In the world of science and technology, hands-on experience is invaluable, especially for fresh graduates like Natalie Lau. A student from the Hong Kong Baptist University, Natalie embarked on a journey to South Africa in June 2023 to pursue an internship in Cape Town. Her time in the mother city included a week-long placement at the UVU Bio lab in Woodstock, providing an opportunity for practical learning, cultural surprises, and a newfound appreciation for the field.
Equipped with a degree in applied biology with a focus on environmental science, Natalie was faced with a decision: where to spend her internship? Despite having limited exposure to biotech practices during her studies, she set her sights on gaining practical experience in this dynamic field. Her search led her to South Africa, where the prospect of working in a state-of-the-art biotech lab compelled Natalie to make the 20-hour journey.
Natalie’s preconceptions about Cape Town were quickly reshaped upon her arrival. Expecting a less developed environment, she was pleasantly surprised to find herself amidst a modern, vibrant city. The crisp air carried a chill that caught her off guard, but it was the warm welcome she received from both her colleagues and the city itself that truly left a mark.
Natalie’s experience at UVU Bio provided her with an unparalleled opportunity to immerse herself in laboratory work. “It was a contrast to my educational background in Hong Kong, where the learning is quite theory focussed” she says. “Opportunities for practical application don’t always exist for students.” Natalie found herself engaging in hands-on experiments, with the highlight of her week being hands on learning of DNA extraction. Through daily interactions with fellow interns, many of whom were local students studying biotech, Natalie gained invaluable insights, fostering an environment of idea exchange and collaborative learning.
“Natalie was a pleasure to have in the lab,” shares Dr Anesu Moyo, Lab Manager for UVU Bio. “She was eager to learn and always willing to help out. She quickly picked up the techniques and was able to contribute not only to our research projects but also to the day-to-day running of the laboratory as a technician.” With a four-year bachelor’s degree under her belt, Natalie is set to teach high school biology in the upcoming year before embarking on a master’s program. The pinnacle of her journey would be realised with an offer from Oxford University pending her acceptance. She hopes to further hone her skills and contribute to the global biology landscape.
Natalie’s reflections on South Africa’s biotech capabilities are both insightful and intriguing. Despite not being directly involved in the field, she was astounded by the advanced equipment and technology at UVU Bio, which she considers to be on par with global standards. Her narrative also touches on the quirky experience of load shedding, where she navigated moments of darkness during unexpected times and even downloaded the infamous ESP app!
Although a return trip to South Africa isn’t on the cards anytime soon, Natalie doesn’t rule out the possibility of visiting again, perhaps on a vacation! For aspiring biotech enthusiasts, Natalie’s journey serves as an inspiring testament to the value of experiential learning. Her advice to others is clear: an internship at a lab like UVU Bio can be a transformative experience, particularly for those seeking to gain insights over and above what theoretical education can provide. By taking the leap and interning at UVU Bio, she gained valuable skills, made lifelong connections, and discovered a new passion for biotech. If you’re looking to make a difference in the world of science, we encourage you to follow in Natalie’s footsteps.
UVU Bio offers a variety of internship opportunities for students of all levels. Whether you’re just starting out in your biotech career or you’re looking to gain some specialised experience, we have an internship that’s right for you. Contact us today to learn more about our internship programme.