From Intern to Student Lab Tech

Sophie Harrington
May 25, 2016 · 3 min read

Wandering around the maze-like hallways of CAIS, I look for someone I haven’t yet met. The center employs a lot of students, many of whom I’ve glimpsed through lab doorways, dawning goggles and wielding equipment with purple-latex-clad hands.

These students, who include both undergraduates and graduates, are part of CAIS’ commitment to experiential STEM education. Under the new directorship of Jeff Speakman, CAIS has expanded its educational outreach to include K-12 and teacher education in addition to expanding the number of student research and training opportunities available. Over the past four years, CAIS has provided more and more opportunities for students (including myself) to gain experience in various fields through assistantships, technician positions, and internships.

The particular student I seek is an incidental advocate for experiential learning. She may not intend it, but when I finally locate her, everything she tells me expresses the value of putting theory into practice.

“I’ve learned to be a better worker,” Onyale Donloe said of her experience at CAIS.

Onyale is an undergraduate on the cusp of graduation. She began as an intern at CAIS in autumn 2015 and worked hard enough to land a position as a student lab technician for the following winter and spring. These positions involve chemistry — extremely precise measurements of very fine amounts of material. Specifically, Onyale does sample prep pertaining to bioanthropology. She weighs samples, performs extractions, dilutions, and measures pH levels. It is meticulous work.

The patience required astounds me as someone who always really wanted to like, but deeply despised, lab days in grade school. While Onyale explains the significance of her experience, I feel myself begin to regret not taking advantage of the opportunity to hone such skills as attention to detail, careful precision, and patience, all of which come in handy for pretty much every endeavor one could embark upon.

Onyale proves this point to me. Bioanthropology is actually not her field of study. She’s long been on the medical track to attend optometry school.

“I can see myself applying what I’ve learned here to my future, even dealing with patients, making sure I’m following procedures, and that my equipment is clean,” Onyale said.”

After graduation, which fast approaches, Onyale will be a medical assistant at an optometry office. But for a woman who, at the end of March had already worked the maximum amount of student hours for the entire semester, could bioanthropology be in her future?

“Nothing is set in stone. I never expected to do the internship; I never expected to be a lab technician,” Onyale said.

And apparently, medical doctors sometimes apply their knowledge to biological or forensic anthropology later in life, so that path is open if she chooses to take it. At the moment, however, she’s preparing for the shift from college life to the real world.

“I’m very sad I have to leave [CAIS]. This was the best experience of my college career,” Onyale said, “Definitely.”

CAIS: Beyond the Lab

CAIS research helps us to fill in the gaps of human history, understand climate change, reveal misbranding of food products, and even trace the whens and wheres in crime investigations. Meet the people behind the science and learn more about how our research applies to you.

Sophie Harrington

Written by

A developing conservationist pursuing love and labor of land. Intentional rambler.

CAIS: Beyond the Lab

CAIS research helps us to fill in the gaps of human history, understand climate change, reveal misbranding of food products, and even trace the whens and wheres in crime investigations. Meet the people behind the science and learn more about how our research applies to you.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade