Student Stories: Georgia Mae Pringle (Plant & Food Research)

Georgia Mae, a second year student majoring in microbiology and environmental science at the University of Auckland, describes her recent summer internship at Plant & Food Research, where she worked as a Novice Bioinformatician for 12 weeks; as part of a team working on an upcoming experiment for Myrtle Rust – an invasive disease caused by a pathogenic fungi attacking our native plants.

"I am from the South Island and had seen the signs for the Plant & Food Research centres while driving past. I was curious about what they did so I googled them and discovered their summer internship programme!

"The interview process was pretty straight forward and more exciting than scary. After googling Plant & Food Research, I sent through my CV, details about my studies and a brief blurb about myself [aka cover letter]. From there, I was lucky enough to have a phone conversation with a supervisor from Plant & Food Research, to find out more about the project and ask any questions I had. They asked for a couple of references, which followed with a Skype interview, and then offered me a placement. It all happened very quickly!

"Over the 12 weeks of my internship, I was part of a team working on Myrtle Rust – a serious fungal disease that affects plants in the myrtle family; like our native pohutukawa, manuka and common garden plants like bottle brush. There’s a handy website to find where Myrtle Rust is, what it looks like and what you can do if you find it. I now know the history of Myrtle Rust and geographically how it’s spread around the world!

"My role was a Novice Bioinformatician – I did a mixture of data analysis and compiling current research on the disease to help the team prepare for an upcoming experiment. It was quite self-led, as often I was deciding which types of comparisons to do and which avenues to investigate further; which was pretty cool really. We had regular team meetings to discuss next steps and create action plans, where I had to present my findings as I went along.

"The most challenging aspect I found, was understanding the code I needed to use. It was like learning a whole new language! I had to get over the hurdle of learning the phrasing and order of process, then I started to piece together my understanding, one step at a time.

Plant & Food Research was a really supportive learning environment. Coming into the internship, I assumed I already had to know everything, and have all the skills already; but my supervisors gave all the resources I could ever need and encouraged me to learn as much as possible. I saw my understanding improve vastly, as a result of the internship experience.

“If I had to give some advice to other students, it would be… don’t be afraid to apply for something that seems a little above your practical skill set, because the “soft” skills, like versatility, are often just as important.”

To find out more about internship opportunities – for either next summer, or even overseas, check out what CDES offers here.

And if you need some help preparing your CV, cover letter or honing your interview skills, head to MyCDES for free career workshops and tools.