she is working on drought resistance and is grateful she decided to give the BioTrain Internship a go. “I honestly underestimated myself,” Patricia said. “Due to all the publications and the amount of research HudsonAlpha is doing, I thought I wasn’t ever going to be able to be here, but here I am.”

Former and current HudsonAlpha employees

Patricia is one of eight BioTrain-turned-HudsonAlpha employees interviewed for this piece alone. HudsonAlpha hired 27 BioTrain interns, with 20 of them working full-time at the Institute today. 13 BioTrain interns also stayed on longer than their internship, working part-time for the Institute. “I want to be here forever, if possible,” Morgan Brown, BioTrain class of 2022, said. “ I fell in love the minute I walked in.” Morgan also became a full-time employee through the BioTrain internship, now working in the Swaminathan Lab as a research associate. “The internship established a career that I think will be my forever career.”

Former and current associate company employees

HudsonAlpha’s associate companies are also home to many former BioTrain interns. 23 former BioTrain interns worked for associate companies on campus, with nearly half of them there today. “You get to learn,” Dharini Govindarajan, BioTrain class of 2009, said. Dharini was part of the first cohort of BioTrain interns in 2009. The BioTrain program was her first taste of American culture as she made her way over from India to the United States for a master’s program. “I had the opportunity to learn the most recent technology, like RNA vs. DNA. But I also learned a lot about American culture. I learned what a group lunch in this country looked like and how to work as a team, so it was huge for me to be in that environment.”

Where are they from?

Students come from all over the country, with interns hailing from 10 different states and more than 58 universities. HudsonAlpha’s campus is accustomed to having BioTrain interns bustling around every summer, as nearly 400 students have gone through the program over the last 15 years, with some coming back for a second summer.

More than three-quarters of the interns that went through the program grew up in Alabama. BioTrain interns represented more than 20 different Alabama colleges and universities, including the University of Alabama, University of Alabama in Huntsville, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Auburn University, Alabama A&M University, University of North Alabama, University of South Alabama, and more. One of the goals of the BioTrain internship program is to promote workforce development for the state of Alabama. “HudsonAlpha really focuses on local education,” Claudia Chu said. Eligibility is limited to students that attend college in Alabama or are permanent residents of Alabama and attend college elsewhere. “I got to benefit from that as a resident of Alabama and also got to work with my fellow neighbors in exploring this new field that is constantly changing. That is the part I enjoyed the most, that HudsonAlpha focuses on people who are in and around the state.” 

Stipends and professional development

Each intern is paid a stipend while working 10-30 hours a week during the internship, depending upon their position. “I think that is something that sets the BioTrain internship apart,” Peyton Kuhlers, BioTrain class of 2018, said. “Interns get to develop professionally, get research experience and get paid. My undergrad research was unpaid, so having that stipend for me during BioTrain was really nice.” 

BioTrain interns also credit the professional development sessions as part of the reason why they are where they are now. Joseph Quan, BioTrain class of 2022, said these sessions, along with the connections he made throughout the internship, were key to snagging his first job in the industry. “I wouldn’t have known the people who gave me my position and I wouldn’t have the training necessary,” he said. “If I had to whittle it down to two points, I would say it would be the opportunity presented to me and the constant encouragement to pursue that opportunity.” Joseph is now the Program Manager for HudsonAlpha’s AgTech Accelerator, a position he learned and earned while interning with the Economic Development department and participating in weekly professional development seminars.

Over the last decade and a half, nearly 400 high school students, undergraduates and graduate students have gone through the program and onto their next steps, whether that is continuing their education, a biotech career or a complete pivot. But one of those very first BioTrain interns decided to stay and lead the program for the last eight years.

Meet Michele Morris, the woman behind the program.

What first inspired you to pursue a career in education, specifically science education?

I was so excited about the opportunity to be a part of the biotech industry in Huntsville that I decided to pursue a second career in science. I enrolled in biotechnology studies at the same time that HudsonAlpha was being established. Becoming a part of this emerging industry in Huntsville was very inspiring and set me on a course of several new college degrees.

