The Secretive World of the Personal Care Industry

Procter & Gamble is one of the largest personal care companies in the world. If I gave you 10 seconds to find a P&G product, I guarantee there would be at least 5 in the kitchen cupboard. They are responsible for delivering Ariel, Fairy, Bold, Gillette, and so many more brands.

Naturally, working for such a large business means having access to a lot of confidential information, which can be very daunting at first. What if I get it wrong? What if I release millions of pounds worth of information to our top competitor?

What if I accidentally include something top secret in my BNS Blog post??? It’s all very 007! Photo by vikingvixxen on Tumblr.

In reality, these things rarely happen if we are vigilant, however the support of the intern community and wider company is vital in getting through the first few weeks.

My project

Have you ever taken a moment during your laundry to stop and look at your washing powder, or Ariel Pods? Years of research has gone into these products, from complete prototypes which fail 50 times to the first, glorious batch made in the manufacturing plant successfully.

Just one of P&G’s many products! Photo by Erik Binggeser on Unsplash.

I was lucky enough to spend 13 months as an Associate Process Engineer in the Launch Team in Procter & Gamble, at their Newcastle Innovation Centre (NIC), as part of my Professional Placement Year.

The role of a Process Engineer is to review mini scale manufacturing techniques, e.g. making detergent powder on a lab bench, and make the process more “scalable” so it can be viably made in our plants. This means redesigning how the product is made to satisfy its demand – products must be made quickly in large quantities and not cost a fortune!

My work over the course of the year has facilitated the development of many new products to a stage where many of them can now be tested in manufacturing plants. Unfortunately, that’s about as much as I can tell you here – like I said, very James Bond…

A far cry from university

P&G operate from the base-up, meaning people like me have strong influence on the direction of the business. Managers and supervisors look to the associate researchers and engineers for guidance on what is possible in product innovation, as most of them have limited recent lab exposure. This gives interns and new hires incredible freedom to explore and try new things, rather than sticking to the straight and narrow – it is research and development after all!

P&G offers flexible working, giving me freedom to begin my day early and get home early to enjoy whatever sunlight we had in Newcastle that day! Equally, if a later start was needed, I could very easily make up the time. It was actively encouraged to leave work laptops at the office, so we don’t over-work; the work-life balance of their employees is very important to P&G.  

Plenty of funded pizza nights made up for lost nights out! Photo by Aurelien Lemasson-Theobald on Unsplash.

COVID social life

The first people I met upon arriving at NIC were the intern social reps. They arguably had the most difficult job of everyone during the “COVID intern intake” as we were affectionately known!

Interns in “normal times” are welcomed into the company with a ball down in Surrey, where they get to meet all P&G interns in their cohort. Obviously with COVID, we were lucky to even make it into the office, so the welcome ball was off the table. Our reps worked so hard to give us some social time with very restricted circumstances, on top of running their own business projects. They fought for us to get funded take-away nights where we were able to video call over dinner and drinks, followed by games like Kahoot.

Our intern social calls became a regular thing, giving us all time to chat about life; work related or not. I’ve made friends for life!

The future

My experience at P&G has shown me what kind of doors will be open for me after completing my degree. I never in a million years would have thought I’d love a Process Engineer role, as it is so far removed from Biomedicine, but my internship has proved me wrong! I’ve been able to talk to people in all areas of the business and understood how they got to where they are today. I know the most valuable part of my year has been the experience, which will be vital in whatever work I go onto after graduating!

A big pharma placement? There’s more to do than just science.

By Kate Jervis

When I first found out I had a placement at AstraZeneca (AZ), I thought I had a pretty good idea of what my days would be – hours and hours working in the lab, writing up experiments and poring over graphs. Maybe, I thought, I can improve my communication skills by presenting data to my team. But even with the unexpected shakeup of lockdown and coronavirus, I didn’t realise just how oversimplified my idea of a lab-based placement was.

Zoom call with coffee. Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

I am a fan of lab work, but anyone who knows me well can tell you that one of my favourite pastimes is admin. I have no shame in admitting that I’m the person who finds joy in organising an inbox, or drawing up spreadsheets to track a team’s progress through a big task. It’s a strange hobby, but it’s satisfying, and so when I saw adverts to recruit a new AZ early talent committee, I could hardly not apply for the role of secretary. I had no professional secretarial experience, but it sounded so me!

At this point I was still in the office a few days a week but social distancing and reduced building capacity meant that meeting people was a challenge, and joining a committee felt like a perfect way to build relationships. It was also something I’d never done before – the network this committee served at the time had over 230 members – so a new level of responsibility felt like the perfect way to put my organisational skills to good use.

The full 2020-21 AZinspire Cambridge committee, complete with my hastily-taken photo from when I realised I didn’t have any professional photos of myself on my first day.

As the role would benefit my career development, my supervisor wholeheartedly supported me giving up a couple of hours a week to work with AZinspire, who run events for placement students, apprentices, graduates and postgraduates across the Cambridge sites. My application was successful and before I knew it I was minute-taking for meetings, managing committee communications and updating distribution lists left right and centre.

As much as I love working on the science, it felt good to have a hand in something with shorter-term, more tangible impacts.

An AZinspire social from pre-COVID times, back when events could be held in person. Nowadays everything is via Teams or Zoom, which has the benefit of letting groups working in other countries attend much easier.

My first big job came late December, where I got a taste of event planning by helping to organise a week-long symposium focused on the skills needed to work from home. A small team of us were tasked to identify key speakers, arrange practical and relevant talks that fit the theme and audience, and publicise it enough to get a good turnout.

