Foundation intern researches
cancer treatments in Taiwan

Jess Beevis is in the final year of completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in physiology and is also studying chemistry and pharmacology. Here she describes the three months she spent in Taiwan as an intern at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) where she worked on treatments for breast and colon cancers.

Watch a video of clips shot by Jess documenting a typical day for her in Taiwan

Embarrassingly, before coming here I knew very little about this picturesque little island. I had no idea that I would completely fall in love with the culture, people and lifestyle. 

When I arrived, my only other Asian experience was a short holiday in Vietnam, my Mandarin skills stretched as far as “ni hao” and I had never spent an extended period in a foreign country.

Despite this, and thanks to support from other ITRI interns, I transitioned smoothly into daily life in Hsinchu, a city an hour south of Taipei where the brunt of Taiwan’s industrial technology originates and most of our device screens are designed.

The first thing I noticed about Taiwan was how friendly and helpful the people are. They will drop everything to find a solution to your problem and they are always interested in foreigners and their home country.

I had countless comparative conversations, discussions about kiwifruit, penguins, sheep and the haka. I also taught my colleagues some New Zealand slang. It became common to hear “Chur” and “Sweet as” around the office, much to my amusement and dismay.

Because Hsinchu doesn’t have many tourists, locals are curious and will often stop and ask where you are from.

On our Christmas Day picnic, one man talked to us for two hours, conversing mainly in hand signals, while we shared New Zealand Whittaker’s chocolate and the Taiwanese wine, tea and desserts he brought for us to try. It is one of the most memorable Christmas experiences I have ever had.

Taiwanese are very proud of their country and food, and my colleagues would constantly recommend places to travel to, and often take me to special restaurants to try local delicacies. Among my favourites were bubble milk tea and a type of egg pancake filled with meat and vegetables, but although trying them is a must, I would advise against stinky tofu and gelatinated duck blood. 

Jess's work involved designing and analysing novel antibody hydrogels for the treatment of breast and colon cancer

My internship was based at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in the Drug Delivery Systems Department.

The sheer scale of ITRI was astounding. As the largest R&D institute in the country, it employs over 6000 engineers and scientists, with an output of award-winning technology in green energy, smart living and healthcare.

My focus was designing and analysing of novel antibody hydrogels for the treatment of breast and colon cancer. Additionally, I was involved in three different ophthalmic projects using nanoparticles to increase the efficacy of treatments for wet-macular-degeneration and uveitis as well as an antibody-drug-conjugate project producing a novel breast and gastric cancer therapy.

This experience gave me unique insight into the operation of a large commercial lab, allowed me to learn scale-up and regulation techniques as well as involvement in international symposiums, and consultations with pharmaceutical collaborators. It has opened a completely different sector of science that I had previously not given much thought, and allowed me to consider future opportunities with greater understanding and depth of knowledge behind my decisions.

Outside of work, weekends were often spent exploring the island. Taipei is a short bus ride away, or 30 minutes on the high-speed rail. Often, we ventured into the capital for celebrations and events with the large New Zealand expat community and Taipei-based Asia New Zealand Foundation interns, while enjoying the culture and tasting local cuisines.

But mostly we got out of the cities and revelled in the New Zealand-like scenery. We watched a consecutive sunset and sunrise at the peak of Alishan mountain, hiked through extensive pine forests, discovered tiny rural temples, drank tea in the field of which it was grown and watched swallows glide above the river of Taroko gorge.

Girl standing in front of night street scene in alleyway

Jess: "[the experience] has pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to embrace every moment."

To any science or engineering student, I would strongly recommend applying for this internship.

International experiences such as these are the beginnings of a global career and foster collaborations that can take you anywhere in both the scientific and commercial field.

It has pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to embrace every moment, introduced me to incredible people and vastly altered my perspective on myself, how I interact with others and my priorities.

I have loved every minute of my time here and, although I don’t know what the future may hold, I know that Asia and Taiwan will be part of it.