Adaptive Biotechnologies – A Final Reflection

A Brief Introduction

The inherent value of the internship as a learning method was made utterly clear to me this summer. Approaching my work at Adaptive from a number of angles, I was able to more accurately understand just how much practical knowledge I was accumulating. This final reflection will break down the separate aims of my internship and how much I was able to accomplish in each. These aims are not all simply related to the leadership structure of the organization I was working with. This company, and the field they are advancing, are deeply interesting to me. I will note later how my work with Adaptive reinforced and expanded my scientific understanding of the basis of their work. This company sits at the intersection of a great number of my interests, and I fully intend on traveling to the West Coast to work with them after graduation.

In an even briefer introduction – this was an excellent internship.

Aim 1: The Life Cycle of a Project

I owe the idea for this aim to my father. He and I speak often, and with my work at this company last summer, he recognized that I was in a core position in the daily work of the company. This position is exceptional in its overarching nature – overseeing or at least monitoring the progress of each project on almost every step of its journey from initiation to completion. Although the projects that we monitor are only a portion of the business that the company does, this summer was an excellent opportunity to see what each department does at each step of the journey. I took time out of my daily work to meet with colleagues in other departments. The discussions we had focused not on what I could do for them as a member of the Business Development team, but more on what they do themselves in their day-to-day. In the previous summer, I was too busy to spend time focusing on things I could not help with, but this summer allowed me a little more time to focus on non-essential information. In this way, I learned a great deal about the Legal Department, the Biological Sample Management Department, the Computational Biology Departments, and the Project Managers.

This was a great place to witness leadership structures in other departments. Without the anchor-point of my own department, I was able to learn more about the formal and informal leader-follower relationships present in the company. Having previously known little to nothing about some departments, a simple study of the official hierarchy was valuable both in understanding the interactions between members of that department and interacting with them myself in the course of normal work. As an example, Biological Sample Management is split into both in-lab “Specialists” and out-of-lab “Analytical Plan Managers.” Computational Biology, meanwhile, is a portion of the company far larger than I had originally imagined, with a great number of personnel I had not before had the chance to meet. Beyond the explicit hierarchy, just spending time among the lab personnel or attending joint Computational Biology meetings shed a little more light on the informal leadership structures within each department. Most of the time, leadership status was a function of experience and time spent at the company, but some folks were either bright enough or loud enough to command impressive authority over their own groups.

My training at Adaptive also built up my specific knowledge on the project requirements of standard biotechnical work. I went through large amounts of Adaptive-specific training, but also completed a Good Clinical Laboratory Practice course that will be applicable for years to come in many different jobs in the Biotechnology field. This is worthy of mention in this leadership paper not only to discuss things of value I was able to achieve during the summer, but as another experiment in leadership structure. The standard work-structure of the Biotechnology project is one of one company, which has a clever idea and sets the scope and aims of the project, and a contracted company which completes the work of testing. Adaptive is contracted by the originating company, but receives shipments from the contracted company, creating an interesting dynamic of decision-making and a tangled web of emails.

Aim 2: The Inter-Department Interactions

The area that held my most interest, returning to Adaptive, was the interactions between different areas of the company. Business Development, as a department, is a stand-in between many different pieces of the company, as well as each of those pieces and the customer. I was the bridge for a number of different interdepartmental communications, the perfect position to understand how different departments interact. With the previous aim to understand the work that each department did individually, this aim fills out the rest of the work necessary for Adaptive to function.

An interesting case study in this regard is the relationship between the Project Managers and the Legal team. Project Managers are the primary contact for the customer during the initial contracting phase of the project. After the customer expresses interest in moving forward, the Project Managers draft an initial contract document and send it to the customer to review. The customer always sends the initial document back with some modifications. These modifications are then jointly reviewed between the Project Manager responsible for this document, and a member of the Legal team. While the Project Manager can make some edits, everything passes through final approval by the Legal personnel. I was able to work with another intern to participate in this process: I played the role of the Project Manager while he played the role of the Legal representative. Although our supervisors maintained the ability to make the final changes before returning the document to the customer, this process was valuable to me in understanding the relationship between these two departments. The Legal representative, by the authority of their knowledge on the subject, is given the final word. While this gives them great authority in the final contract, the actual schedule of the review is set by the Project Manager. Being the one maintaining the conversation with the customer, while initially intended to simply save the Legal worker some time, gives the Project Manager their own form of authority in the discussion. The customer also plays a role in the Leadership structure. The customer is given authority by their willingness to spend money on Adaptive, and they spend that authority to modify the contract to favor themselves. I have never seen any one of these three roles become hostile to the other, but I can only assume that it would cause this entire process to become much less efficient.

This aim was one I was able to give a particular amount of focus, but it mostly includes more examples or case studies like this one. I am excited to share more on this front over the course of the semester!

Personal Leadership

This summer offered an unexpected chance to participate in and learn about leadership. Two months into my own internship, another intern arrived in our department. I expected this to be a situation where, while I would not be accountable for training, I would be open to answer any questions he may have. I put a great deal of thought into how to answer questions and present myself to be helpful while avoiding being condescending. These worries, however, worked themselves out quite naturally after I realized that I would be the one responsible for training the new intern. I admit that I do not think I did an excellent job in training him. I learned that I would be doing this training the morning that he arrived and did not have any time to plan or prepare. My teaching style presented a rather large amount of information up-front and placed heavy emphasis on trying out the processes for yourself. I also was moving at a rather brisk pace, one born of experience, that I transferred over to my teaching. I recalled, within the following week, that my own training had been far more relaxed: allowing me great time to explore the new systems and expand my own knowledge on the field. The rushed nature was valuable to me, in that it showed me what my first reaction is when trying to bring someone up to speed, but I would also have appreciated a chance to put more deliberate thought into the best way to get someone accustomed to the everyday work of our department.

Over the course of the summer, as we worked together, the structure of teacher and learner (or leader and follower) lessened as he learned more about how the company worked. While he would still have occasional questions, neither of us had any real authority over the other. Overall, working with this fellow intern was rewarding both in having a colleague to work with, while also learning a little bit more about what it is like to be on the other side of the internship.

A Brief Conclusion

I think I was able to thoroughly investigate the aims of my internship. Work at Adaptive was rewarding both in learning and in doing, and the people who work there are welcoming and helpful in equal measure. I look forward to the opportunity to return.

In an even briefer conclusion – to echo the introduction – this was an excellent internship.