Hi, my name is Caitlin and I’m currently starting my fourth year of my biochemistry course, having just recently completed my placement year. I’ve been elected welfare officer for BeeSoc for three years now and my love for beekeeping continues to grow.
Hi! My name is Amelia, and I am a third-year Biomedical Sciences student. I am currently on a year of placement at AstraZeneca, and I wanted to share some top tips for anyone who is applying for their placement year!
LinkedIn for networking
LinkedIn is a great tool to use for networking. This platform allows you to contact current placement students and ask for their experience and assistance, as well as connecting with potential placement providers! In fact, I got my first interview through LinkedIn.
Put all of your focus on a few providers which you are really interested in – it will be more beneficial than applying to loads of providers halfheartedly. When interviews start, they take a lot of time so if you are not too interested in a certain provider it will probably be best to utilise this time elsewhere.
Make sure you research the website or social media platforms of the placement provider so you can be really specific in your application and interview. It may even be worth using LinkedIn to contact someone internal to get some extra information! During the interviews they often ask about company values, so it will really help your case if you can discuss these.
It is easier said than done, but try not to let rejections put you down! Each interview is a learning curve and you can learn new things that you can do better next time. The more people you talk with and interview with – the more networking! All of the students that I am currently working with at AstraZeneca received rejections from other companies, so it just goes to show that perseverance can go a long way!
Use the Careers Service to help with your application – the Careers Service are there to help you with CV advice and practice interviews, so utilise them! It may be the difference between getting your dream job or not.
Good luck! Try your best and have a great placement year.
FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies (FDB for short) is a global contract development and manufacturing organisation (CDMO) in the biopharmaceutical industry providing process development and manufacturing of biologics, cell and gene therapies and viral vaccines. This basically means that FDB are able to manufacture a broad range of therapeutic proteins for customers using mammalian, bacterial, viral and insect expression systems and can develop these expression systems to suit the needs of these target compounds.
I spent my placement year within the Process Development (PD) division, specifically the Mammalian Cell Culture (MCC) PD department. One of the tasks in my department was to carry out optimized fed-batch processes using bioreactors to grow cell lines, the cells then produce the target therapeutic protein which can then be purified and analysed by other departments within PD for customers.
Why did I want to do a placement?
When starting my degree I hadn’t thought about the possibility of doing a placement year. Then COVID hit and my degree was heavily impacted which meant I missed out on a lot of lab sessions and became disappointed with the lack of hands-on experience I was getting. I read the BNS placement blogs and was really impressed with what other students had got up to in previous years and how they were able to get some industry experience before graduating so I applied for three placements that appealed to me and managed to secure the second one which was FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies!
A Day in the life
I’ve found every day to be different so there wasn’t much of a typical day. However, we had a team meeting daily to discuss everyone’s tasks for the day which gave me the opportunity to offer my help and get involved in work.
If there was a bioreactor process ongoing, then my days would be much more regimented. The morning would begin with sampling several bioreactors growing Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells and measuring the metabolites, gases, osmolality and cell counts using high-tech analytical equipment. Sampling shows us how the culture is doing and if we need to alter any of the parameters to improve the process, any abnormal data would indicate possible contaminations which are serious during customer projects. These bioreactors would need feeding later in the day with supplements such as feeds, glutamine and glucose to maintain the cultures and ensure the best product titres.
Adapting to a new routine
I thought I would be able to adapt quickly to working on placement, but it was harder than I anticipated. The 9 to 5 is a big change when you are used to the flexible timetable of university and it can be hard to stay engaged at work if you are tired so making sure you get enough sleep is important. However, one huge benefit was that my weekends were totally free and I could do whatever I liked free of Uni work. I had a lot of training to ensure I was confident and competent in carrying out my tasks which can take some time to get used to and can be a lot of information to take in but it meant that I was comfortable undertaking tasks independently.
It’s not all lab work!
I found time outside of the lab to be just as fulfilling as time in the lab. I had not really thought before about the business side of science but it was interesting to see the relationships between employees and customers when I attended meetings for certain projects and how being able to present information and communicate effectively and professionally with customers is just as essential in an industry role as is being skilled in the lab.
I got to take on responsibilities outside of the lab that were essential to the running of my department, the biggest helping to implement a new electronic laboratory notebook system in which I inputted equipment as well as essential reagents used for media and feed preparations. I also got to train my colleagues how to use this system and software for their feed preps as I was the one of the first to use it. This allowed me to develop important skills outside of the lab which I can now demonstrate to future employers.
Would I recommend a placement?
Yes, I would absolutely recommend a placement for a lot of reasons, some of the main ones being:
You get more lab experience if you’re on a lab-based placement
You gain a lot of new skills you can demonstrate in the future and develop ones you already have
You can earn a good wage
You get to experience the science industry and see if it’s for you
Make friends/network with people in the industry find out what they did and if they enjoy what they do
In some cases, if you impress the company they will offer you a job if you come back after you have graduated
By: Josie Copus BSc Biochemistry with Professional Placement Year
What’s the worst that could happen?
A placement in regulatory affairs? What even is ‘reg’ affairs?!
If, during stage 2 of Uni, someone told me that I was going to spend a full year working on regulatory submissions for one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, I’d have laughed. More than that- I’d have panicked! Why? Because other than it being critical in delivering drugs to patients, I didn’t have the slightest comprehension or appreciation of what regulatory affairs involved.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
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)
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.