Beyond the Books at AU: Biology Major Follows Passion for Research With Internship at Avera Health

By AU Strategic Communications & Marketing | July 12, 2022
Vedant Thakker

Augustana University student Vedant Thakkar ‘24, of Vadodara, India, is majoring in biology — with concentrations in cell & molecular biology — as well as minoring in chemistry. This summer, Thakkar is interning with Avera Health at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls. There, he is responsible for testing a therapy consisting of two novel drugs in breast cancer cell models — observing their effects on the cancer cells individually and in a combination at various concentrations. Following his time at AU, Thakkar plans to earn a Ph.D. in cell & molecular biology and eventually become a research scientist.

Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

A: Currently, I am serving as the co-president of the Cancer Awareness Club and involved as a volunteer with the Augustana Garden. Moreover, this year, I will be helping out incoming international students as an ACE ambassador!

Q: Where or how did you hear about Augustana?

A: I got an email from Wade Gemar ‘08, my admission counselor and one of the most amazing people I know! 

Q: What is/are the reason(s) you chose to come to Augustana?

A: Three things made me choose Augie. Firstly, my admission counselor, Wade, was amazingly helpful and he answered all of my queries about Augustana and life as an international student in the United States. Also, I had reached out to the biology department with questions and I got a really good response. These two things strengthened my belief that at Augie, I would be able to access the resources I need and have support from a strong community. Lastly, I had a lengthy conversation with Kirtana Krishna Kumar ‘20. Her insight into the community around Sioux Falls, and the tremendous amount of opportunities this city has to offer in the biomedical industry, cemented my decision to attend Augustana. 

Q: How did you get the internship? Did anyone help you? What did that journey look like?

A: I applied to this internship through the job search portal on Avera Health’s website, based on the recommendation of my sister, Barsha Shah ‘23. I managed to successfully clear two interviews with the translational oncology department and was offered the position of student intern for Summer 2022. Ann Kolbrek, my career & academic planning (CAP) specialist, helped me in preparation for the interview by providing me with amazing tips and tools that highlighted my skills better. Also, I had constant support and advice from the faculty in the biology department, especially Dr. Jennifer A.A. Gubbels, my academic advisor.

Q: What do you like most about your internship?

A: There are a multitude of things that I absolutely love about my internship. I get the first-hand experience of seeing the bench-to-bed process of drug discovery and distribution. In addition to that, my internship is designed with several workshops that allow me to learn tools and access resources for academic and professional development. Finally, I am able to connect with some of the best scientific minds in the Midwest like my principal investigator, Pradip De, and fellow scientists, such as Nandini Dey, Jennifer Aske, Xiaoqian Lin and Adam Dale ‘19. 

Q: What do you hope to learn/gain from the internship?

A: My previous experiences have prepared me for the professional corporate world. However, I want to utilize this internship to apply and refine the tools I have gained previously. Also, this internship is very hands-on and I bear the majority of the responsibility for my project. Hence, I will learn how to be more independent and accountable. Furthermore, the internship has pushed me to learn more in-depth about the concepts that I have learned in my classes at Augie. As a result, I am more intrigued by cell biology and I want to explore cancer biology a lot more!

Q: Why is experiential learning important for your future endeavors?

A: I believe that experiential learning is crucial for individual growth and success. My experiential learning experiences have allowed me to strengthen my core concepts which has yielded a stronger academic foundation on which I can grow and build my career. Moreover, I have learned a rare skill — the ability to transfer academic knowledge into the practical world. Finally, this internship is allowing me to explore my interests in scientific research and discern what field of study in biology I want to pursue in my future education. 

Overall, I believe that experiential learning will give me access to a unique portfolio of skills and experiences that will convert in the future into, hopefully, a lucrative career. 

Q: How important is building relationships/connections?

A: To succeed in the corporate world, I strongly believe that networking and establishing solid connections is very crucial. Many of my past and current internship opportunities were results of connections with various health care professionals, especially in the scientific research realm, around Sioux Falls, and at Augustana. Also, having ample connections creates the possibility of wonderful collaborations, which can accelerate one’s career goals.

Learn about the 2,000+ jobs and internships posted annually by the Augustana University Student Success Center at Augie Opportunities.

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