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Inspired by mentors and determination, biochemistry senior overcomes doubt to promising biotechnology journey

By Matthew O'Connor

Rebekka Toyoizumi has always admired the big questions that science has to offer. A graduating biochemistry and biophysics major at Oregon State, she spent six months throughout summer and fall 2023 terms at OSU exploring those questions through an experiential internship.

Toyoizumi graduates in spring, planning to continue building her career in biotechnology. She considers her experience interning at major biotech company Lonza to be a highlight of her resume and her time at Oregon State University—and she is excited to continue this work for the multinational biotech and biopharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, in Maryland following graduation.

The impact of an internship

During Summer and Fall 2023, Toyoizumi lived and worked in Bend, Oregon, where she interned for Lonza, an international biotech company with specialties in molecular, cellular and genetic biology. At Lonza, her role focused on assisting the bioreactor team, sampling reactors and cell cultures, passing, harvesting, and banking cultures, and working alongside the full-time bioreactor crew. In addition, Toyoizumi gained experience attending meetings, presenting research and learning what it meant to be in the lab and in administration operations at a major biotech company.

At the start of her journey at Lonza, Toyoizumi felt discouraged, thinking she didn't have the experience to do an internship in her field. “I felt like I didn’t know what I was talking about,” Toyoizumi said. “I suffered from imposter syndrome.”

It turns out this feeling pervaded throughout her peers and supervisors at Lonza when they started their own careers. Toyoizumi was certainly not alone. “My boss also had this when he started, and he said it gets better,” she said. Informational interviews and conversations with supervisors reassured her. ”They gave so much great advice.”

A woman stands in front of a blue science poster.

Rebekka Toyoizumni presenting her research from her internship with Lonza.

The mentoring relationships Toyoizumi formed at Lonza “inspired me to go the extra mile,” she said. “Not for a job offer, but because it’s the right thing to do.” Encouraged by the support of her internship team at Lonza and Oregon State, she spent every day trying new things, putting in her best effort and learning from her environment.

Toyoizumi credits the ability to directly participate in her prospective career as “one of the most valuable takeaways from this internship.” Throughout her undergraduate degree, she always sought out hands-on research opportunities, knowing she loved approaching science actively.

As an undergraduate, Toyoizumi began working in one of OSU’s neuroscience labs with Assistant Professor Patrick Chappell. His lab, part of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, explores reproductive and endocrine systems in the brains of mammals and marine organisms. She describes her experience in the Chappell Lab as rewarding, exciting and eye-opening, leading her to crave more experiential opportunities in science and paving her path to biotechnology. “It made me happy to ‘do’ science,” she said. “I feel so fulfilled when I’m contributing to actual research and science projects.”

Her advice to other students interested in internships or other external opportunities: Say yes, take the risk, and don’t let your self-doubt stop you from achieving your goals. Toyoizumi applied to many internships before landing her position at Lonza. “Cast a wide net – go big, and say yes to opportunities you come across,” she advises.

Toyoizumi also utilized several OSU resources, such as her major advisor, career services and outreach specialists available in the Science Success Center. She particularly credits Assistant Director of Career Development Rachel Palmer for helping her overcome self-doubt and continuously encouraging her to apply.

“I knew this was a good opportunity, but I didn’t expect to have this profound experience of learning more about myself.”

“Most resources don’t directly apply at the moment you see them,” Toyoizumi said. “It’s up to you to find the resources and opportunities that make sense at that time.” She advocates taking advantage of undergraduate support and never hesitating to ask for help.

Toyoizumi acknowledges the power of community and support throughout her life and academic career, boosts of willpower that guided her through obstacles. She attributes much of her success to her father's unwavering support and as a great teacher in the art of determination. During a pivotal moment playing middle school sports, he encouraged her to never let doubt or insecurities stop her from pursuing dreams. She credits this drive for her achievements at OSU and landing her internship at Lonza. “If you’ve got the drive, you can do anything.”

“This is the time where we learn more about ourselves,” Toyoizumi said. “Don’t close yourself off; there is so much opportunity just waiting to be taken.” This dedicated student considers her time with Lonza beneficial for not only her expertise in science but also for personal growth. “I knew this was a good opportunity, but I didn’t expect to have this profound experience of learning more about myself.”

Toyoizumi encourages other students to remember their unique abilities, passions and talents – and to believe in themselves enough to take a risk.

“Everyone is special,” she said. “I always looked up to others, until I realized I had it within myself. You don’t think it’s you, until it happens to you.”

A woman traveling abroad in China.

Rebekka Toyoizumi traveling abroad.