This was to be done around our usual 9-5 duties, and with an impossibly quick turnaround – our first meeting was the week before Christmas and the symposium started on 18th January! As event planning goes, I was definitely thrown in at the deep end.

Chocolate and kale brownies made by a symposium attendee, using one of the recipes included in the resource pack we shared.

But it was brilliant. The team split up and delegated tasks, but still supported each other when big decisions were made. I found a way to keep track of everyone’s progress so that as the big day approached, we all knew exactly what still needed to be done.

I took charge of arranging a session on career confidence and imposter syndrome, consulting with the CEO of a leading wellbeing training company, and helped design a tailored 2-hour event covering the topics key to our demographic.

In the week leading up to the symposium we received the most new members AZinspire Cambridge had ever seen, growing our network by 15% on event hype alone! Attendance for all sessions was unexpectedly high, and we received brilliant feedback. I was hooked.

An example of some of the data we got from our symposium feedback. If I hadn’t thought to add this question to the form the committee would have kept scheduling lunchtime events! Always a good feeling when you find out something useful unexpectedly.

Since organising this event I’ve taken on a greater role in AZinspire’s events programme: I’m currently organising cross-site coffee meetings and planning the network’s Socials Month. Thinking about my confidence over the years, especially as an autistic person, it can be hard for me to remember just how much I’ve grown and how capable I am now.

The work I’ve done already with AZinspire would have been a stretch for 2019 Kate, and downright unthinkable for 2016 Kate. But I have done it, and more than that, I enjoyed it, and for me that’s where so much of the value of a placement year is. It’s not just about being able to say you’ve worked in a lab, or meeting people in high places who might remember you when you apply for a grad scheme – it’s about grabbing an opportunity to try something interesting and coming out of it with proof that you’re more capable than you realised.

2016 Kate. Back then I wouldn’t even ask what aisle something was on at the supermarket, so to see myself now, getting involved in teams and working with new people all the time, it shows me how far I’ve come.

There are so many more opportunities I’ve taken at AstraZeneca already that I never expected to be able to do, from designing and writing global management training on neurodiversity to being one of the founding members of an LGBTQ+ alliance with GSK.

Thinking about my job, both inside and outside the lab, one thing’s for certain: a placement year in big pharma is so much more than just science.

My placement year at Leica Biosystems

By Alexandra Lazarova

A placement with a Cancer Diagnostics company – yes please!

I’m studying BSc Biomedical Genetics with Professional Placement Year and knew I wanted to do a placement year since my first year of university, when I attended a placement talk given by several companies. A year and a half later, after applying to several companies, I found myself in an interview for a placement year at Leica Biosystems in Newcastle…and ended up getting the position!

Leica Biosystems: Advancing Cancer Diagnostics

Continue reading “My placement year at Leica Biosystems”

A summer placement at Oxford University – yes please!

By Fahiza Begum – Physiological Sciences

It’s that time of year when uni is out and you’re not quite sure what to do with your 3 months of freedom. Does the phrase ‘unpaid internship’ fill you with dread? Well, let me introduce you to UNIQ+…

Continue reading “A summer placement at Oxford University – yes please!”

Why Study Abroad?

By Dr Carys Watts

Going abroad may be a week’s holiday, or to some it’s going global or for longer, but have you ever thought about studying abroad as part of your Newcastle University degree? You could study abroad for a few weeks or up to an entire year, and it could change your perspective forever.

‘I can honestly say it was the best time of my life’– Eleanor (semester at Monash University, Melbourne)

Did you know you can study language modules for free at Newcastle?

I’m not sure it is for me

So you may think of reasons why not to do it, but there are loads of great reasons to give it a try: Continue reading “Why Study Abroad?”

The STAR technique – what is it and how do you use it?

By Beth Lawry

There’s an awesome placement / graduate role / further study position that you really want….

How do you succeed in getting it?

Answering those important questions

You will be asked questions, either in applications or interviews, to determine if you are the right fit for the role and how you would react in workplace situations.

Interview. Photo by Johanna Buguet on Unsplash

You will be asked competency questions e.g. ‘Tell me a time you’ve worked in a team’ or ‘How have you used organisational skills to good effect’ or ‘Describe a situation where communication has been important’. Continue reading “The STAR technique – what is it and how do you use it?”

How to find a year-placement

5 Top tips for finding a placement

1. START NOW

Don’t put the preparation off, now is the time!

Even if you’re unsure about doing a placement, investigate and prepare now – you can decide later not to do one but you do not want to regret not trying.

Kristi did her placement at GSK

wasn’t sure I wanted to do a placement until I went for interviews and saw the facilities, from which point I was sold!” Kristi’s GSK placement profile

“I didn’t want to do a placement but having spoken to Dr Lawry I decided to put my CV in for one. I’m so glad I did as my placement has been brilliant!” Ellie – Fujifilm Diosynth placement Continue reading “How to find a year-placement”

Meet the Employability Ambassadors

Meet the Employability Ambassador Team 2018-2019

Want to make yourself more employable? Well, we are here to help!
As employability ambassadors, we are keen to assist School of Biomedical Sciences students like you in their career development and to help prepare you for life after university. Whether you want advice on placements, work experience, mentoring or just need some guidance on how to structure your CV, please let us know.

Keep an eye on Blackboard community and your emails for our upcoming events!

Check out the careers service events page for what workshops the careers service have coming up including CV writing, interview practice, assessment centres, recruitment fairs, journalism, starting your own business, careers fairs and lots more! Continue reading “Meet the Employability Ambassadors”