A year in NHS labs

By Chloe Heppenstall

What goes on in the NHS laboratories? 

Rather than a research-based placement, my time in the NHS laboratories involved completing routine assays to test samples and deliver crucial patient results as soon as possible. I was part of the Immunology team within Laboratory Medicine, however there are numerous different departments, such as haematology, virology, microbiology, or chemistry. Having previously worked in the NHS as a domestic, I thought I knew a lot about what happens in the hospitals, but this placement was a huge eye opener as to how much goes on behind the scenes! 

Thank you NHS by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Why I applied for a placement year. 

As I was heading into my second year of University, I was developing a deep interest for Immunology, however I was unsure on what careers would involve this work, and if I would enjoy it. I figured a laboratory-based placement would be the best way for me to understand what work in this sector looks like, and if it was something that I could thrive in. From enjoying my time in the labs at university, I knew a hands on, lab-based placement would be something for me. By taking on this exciting opportunity in the Immunology laboratory in the NHS, I was able to utilise my skill set and knowledge further in an area I was keen on progressing into. 

Me wearing different PPE

What does a typical day look like? 

Each day differed depending on which bench I was allocated to. Within the department, there are 7 different benches, which a Biomedical Scientist would usually spend between 2-6 months on before rotating. These benches involve techniques such as gel electrophoresis, immunofluorescence, immunofixation, immunodisplacement, and automated and manual assays. As part of my placement, I had the opportunity to rotate around all the benches, and each bench was dissimilar to the last. Depending on turnaround times, any backlogs of samples, or any additional work the lab was taking on from other labs, one bench could be a lot busier compared to other benches, and require more staff members to help.  

Identifying monoclones via gel electrophoresis] 

What did I learn? 

In addition to utilising laboratory techniques I acquired during university, I learnt a range of new methods which I will carry as valuable experience for future job prospects. Furthermore, I learnt the importance of turnaround times, and the impact which can occur for the patient if these are not met. My professionalism also grew, as I frequently had to speak to other healthcare professionals, such as nurses in A&E, or midwives. Outside of the lab, the clinical scientists held lectures and journal club sessions, which focussed on the clinical applications and impact of the assays we were completing in the laboratory. This was useful as time in the lab can become very fast paced and repetitive, and it can be easy to forget why you are doing what you are doing. Finally, I made a lot of friends who share similar interests and hobbies to myself, which enabled me to develop a healthy work-life balance. 

Me extracting calprotectin samples in a fume cupboard

What did I find challenging? 

Although many people warned me, adjusting to the 9-5 working life was extremely difficult. Despite my day finishing at 5 and having my weekends off, I have been just as tired working 9-5 than I was at university with loads of deadlines! On the other hand, there was no stress like there is with university, and if I ever had any problems with work, or I did not understand a concept, the team in Immunology were so welcoming and would give me as much time as I needed to understand and complete something. 

Would I recommend a placement to other students? 

Absolutely. The skills and experience you acquire whilst on a placement are invaluable, and put you in the best position for applying to jobs after university. If you are seeking hands on experience and a taste of the real world outside of university, do not hesitate to apply to placement opportunities! Aside from the unique skillset I have acquired, I have also been given opportunities to meet new people and discuss their opinions on interesting real-life assay topics, and my potential career in the NHS. I feel confident in a laboratory workplace, which is something I never thought I would be saying! 

I now cannot wait to complete my final year at university, obtain my degree, and take my skillset further either in postgraduate studies or in a job. 

Would your blood glow?

By Sarah Holder

The Beginning 

All the way back at the start of my second year at Newcastle University, the thought of a placement year was a nice one, but I never thought I’d be one of the lucky few to be offered one! When I came across the advert for the job at Labcorp Huntingdon, I knew it would be the only intern position I wanted to apply for. The role sounded perfect and it was located only half an hour from my home village. I sent off my initial application and then received an invite for an interview! And then another! And another! I couldn’t believe it when I received a phone call in January to say I had been offered the intern position for Immunology and Immunotoxicology 2022-2023. Brilliant! 

Background to my Project 

Human blood is made up of several major components including plasma, platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells. White blood cells are involved in the body’s response to infection and need to be tested separately to the rest of the blood components to see the best results.  

Via Giphy.

