Review: Vow’s 6-month program

Through the eyes of four budding scientists on their journey from intern to scientist at Vow.

Rebecca Screnci
May 27 · 8 min read

If you’re interested in joining Vow as part of our Junior program, our fourth intake is open now. Apply here: www.vowfood.com/jobs/junior-research-scientist-6-month-program

It was 2014, I was sitting in my Biotechnology subject at UTS and our lecturer showed us a video about Mark Post and the world’s first ever Beef Burger made without cows. I was sitting next to my vegan friend (I was not yet vegan myself), and I asked if she would eat it. She said yes, and from that moment I was totally gripped by the possibility of cultured meat.

I knew I wanted to work in the field. I lined up with SuperMeat (Israel) and VitroLabs (San Francisco) — both were looking for senior scientists that had enough experience to set up a lab and get R&D up and running.

There were no opportunities for someone early in their science career like me.

I was devastated. Lost and desperate for experience, my search led me to pharmaceuticals. Then it was through pure serendipity that a life-changing opportunity arose to be part of Vow’s founding team right here in Sydney.

Having been with Vow since the very beginning I am incredibly proud to have helped shape an opportunity for early career scientists like me to have a pathway into cultured meat.

Kylie, Avani, Nathan and Lily — Vow’s four interns-turned-Vowzers

We do this through a 6-month paid scientific internship focused on bringing in early-stage-career scientists and giving them the opportunity I wish I had.

At the end of six months with Vow, the best may be offered the opportunity to join our growing team of ‘Vowzers’ full time.

I spoke to some of our former Junior Research Scientists (JRS) that have since joined Vow’s science team full time, to learn a bit more about their experiences in the JRS program.

Where were they before Vow?

In 2019, Lily Logan had finished her degree in Agricultural sciences and entomology (study of insects) and found herself in the USA looking for jobs. She, like many, moved back to Australia in early 2020, and joined the JRS program to extend her scientific skillset.

Similarly in 2019, Nathan Hawkins was wrapping up an iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) project in microbiology, producing psilocybin from E. Coli bacteria. His group was awarded runner up in Best Pharmaceutical Project award among others. With no mammalian cell culture experience, he applied to Vow’s internship to get exposure to an arm of science he wasn’t familiar with yet.

Why Vow?

Mission, mission, mission. All of the scientists that have joined Vow have been inspired by the chance to make real, positive and lasting change in the world. “Vow’s mission and values aligned greatly with my own and it was a big factor into why I wanted to work there” said one of our team who first joined us through Vow’s junior program.

Our budding scientists share an unanimous passion for creating innovative, sustainable, and delicious food products.

In addition to being motivated by Vow’s mission, each and every Junior Research Scientist that has joined Vow was also excited to work on cutting edge, novel science and having access to top-quality mentorship and personal development opportunities.

“The mission of changing the food system and the possibility of working on some cutting edge biological research, including linking genetic signatures to taste and texture profiles and fine tuning the nutritional profile of meat at the cellular level” was the key driver for one of our intern-turned-Vowzers.

Importantly, many of those that joined Vow’s junior program were new to cell culture: “Whilst I didn’t have experience working with mammalian cell culture, I wanted to be involved in the creation of a new food that was both innovative and exciting, which the culture meat space definitely is!”

The hiring process

“The questions asked throughout the process really solidified how much I wanted the job — they spoke to a company that valued culture, work ethic, curiosity, and kindness.”

Vow’s hiring process is rigorous, and this program is no exception.

It starts with submitting a CV and written responses to a few questions. Then, an interview with the scientists, a short take home challenge and finally coffee with the founders.

Those that have joined Vow through this process came out with feelings of empowerment, and a sense of being valued for their unique skill and personalities.

“I felt that the interviewers were not firing questions at me, nor looking for faults in my answers, but rather expressed genuine curiosity and asked follow up questions that allowed me to highlight my skills.”

The first month

“Honestly the first month felt like going to school for the first time. I had so much to learn and it was so cool getting to dive back into being a sponge for all the new information.”

