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!

Clinics, Catering, and Community Settings: Placement Experiences in First Year Dietetics

September 2020 was just around the corner. I was feeling excited but also nervous to begin the journey as a student in the very first cohort of the MDiet course at Newcastle University. Little did I know that COVID-19 was going to change university life as we know it.

The new norm included logging in to different Zoom classes, communicating with classmates via e-mail or texts, and learning how to measure portion sizes from an online live lab. It was all new at first, but our lecturers were always ready to respond to any request we had. What I love the most is that our cohort is quite diverse with different people, ideas and backgrounds coming together to learn, discuss and debate on Nutrition and Dietetics matters. MDiet is a safe place for us to communicate our thoughts and goals.

Fast forward to March 2021

My ‘Relocate to Newcastle’ plan was activated. Words cannot describe how happy and grateful I was to finally meet all my peers and academic staff in person. Not to mention the excitement felt when placement dates and allocations were released. We were going to spend our placement in a range of settings: with a dietitian in a clinical setting, in a hospital’s catering department, a community care setting, and at a food bank, as well as 2 days on campus learning about communication.

Putting my “Student Dietitan” uniform on, moments before my very first hour of placement began.

The first day

The first day of placement had arrived! I’d barely slept through the night but was feeling enthusiastic as I packed my bag; “Student Dietitian” embroidered uniform, student ID, water and face covering – all check.

My classmate and I arrived 20 minutes early, changed into our uniforms and found the cafeteria where the dietitian would meet us. At 9:00am the dietitian approached our table, and we were heartily welcomed as she introduced herself and her role at the hospital. We all went up to the wards, where she explained to us her daily routine, showed us different types of tube feeding and when these are used.

At 10:30am, the ICU rounds began. We were able to observe and take notes on the daily communication processes. Medical practitioner and students, physiotherapist, senior nurse and students, acute dietitian, speech and language therapist and other healthcare professionals were all present and actively evaluating the patient’s condition.

Once finished, the dietitian explained the reasons behind the decisions made and gave us time to ask questions. A day in the life of an acute dietitian was a truly fascinating experience.

On our way to find the hospital’s cafeteria.

Hospital catering – efficient AND tasty

The next day it was our catering department placement. Same routine as before; we arrived early, got dressed and the head of the catering department met us at 9:00am. He gave us a tour of the facilities and then handed us over to the woman in charge of the wards. She showed us the different menus available and guided us through the entire process.

We were quite impressed with how well organised the catering department was. For example, the food in the freezer was arranged by popularity, with the most requested dishes near the front and the more unpopular ones towards the back. Once the orders from the wards came in, the process of collecting, distributing the food, cooking it at the ward kitchen and serving it began.

We were amazed at how smooth the process was and how efficiently the staff communicated. With the time left, we were able to ask questions and even got to interview some elderly patients about their satisfaction with the food. Another amazing and educational experience.

Left: Learning about the different IDDSI (International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative) levels of food available at the hospital. Right: IDDSI level 4; beef in gravy. It might look different but it was really tasty! 10 out of 10.

The food bank – a humbling experience

Our last off-campus experience before the Easter break was at a food bank. I was not sure what to expect as I was assigned to spend half a day at the warehouse.

My classmates and I were warmly welcomed to the facility and got a tour around the warehouse. The volunteers, as well as the working personnel, seemed to be doing a great job. The warehouse was well organised, and I was happy to see so many donations coming in.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending my day there and contributing to the community. It was definitely a life learning experience that I will never forget. Often, I hear people talk about food poverty and health inequality, but it makes such a difference when you actually get hands on experience of the only food options people in the community can afford.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes before offering any advice was the lesson I learned that day.

Done for the day! Everything is categorised and ready to be packed and distributed to the community.

The importance of communication

During the last week before Easter, we had a communication simulation on campus. It was such a great and informative experience. I especially loved the part where we got split into pairs and had volunteers from roleplaynorth come in. The goal was to make conversation with the volunteers and have them open up without asking more than 10 questions.

As the theme was holidays, I thought that such an easy topic would not require 10 questions – and as you may well have guessed, I was wrong!

After the session I thought about how the 10-question practice task could be applied in a clinical setting. Whilst a dietitian needs to gather a lot of information, a patient may not wish to be asked a flurry of questions, so ‘minimal encouragers’ and appropriate body language are powerful tools to boost dialogue. Another day of placement well spent!

The journey has only just begun

As the Easter break came to an end, I was happy to go back and see all my classmates, as well as have another 2 days of placement. One day was in a care setting linked with St Anthony’s of Padua Community Association, and the other focussed on social media for nutrition and dietetics with Maeve Hanan of Dietetically Speaking.

It is truly fascinating to see so many different settings a dietitian can have an impact in. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but I am confident we are off to a great start!

Until next time,

Katerina

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”

My Summer Travels with Cryptosporidium

By Rosie Gathercole

Working with poo turned out to be exactly the summer experience I wanted!

I worked at the national Cryptosporidium Reference Unit (CRU) at Public Health Wales in Swansea with Professor Rachel Chalmers and her team. I received a Scholarship from the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) for this placement, writing the application together with Rachel.

Rosie with a computer screen behind her showing the live spectra produced by the mass spec machine
Me working on my summer placement

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes diarrhoea, is found globally and is typically passed from animals, other people, food and fresh water sources. It is currently a human health issue due to the significant effect it has in developing countries and the lack of specific treatments to fight the parasite. Quite often how well you recover from the illness depends on how healthy you were to begin with!

Continue reading “My Summer Travels with Cryptosporidium”

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?”

My week as a student at the University of Padova: Views of a summer school student

By Charlotte Ripley – Food and Human Nutrition Student

A trip to Italy?! Yes please!

In June, I attended a Food and Health Summer School in Italy, mixing with students from the University of Padova and the University of Sydney.

The focus was on the effects of different food components on overall health and well-being, with topics ranging from the effect of soil on the micronutrient content of foods to the worldwide issue of obesity – so the week was specifically aimed at those with a medical or food science background. Thankfully, everything was taught in English, as even Duolingo wouldn’t have prepared me for terms such as ‘squalene’, ‘fetotoxic’ or ‘teratogenicity’.

Though the week was primarily lecture based, we visited 2 different food producers (Grandi Molini Italiani –  one of Europe’s largest flour mills – and Prosciuttificio Attilio Fontana Montagnana – a family-run prosciutto factory) and got to see some of Padova’s biggest attractions (Orto Botanica, Palazzo Bo and the Museum of History and Medicine). We even had our very own gala dinner to celebrate the end of the summer school – luckily, the lectures didn’t quite put me off the free wine on the tables.

Prata Della Valle – just a 5-minute walk from my hotel.

Continue reading “My week as a student at the University of Padova: Views of a summer school student”

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”