How did you know you wanted to lead the BioTrain program?

Having been a member of the first cohort of BioTrain Interns, I knew what a unique and impactful program it was. After gaining a few years of experience in Educational Outreach, I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to lead this impressive program. Interacting with the students and our inspiring mentors is one of the best parts of my job.

You’ve been leading this program for eight years, what are some key milestones or accomplishments that you’ve had during that time?

I’ve been a part of the BioTrain Internship program since 2009 and have been leading the program since 2015. Over that time, I’ve met so many impressive students. Thanks to the growth of HudsonAlpha and our close partnerships with our associate companies, the program has grown to offer access to a diverse range of unparalleled opportunities. To remain competitive in attracting top talent, our stipends now rival those of other programs. We have mentored close to 400 students in the past 15 cohorts of interns and have seen them spread out across the world as well as return to HudsonAlpha to support our mission areas.

What is your mission or vision that guides the BioTrain program?

From the beginning, HudsonAlpha has been committed to creating a community well-educated in the ways genetics and genomics can impact their lives and to building the biotechnology workforce for the future. The mission of the BioTrain Internship program is to offer opportunities for students to grow the skills needed to become part of that workforce. BioTrain seeks to involve interns in meaningful research projects on the cutting edge of science. Additionally, the program has an equally important goal of providing professional development training to the interns through guidance from experienced researchers and scientists and interactions with other professionals in the field. And lastly, we hope to build a community for the interns through collaboration and networking that will expand their professional network and support them as they participate in the scientific community.

Is there something that happened during the program that you are particularly proud of?

I’m so happy and proud to see our former interns leading the lives they dreamed of and prepared for. I see some when they post about graduations or new jobs on social media, and I see many right here at HudsonAlpha’s campus supporting the workforce in Alabama. I’m proud of HudsonAlpha’s commitment to supporting Alabama students and pouring time and resources into their training. The BioTrain Internship program has truly made a difference in the lives of our participants.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

As director of the BioTrain Internship program, I have witnessed firsthand the positive influence a mentor can have on a student's career trajectory. The dedicated mentors in this program are deeply committed to providing a comprehensive educational experience for their students, investing countless hours and effort into building their skills, confidence, and sense of belonging within the scientific community. It is not surprising that our interns consistently produce outstanding posters showcasing their work and leave the program feeling prepared to move forward in their professional journey.

BioTrain Interns: at a glance

Pictured below are the BioTrain interns who interviewed with HudsonAlpha for this story, the year(s) they participated in the program, and how they would describe the program with a word or a phrase. Read more to learn what they had to say about their experience in the program.

Peyton Kuhlers

Department interned with: Sara Cooper Lab

Where are they now: Bioinformatics scientist at UNC 

What advice would you give to incoming BioTrain interns?

I would say take the opportunity to do extra things on the side. I did some extra RNA sequencing analysis, and that led me to my post-Masters job. Really soak up the opportunity you have. Talk to a lot of different people, and get exposure to as many different areas as you can.

Patricia Sanmartin

Department interned with: Clevenger Lab

Where are they now: Research Associate with the Clevenger Lab

How would you describe your BioTrain experience?

I would say my experience opened the door for biotechnology. I now see biotech as a multidisciplinary field that is working with nature instead of against it. BioTrain opened the door of knowledge to what biotechnology is about. Plus, being around people that are so passionate about their research is contagious. I am not leaving this place, they are going to have to kick me out!

Morgan Brown

Department interned with: Swaminathan Lab

Where are they now: Research Associate in the Swaminathan Lab

How would you describe your BioTrain experience?

Life-changing, it seriously changed my life. BioTrain established a career that I think will be my forever career, no matter where I am. It opened a huge door for me and helped me concrete in my brain how much I love this work and this sort of research. I didn’t think I was competitive enough to get in, but I applied anyway. If you’re ever thinking about making that leap, just do it. You don’t know what to expect, and you will regret 100% of the chances you don’t take.