Infections can come in the form of viruses or bacteria. Viruses present markers called epitopes on their surface which the white blood cells use to identify what they are. Bacteria don’t directly present these epitopes but via white blood cells they infect which present their epitopes for them. When these epitopes are come across in the bloodstream, specific white blood cells release chemicals called cytokines to activate the immune response and fight the infection. We were adding epitopes artificially in the form of our stimulants to elicit a response from six different human donors and judge the stimulant that gives the clearest response across the six blood samples.   

My Project 

My project during my time on placement at Labcorp had two parts. Improving the white blood cell isolation method and investigating white blood cell responses to positive controls we added to them and attaching fluorescent green and red markers to the different cytokines produced. We had longer to plan my project than expected so it didn’t get into the lab until May, creating more pressure for everything to go smoothly once it was underway. If anything had gone drastically wrong, we wouldn’t have had enough time to order the reagents required for another attempt. The images taken at the end were full of fluorescent spots so the project worked! 

Via Giphy

My project has provided a future method for FluoroSpot assays to be carried out at Labcorp on our Huntingdon site which will hopefully be able to bring more revenue into I&I. Future research into the method we developed for my project could be done to optimise it further and make it a more streamlined process. 

Life on Placement 

I was lucky enough to not only secure a placement but secure a placement I could commute to from my home. Thankfully, my parents were happy to have me back for another year! While the 6:45am wakeup call wasn’t my favourite, I could spend my evenings visiting my friends from home, which was lovely. I worked a mixture of 8am-4pm and 8:30am-4:30pm throughout the week and it was nice actually being able to catch a glimpse of daylight in the winter when leaving at 4pm instead of both arriving and leaving in what feels like the dead of night every day. 

Every month a department social was held by the I&I Social Committee. My favourites were the Halloween bar crawl, Christmas party and lab getaway weekend to a lakeside cabin with the team.  These really helped me to feel part of the team during my time working at Labcorp. 

Via Giphy

Summary 

I would really recommend a placement year to anyone considering one, the lab experience gained is a perfect CV addition for life after university and the additional skills of working in a team and independently while in an industry setting are invaluable. I was very fortunate and had the best line manager in terms of supporting my transition into a working environment, this was aided massively by the chocolate that magically appeared on my desk every Friday. I’m not sure what my future after university is going to be yet, but thanks to my placement year I know I can join a workplace and adapt to fit in very quickly, and training can be provided if I feel I have any gaps in my knowledge for my future role. No question is a stupid question! 

A Placement Year at GSK – Sequencing Genomes

By: Natalie Taylor – BSc Biomedical Sciences

Edited by: Laila Hussain

Second year of uni rolled around, and I realised I hardly had any lab experience (thanks COVID). This was a dilemma I attempted to remedy by applying for a placement year. I never considered I’d be accepted by such a prestigious company as GSK. Even less did I consider I would be working in a field as interesting as genetics. The application stress paid off! I was placed in the Discovery Genomics department working on single cell RNA sequencing. This basically means reading genes that are currently ‘switched on’ (expressed). Knowing this information is crucial for understanding disease, as we can quantify which genes were switched on/off in disease states compared to healthy states. With this information we can then get an idea of the genes function and thus, what therapeutic action to take. 

My Application Journey – It’s ok not to know everything!

When I say I was almost 100% sure I failed my interview I was not joking. GSK’s interview stage was split into two sections. One half was situational questions such as “tell us a time you faced a challenge” etc. The other was technical questions. This was where I flopped. I didn’t know the answer to any of the questions! However, I discovered the point of these questions was not only to test your scientific knowledge, this can be taught, but to also see how you manage uncertainty and to test your resilience. It was a daunting experience, but thanks to the kind interviewers and some persistence I managed to give all the answers a go. This was what the interviewers were looking for!

Two days later I received a call from one of the interviewers offering me the placement!

My-day-to-day 

As I mentioned above, I’m working on sequencing (or reading) the genes of individual cells. This means I’m in the lab a lot! I get to work on many different diseases and cell types, which all involve working with very small volumes. Attention to detail is paramount – something I’ve had to learn the hard way! 

A visual example of the types of tubes and volumes we typically work with in RNA sequencing- sometimes even smaller! Image from: unsplash

I also get to use lots of very cool – and very expensive – machines. The machine pictured below on the left is what sequences RNA and the one to the right is a robot that can do a big portion of the lab work involved with preparing the RNA for sequencing for you. It has some limitations though, so I mostly performed my experiments manually by hand. 