The first month of any new role can be overwhelming yet exciting and delightful all at the same time. Our JRSs described their first few weeks at Vow as intense, but rewarding. They noted how welcoming and approachable the team was, along with the supportive culture which helped them feel calm and welcomed.

Vow has a clear onboarding and “ramp” plan for all those in this program, and while the expectation isn’t that new scientists are experts overnight, we do have high expectations for them to dive in, ask lots of questions, and learn quickly. Even on day one you are hands-on in the lab.

“The first month was really focused on understanding how to work aseptically in the lab and getting hands-on experience with mammalian cell culture (which we got to try out on our first day!)”

The first month is focused on learning and improving laboratory technical skills, which translates to busy weeks and sometimes late nights. But, this rapid learning experience was supported by a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the new Vowzers, given the fast paced nature of our work.

“Asking lots of questions during the first week really helped me navigate through the experience and adapt to rapid changes on a week-to-week basis.”

The best part of the six month program

According to Vow’s most recent crop of interns-turned-Vowzers, the most rewarding parts of the experience were:

  1. The opportunity for strong mentorship — working closely with scientists with decades of experience
  2. Gaining stronger verbal and written communication skills (company-wide presentations, critical analysis of results and report writing, justifying shifts in scientific strategy when new results emerge)
  3. Diving into many different types of projects across the company, and being given ownership within these projects — from focusing on Cell Line Development to Biomaterials and utilising Bioreactors
  4. Working with incredibly kind people

“I enjoyed the opportunity for strong mentorship. In the 6 months of the JRS program I felt my skills in verbal and written communication grew exponentially, as did my discipline for good record keeping.”

Growth as a scientist

“I had the opportunity to work alongside and be mentored by some amazing scientists, which has allowed me to pick at their brains and acquire more knowledge and techniques that I could not have discovered on my own in the given timeframe.”

The most critical, professional improvement that all of these scientists agreed on was that although many of them came with limited lab experience, they gained amazingly valuable, and hands-on exposure to research and lab work.

They were getting their hands on cell culture on their first day, and were encouraged to learn on the job — no slow, tedious, multi-week inductions here!

Those lucky enough to become a Vowzer are put into fast-paced, high-responsibility positions quickly, but they have the patience and encouragement of the knowledgeable, supportive Vow team to make the process of real-time-learning a lot smoother.

“I had the opportunity to work alongside and be mentored by some amazing scientists, which has allowed me to pick at their brains and acquire more knowledge and techniques that I could not have discovered on my own in the given timeframe”

“The level of autonomy and trust given to me during my time as a JRS was really important; it helped me learn to back myself and trust my intuition, to make mistakes and see them as an opportunity for growth, and to clearly communicate back to the team I was working with.”

Some advice from those who have been through it already…

“Get some work experience! This could be anything from volunteering, doing small research projects, internships, honours projects — you’ll learn what you enjoy/don’t enjoy, what skills are in demand in the field you want to be in, and experience to put on your resume. Also, going to events, meeting people, and reading about what you’re interested in helps.”

  • Just apply! Get involved in communities you’re interested in and try to get access to any relevant work experiences.
  • Aim high for the role you want. Lean into the parts of science that fascinate and excite you the most.
  • Be open to change, and show employers you’re comfortable adapting to different situations and learning quickly.
  • Study up on the company and spend time tailoring your resume. Think about ways in which you can apply your own unique skills and experiences to help the company.
  • Show your passion for Vow and our mission

“Be open to change. Show employers that you are comfortable adapting to different situations. In your first few months in a new job, the work you will be doing on your first day may be very different to what you’re doing in your third month. Employers value someone who isn’t afraid to adapt to challenges on the job.”

To finish off, I’d like to give all early-career scientists a word of advice: Jobs will come and go, but your passion will stay with you forever, so get your foot in the door at a company your values align with. Don’t stop trying, it could very well be your next move that gets you there.

If you’re interested in joining Vow as part of our Junior program, our fourth intake is open now. Apply here: www.vowfood.com/jobs/junior-research-scientist-6-month-program

Vow.

Vow — unlocking nature’s food secrets