Ben Henderson, PhD

Department interned with: Shawn Levy in Genome Sequencing Lab at HudsonAlpha

Where are they now: Senior Scientist in Rick Myers Lab at HudsonAlpha

What is a piece of advice you would give incoming BioTrain interns?

I would say to take advantage of everything you can. Get as many skills as you can and get as many unique experiences as you can because those are only going to pay off as you move forward through your career. Take advantage of every opportunity that you can while you’re here.

Alicia Mulqueen

Department interned with: Educational Outreach

Where are they now: Science teacher at Limestone County Schools

What was your biggest takeaway from the BioTrain internship?

I received support every step of the way. Everyone I worked with in Education was so gracious, so helpful and so supportive. It was a wonderful environment to learn, especially because I was younger and newer, teaching in a room full of children. It’s not easy. To have people there to support you and make you feel more comfortable in that position was an amazing experience.

Abbie Ruesy

Department interned with: Economic Development

Where they are now: Economic Development at HudsonAlpha

What sets BioTrain apart from other internships?

The HudsonAlpha ecosystem as a whole is great, and people here treat you like an adult. I felt like I had mentorship. There was a responsibility given to me with specific bounds, an almost impactful responsibility. BioTrain is like a test drive of having a job and responsibilities because the teams are so small and broad but still focused, so it's like you take this sliver and make it your own.

Claudia Chu

Department interned with: Jerry Jenkins in the Genome Sequencing Center at HudsonAlpha

Where are they now: Gad Getz lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

What is your biggest takeaway from the BioTrain internship?

We need more computer scientists. In regards to the BioTrain program, I hope to see it continue for years to come. I hope others will come to appreciate the great work that’s happening, both the science but also the outreach that's happening at HudsonAlpha. I also hope people recognize the services that HudsonAlpha provides, nationally and in science in general, but also locally to serve the community in Alabama.

Dalton Greenwood, PhD

Department interned with: Rick Myers Lab

Where are they now: Searching for opportunities in biotech finance

How did BioTrain impact your professional development?

I’d say it was integral. I was interested in the science, in finding the basis of cures for today’s diseases. Rick’s lab was amazing because it gave me a glimpse into what that world was like. It was innovation after innovation. It was science fiction, but it was real. It was here and now. 

Jada Pugh, CGC

Department interned with: Jacobs Lab (2015); Educational Outreach as genetic counseling intern (2016)

Where are they now: Genetic Counselor with the Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine at HudsonAlpha

What advice would you give to incoming BioTrain interns?

Ask questions, even if they feel silly. My first week as an intern, I pretended like I knew everything that everyone was saying and wrote down questions in this notebook. I would go home at night and Google the answers, so that I didn’t have to admit that I didn’t know anything. And that’s hilarious, I think you can call that personal growth. I was definitely asking questions by the end of things.

Joseph Quan

Department interned with: Economic Development

Where are they now: Program manager for the HudsonAlpha AgTech Accelerator with gener8tor

What skills did you learn during BioTrain that you were able to transfer to what you are doing now?

I became a lot more mature during the BioTrain process. Because of the inclusive environment at HudsonAlpha, I feel like we biotech interns weren’t seen as interns, we were seen as little scientists or little business people. It gave me the confidence to be able to speak with other people in a confident manner. BioTrain helped me get over my imposter syndrome and boosted my confidence.

Dharini Govindarajan, PhD

Department interned with: Digital Radiance

Where are they now: Digital lead at Nike.com

What did the BioTrain program help you learn that you took into your professional life?

There were two things BioTrain helped me learn: first off, being a fresh immigrant student coming from India to the US, BioTrain was my first full-time job off campus, and it got me used to the American work culture. So those two months of working helped me understand what it looks like to work with Americans. Professionally, the technology was amazing. The biggest exposure to what the latest technology was in that academic space. At HudsonAlpha, I could play with the most recent gadgets to learn what things look like, it was amazing to learn.

Tyler Clark

Department interned with: Economic Development

Where are they now: Economic Development Specialist with HudsonAlpha

What advice do you have for incoming BioTrain interns?