Illumina Sequencer (Left) & Chromium Connect (Right): Photos from 10x Genomics and Illumina

After about three months of training, I started planning and carrying out my own experiments independently. I got the chance to sequence many different immune cells, including T cells and macrophages as part of active experiments in the search for potential cancer therapeutics. Apart from single cell RNA sequencing, I’ve also been fortunate to perform a CRISPR knock out experiment on B cells whilst using cutting-edge automation platforms such as the Dragonfly and Bravo.  

On a typical day, my experiments take around 6 hours to reach a safe stopping point. Luckily, I’m able to get a few breaks in when my samples are incubating. During these breaks, I take full advantage of all of the green space at GSK Stevenage. It’s quite normal for employees to go on regular walks around the site – breaks are very encouraged which is nice!

GSK Campus and Labs in Stevenage: Photos from GSK’s Website

Outside of lab work, I’ve also gotten involved with the wider community at GSK by being a part of a committee for students called IP Unite and an employee resource group called Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). My role in these groups varies, typically I will plan and host events aimed to foster new relationships and grow networks. One of the scariest events I held was a PhD information event with IP Unite that involved me speaking in front of 100 people in a lecture theatre – luckily I was only introducing speakers and closing the event – still, it was very outside of my comfort zone! In general, I find that the placement pushes me outside of my comfort zone, but that’s what yields the most growth so I know it’s super beneficial. 

Overall, the placement has been the best experience, better than I expected! I have grown so much as a scientist and a person. I feel much more prepared for life after uni. For now though, I’m just ready to tackle final year!

My Experience as a Year In Industry Student

By Joel Tyler, BSc Physiological Sciences

Edited by Maddie Wildridge

Reckitt is a Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company with offices and employees spread out across the world. Founded in 1870, Reckitt started off by selling laundry starch in Hull, now, Reckitt operates in a range of markets and is the owner of various health and medicinal brands such as; Neurofen, Strepsils, Dettol, Vanish and Durex to name a few.

Examples of some Reckitt products sold around the world

My placement year was a lab-based role involved in working for the brand Veet, this included both formulation manufacturing and analytical testing for the depilatory cream products currently available to buy in shops as well as a new product being developed and to be released in the near future.

A Day in the Life

Using a Light Microscope to examine the structure of a hair sample

Due to the fast paced environment (as an FMCG company), I found that there was always something to do all the time and the days/weeks were fairly similar. This is because of the constant manufacturing of different formulations of new products to be tested under different stability conditions, and then followed by analytical testing of the formulations to identify which was the best product.

Therefore, my normal day would start with a team meeting to discuss where everyone was at with formulation/testing work and to discuss steps/processes going forward or if anything had failed/gone wrong with the batch. After, I would go to the lab to complete any formulation/analytical testing which needed to be done.

I enjoyed this working routine as it meant I gained far more lab experienced than I initially thought I would, it was always very clear what work I needed to be doing and I was always given lots of support if things ever went wrong. I would say I definitely wasn’t treated as a ‘student’ but a very integral part of the team which also surprised me!

Student Project
In the second half of my placement, I organised and created a project alongside my line manager which involved testing the tensile strength of hair using a texture analyser and a brand new test method. I also presented my results to the rest of the Veet brand to explain my findings.

Hair sample being tested in the Texture Analyser to investigate the tensile strength

During my project I had to test thousands of individual hair samples and as a result became the most experienced within the lab at using the texture analyser, this meant that I had the opportunity to present and perform samples to higher up executives within the company (and even the Global Head of R&D) which was an amazing experience.

A Becomix machine used to formulate and manufacture different depilatory creams during my placement year

Why I Chose To Do a Placement
I decided during first year of my degree that I wanted to do a placement, specifically a lab based placement, because I was enjoying being in the lab at university but I was curious if I would enjoy working in a lab as a full time job to give myself an idea for post graduate jobs.

Having completed my full year, I now know I could happily work in a lab after university, so applying for lab based roles isn’t a big risk but also that I know I can work efficiently and thrive under the environment. My placement gave me many challenges along the way (which is natural when learning new things in a short space of time) but I gained valuable and employable experience in overcoming these obstacles and realised that I feel confident within a lab setting.

