It all started in December 2014, when I raised my hand during laboratory work at the University of Tokyo. Professor Hirokazu Sugiyama from the department of Chemical System Engineering was asking for candidates for a new internship programme at Roche in Switzerland.

I was a little nervous about leaving home and academia for the first time, but I found the courage to go ahead. I began my two-month internship in August 2015. This was my first time living outside Japan and away from my family, so a lot was new to me. I shared an apartment in Basel with other interns and commuted every day to Kaiseraugst, where Roche produces drugs to treat cancer, hepatitis, and many other diseases.

Everyone plays a valuable role

On my first day, the plant manager welcomed new interns and employees, and emphasised how every single one of us would play an important role in producing life-saving medicines for patients. Right from the beginning, I was aware that teamwork was important.

In the facility for liquid sterile drugs, my main project was optimising batch production for rubber materials used as stoppers in glass vials and syringes. These rubber materials are critical to maintaining the sterility of the pharmaceutical products, so I felt that I could truly make a difference in making products safe for patients as well as contribute to more sustainable batch production. I was proud to see that, through my work, we were able to identify potential for efficiency gains and reducing waste.

My supervisors were very approachable and open to discussing my projects or answering questions. During lunch or coffee breaks, there were many opportunities to network, discuss ideas and meet new people.

During my internship, it was clear to me that diversity is important to Roche. My colleagues were happy to have someone from Japan on the team and valued my input. I was also pleased to see that almost half of the 2,000 employees in Kaiseraugst were women.

I am now back at the University of Tokyo, pursuing a master’s degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering. My experience at Roche brought me closer to the impact my work can have on patients, and convinced me that I have chosen the right career path.

The hands-on experience also showed me how engineering can add value to a team of pharmacists, chemists and other specialists when it comes to making processes more efficient and environmentally friendly. It’s exciting to make a real contribution!

I would definitely recommend this programme to other students. The key to getting the most from this experience is to make an extra effort to ask questions, share your thoughts and engage with people. And remember, even though your contribution may be one of many, it does make a difference to the lives of patients.