My advice is just give it a shot, just try it. You know, go and send in the application, it's the sign of personal growth. Don’t be afraid to fail. There is a button that you can press at any time to advance the state of your life, it's never really clear what that button is, but it's somewhere out there. So my advice is press a lot of different buttons, try different things and see what happens.

Jared Taylor

Department interned with: Senior Scientist Eric Mendenhall

Where are they now: Computational Biologist in the Cochran Lab

What do you think sets BioTrain apart from other summer internships?

I think HudsonAlpha in general. The emphasis they put on collaboration and bringing groups together is what drove me to come here.

Myrah Hoskins

Department interned with: Diatherix Molecular Diagnostics Lab

Where are they now: iRepertoire

Do you have a memorable moment from the program?

I remember my advisor teaching me to ask myself: Why am I doing what I am doing? That stuck with me because the why makes the how a little bit easier, and you can see the bigger picture.

Michele Morris

Department interned with: Educational Outreach

Where are they now: Director of Workforce Development at HudsonAlpha Educational Outreach

What is your favorite part about BioTrain?

I’m so happy and proud to see our former interns leading the lives they dreamed of and prepared for. I see some when they post about graduations or new jobs on social media, and I see many right here at HudsonAlpha’s campus supporting the workforce in Alabama. I’m proud of HudsonAlpha’s commitment to supporting Alabama students and pouring time and resources into their training.

Where are they now?

Fifteen years have come and gone since the first interns stepped foot into HudsonAlpha’s atrium. Over this span of time, the profound impact of the BioTrain internship program has extended far and wide, reaching the lives of nearly 400  students, who are now scattered across the globe. So, where did these former students land, and what are they doing now?

Among this diverse cohort, more than 20 talented former interns found their calling within the vast realm of the medical field. These students dedicated their efforts to healing, with one student undertaking their studies in Greece. Their passion for helping others has driven them to embrace the challenges and rewards of the demanding and fulfilling profession.

Nearly 60 of the interns continued their intellectual growth, choosing to pursue higher education at esteemed universities across the nation, including the University of Michigan, Stanford and Yale. These learners are exploring diverse disciplines, expanding their knowledge and paving the way for future scientific breakthroughs.

As the realm of scientific research continues to unravel the mysteries of our world, it comes as no surprise that 25 BioTrain interns chose to immerse themselves in that research. Engaging in a quest for knowledge, two of these inquisitive minds have ventured beyond borders to conduct research in the scientific powerhouses of Germany and Australia. They are paving the way to contribute to the global scientific community.

Communication captivated the interests of at least 15 of these talented individuals. Equipped with the power of words and expression, they are embracing careers in the dynamic field of communications. Among them, a few found themselves serving as trusted press assistants, lending their skills to Governor Ivey’s office. Their ability to craft narratives and convey vital information is now helping shape public opinion and foster understanding in our society.

Meanwhile, the realm of engineering attracted the attention of 24 former interns, who now find themselves at the forefront of innovation and technological advancement. Their endeavors span many domains, with one individual serving as a software engineer for global tech giant, Apple. Through their exceptional skills and unwavering dedication, they contribute to shaping the future, pushing boundaries and revolutionizing how we interact with the world.

A group of 15 interns who gleaned inspiration and knowledge from their time at HudsonAlpha, chose to embark on the field of education. These former interns have become guiding lights within classrooms, imparting knowledge and learning in the hearts of future scientists. A few of these remarkable educators have come full circle, returning to their roots at HudsonAlpha. Both Michele Morris and April Reis, BioTrain class of 2009, continue to share their experiences and shape the minds of aspiring scientists and researchers.

Through the BioTrain Internship program’s nurturing environment, collaborative opportunities, and exposure to cutting-edge research, these professionals are equipped with the tools and knowledge to thrive in their chosen paths. Whether they’re in a leadership position at Nike, a bioinformatician at a top lab, or an 8th-grade teacher, they carry with them the lessons and experience gained during their time in the BioTrain internship program at HudsonAlpha.

Applications for the Summer 2024 BioTrain Internship program will be open from January 15 through February 15, 2024 at https://www.hudsonalpha.org/biotrain/