Externship is eye-opener for Lien

Kris Lien, Fort Dodge Senior High science instructor, participated this summer in the Real World Externships program.

Lien worked for six weeks in July at Boehringer-Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., and brings the lessons learned from his experiences to his classroom every day.

“It was kind of a neat thing,” Lien said. “The intent from the beginning was to get a better look at what employers want in their employees, as far as skills and content knowledge. It was really an eye-opening experience for me.”

At BIVI, Lien worked in the sterility lab performing a series of validation tests.

“Unfortunately, about halfway through, it kind of derailed,” he said. “We discovered not all of the bacteria were necessarily conducive to all the different media we were trying to get them to grow on. And as a result, we had to bring the study to a halt, which was frustrating because it had taken me a good week to learn the procedure itself, which was about 50 to 75 steps. But, such is life.”

Lien said he had three big takeaways from his time at BIVI. One is that math is used in such jobs even more than he had realized.

“You use math at some level each and every day in jobs like that,” he said. “I’m not talking about complex calculus or trigonometry, we’re talking basic math skills to figure out serial dilutions, for example, or being able to track quantities so you can make the appropriate measurements so you aren’t overspending. Basic skills like that are important.”

Lien also learned group work and good communication skills are absolutely mandatory.

“For the most part, the world I experienced, and I think it’s pretty much true in all industry, is you don’t work in a box,” he said. “You may do some things individually for part of the day, but for the majority of the day you’re working with other people to try and solve problems together for these companies.”

The biggest revelation, Lien said, was that many industrial employers don’t care what you know.

“They care that you are able to be trained, you’re able to work well with others, able to show up on time, able to stay focused on the task at hand. Attention to detail. I guess what we tell our kids are soft skills,” he said. “Those things matter more than I really thought they would have. Being able to demonstrate that you have the soft skills down, that’s more valuable to employers.”

Lien said he hoped the knowledge brought by his externship would be invaluable to his students as they prepare for their futures.

“I pitched it to a few of my classes this year,” he said. “When I talk to them, for example, about the attention to detail. At Boehringer-Ingelheim, and it’s in industry elsewhere, there is literally a specific way to write the date. And if you don’t write it that way, that’s going to cause some issues that at the wrong time, in the wrong place, could theoretically cost the company money.”

Lien said he enjoyed the work itself.

“The people I worked with out there, they were great,” he said. “They were unbelievably receptive to an outsider coming in. I never would have guessed I would have this experience, but they made it real easy. They accepted me as a new employee, which I was, but like I was going to be working out there for 10 or 20 years.”