I Would Highly Recommend a Placement!
Completing my placement year was definitely one of the most important things I have done within my life. The obvious reasons being all the different skills and attributes which I learnt/developed along the way, but also, the experiences which are available in just one year really surprised me, with the huge amounts of social networking needed to be done for my day to day job, I found myself naturally speaking to and shadowing other departments, creating professional relationships which will last for life. So I would say even if you are even considering to apply for placements, just go for it because you won’t regret it!

Overview of my GSK placement year

By Lauren Wheeler, Stage 3 Biomedical Sciences

During my placement, I worked at the GSK R&D site in Stevenage as a placement student within the SPMB department (Screening, Profiling and Mechanistic Biology). SPMB works on assay development, compound profiling and mechanism of action studies.

My role involved automating a 3D hepatotoxicity assay by creating a model to validate a fully integrated platform in order to move the manual assay onto the platform, as well as running a biweekly safety screening assay.

When starting my labwork, I was supervised but I was allowed to complete the work myself which I found very beneficial as it allowed me to make mistakes which I could learn from. I found myself able to start completing my own experiments independently a lot faster than I expected to. Everyone in the lab was also very helpful and was always willing to help or answer any questions when I got stuck.

During my time at GSK, I also got to take part in many other activities alongside my project work which allowed me to gain and improve skills, to network and improve relationships with other IPs (industrial placement students) as well as other GSK employees.

Myself and some other committee members at the International Women’s Day selfie corner – names of people from left to right: Francesca Dale, Lauren Wheeler, Lydia Haines, Neve Richardson

I became a committee member of both the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) and the Stevenage hub committee. With both, I worked with other IPs and members of the committee to organise events such as International Women’s Day and the employee appreciation cookie post.

I was head of logistics for International Women’s Day in which I held key responsibilities in organising attendance numbers, booking catering, setting up market stalls with other employee resource groups at GSK and setting up of the lecture theatre for the event. The event included 2 talks and a panel which were all very insightful and turned out to be a great success with many attendees. I was also rewarded a recognition award (R&R) for my contribution.

I also worked with another IP to organise the employee appreciation cookie post in which GSK employees could donate £2 to save the children which would allow them to send a cookie along with a message to another GSK employee. These were delivered by hand by us, so it was really nice to see how happy and thankful people were when receiving a cookie.

Basket of cookies labelled for each person ready to be delivered

I took part in the Tough Mudder challenge in May 2023 with around 30 other GSK employees in which we raised £350 each and completed a 15km run with 30 obstacles. This was a difficult challenge however we stuck together as a team throughout the course, and it felt like a big achievement once we completed it.

Myself and other GSK employees after finishing the Tough Mudder – names of people from left to right: Ross Biddulph, Samuel Pearson, Jake Brett, Lydia Haines, Lauren Wheeler, Francesca Dale, Neve Richardson, Rebecca Glenny

I was also a part of a netball team at GSK where we trained once a week on a Wednesday, it was a mixed team with members from across the GSK Stevenage site. We took part in a match against the Ware site, which we won as well as a charity tournament, all of which were great experiences to take part in.

During this year, I have also had the chance to take part in IP collaboration events. I attended an IP organised presentation session every 2 weeks in which IPs across different departments presented about their projects as well as discussing any issues they had been having. This was a good opportunity to network and learn more about other departments work.

Myself and some other IPs attending an IP collaboration presentation session – names of people from left to right: Neve Richardson, Lauren Wheeler, Francesca Dale

We also had a lab tour exchange with the Ware site in which I helped in touring the IPs around the labs I worked in as well as going to the Ware site for a tour. It was insightful to see the later stages of the drug development process.

Overall, this placement year has been an invaluable experience in which I have been able to learn and experience far more than I could have expected when I first joined. I have gained many new skills and have really increased my confidence. I’d highly recommend a placement at GSK! Check out their Early Career talent site here for more information.

Top tips for applying to placements!

By Amelia Guest, BSc Biomedical Sciences

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.

Prioritise

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.

Gather information

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.

Rejections

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!

Careers Service

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: Advancing Tomorrow’s Medicines

By Declan Wales

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.  

FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Billingham Site: Art used from FDB Marketing

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.  

One of my last days on site.

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

Regulatory Affairs, not my regular choice but glad I accepted the challenge!

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.

Continue reading “Regulatory Affairs, not my regular choice but glad I accepted the challenge!”

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?

Continue reading “The Secretive World of the Personal Care Industry”