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.

Nutrition and Dietetics at Newcastle – A New Era! by Susan Lennie

Exciting times for the Nutrition and Dietetics team at Newcastle University!

As the new academic year is fast approaching, we prepare to welcome our first cohort of undergraduate dietetics students onto our new 4-year Integrated Master of Dietetics programme. The North East of England NHS departments have been asking for an undergraduate dietetics course for some time, so in the last year we have been planning and writing our course, successfully achieving Health and Care Professions Council approval and British Dietetic Association accreditation in January 2020.

Ms Susan Lennie, Senior Lecturer and Degree Programme Director – Nutrition and Dietetics

I suspect some of you are not too familiar with the work of dietitians, perhaps assuming that it’s mostly dealing with obesity, and telling people what NOT to eat. Well, I don’t quite see it that way. I’ve been a dietitian for over 20 years, in both clinical and academic settings, and I can tell you that dietetics is a really varied profession.

In the clinical setting, I worked in the Intensive Care Unit alongside anaesthetists, pharmacists, biochemists, and nurses. My role was to ensure that patients received good quality nutrition via tubes and intravenous lines that would meet their needs during serious illness. Patients were mostly sedated and ventilated so, often, my interactions were advising other health care professionals on adjustments to fluid volumes and rates of feed, as well as how to manage the timing and delivery of feed due to potential interactions with drugs. Reassurance to distressed family members was also important as most didn’t understand how we meet nutritional needs (without chewing and swallowing).

Susan’s experience in paediatric dietetics was varied and enjoyable (image from Pexels)

I also spent some time as a paediatric dietitian which was incredibly varied. Some days I was advising children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes mellitus (and their parents) on a healthy diet and the timing and dosage of insulin injections, as well as how to prevent (and manage) a hypoglycaemic episode.

One area I particularly enjoyed was working with children with cystic fibrosis. A large proportion of those with this condition have pancreatic insufficiency, where their pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the digestive enzymes to help with the absorption of fat and other nutrients. There are pancreatic enzyme replacement drugs that can be used to help with that, but the dosage of those needs to be matched to the quantity of fat consumed with each meal.

I found it really rewarding to work with the children and their parents to educate them on estimating their fat intake at each meal, working out the correct drug dosage, and subsequently hearing how their symptoms of malabsorption had improved. These patients often struggled with a low body weight, so this was the opposite of managing obesity!

Take a virtual tour of the new Dame Margaret Barbour Building!

Our dietetics course will be sharing some teaching with the existing Food and Nutrition programmes as our students learn about the fundamental biochemical and nutritional sciences that underpin dietetics.  We are all moving into the new Dame Margaret Barbour Building in mid-October and I managed to have a tour of the facilities last week; they are fantastic!  The Food Handling Laboratory and Sensory Analysis Suite are really impressive, and I’m particularly looking forward to using the clinical consultation rooms for simulating outpatient appointments with students and volunteer patients.

2020 has been a challenging year for us all, but in the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences it hasn’t stopped us forging ahead and creating new learning opportunities and facilities for our students.  We’re excited to begin a fresh chapter with the launch of our new Dietetics programme, so keep an eye out for future blogs to hear about what they have been up to!

In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about what dietitians do, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are hosting a Nutrition and Dietetics Career’s Open Day on 16th October 2020 which will be held virtually – see the document below, and please do sign up!

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 Final Year Project

By Liza Petrova, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences

Hi everyone! In January I began working on my final year project. In this blog post we will peek into a real neuroscience laboratory, check out the quirky equipment inside and I will share some details about experiments I do every day.

A bit of background

My project is about alpha-synucleinopathies, which are conditions where a protein called alpha synuclein (ASYN) is mutated and forms toxic “clumps” in the brain. Examples of alpha-synucleinopathies are Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Image of hand shaking whilst holding a glass.
Parkinson’s disease. Photo by Alessandro Grandini on Adobe Stock
Continue reading “My Final Year Project”

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”

The day I was asked to poison someone

By Dr Sarah Judge

When I got a phone call out of the blue from a screenwriter for Hollyoaks, the popular Channel 4 TV programme, asking for help with one of their upcoming stories, I was intrigued.

Why ask me, a scientist at Newcastle University, for help?

Top secret

I wasn’t allowed to know who, but the screenwriter wanted me to poison and kill off one of the soap characters.

Continue reading “The day I was asked to poison someone”

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!”

Like to learn more about the exciting field of immunology?

By Gemma Vidal-Pedrola (3rd PhD student)

Join Immunology North East (for free!) to get involved in the immunology happening around you and in the world.

Immunology North East: you can’t have a society without a banner can you?

Continue reading “Like to learn more about the exciting field of immunology?”

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”