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

Leica Biosystems focuses on immunohistochemistry in the context of cancer diagnostics, and for this vital work they require antibodies. For my project, I was tasked with identifying methods and creating a workflow for antibody validation. Primary antibodies bind specific epitopes on their target protein which allows them to detect the protein in the tissue. However, there’s no easy way to know whether an antibody is specifically binding the target protein or whether it is binding to other, similar proteins.

My project

The broad scope of my project allowed me perfect techniques such as western blotting and to try methods I hadn’t encountered before such as immunohistochemistry and peptide arrays.

Hands on experience with a microtome!

While university had provided me with plenty of theoretical knowledge, second year left me feeling as if I needed more practical experience. I knew the basics of practical methods, but I was missing the understanding needed to think for myself. Designing my own experiments allowed me to understand why I was doing certain steps in a method, rather than following instructions without really knowing why they were necessary.

A change in routine

While it was difficult at first to transition from my usual university routine of late nights and lie ins, once I settled into the 9-5 life, I found myself enjoying it. Gone were the days when I’d get back from my lectures at 4 and work on assignments late into the evening, the weekend library sessions, the pre-exam stress. Once I was off the clock, I was done with my work for the day. Having guilt-free time to enjoy meant I was finally able to relax without a deadline looming over my head, and I was able to pick up new hobbies and sports I haven’t had time for in the past.

A sense of community

R&D Tree Planting Day at Plessey Woods

One of the best parts of my placement year at Leica is the sense of community. Everyone has been very welcoming and happy to help me out and answer any questions I may have, no matter how trivial. In my time here I’ve been able to participate in team building days and events, be it escape rooms, quizzes or plain and simple pub nights.

It’s not all labs!

The day to day variation has also allowed me to develop skills outside of the lab, such as report writing, presenting and data analysis. This, combined with the opportunity to design my own testing and manage my own time, is great practice for my third-year project, and has left me feeling much more prepared. Leica also provide their associates with plenty of opportunities to learn about the industry and the business as a whole. For example, we have “IHC In Action”, which is a weekly session where a pathologist comes in to show us interesting cancer cases from the past week and how they went about diagnosing them using immunohistochemistry (IHC).

My monthly project meetings give me an opportunity to share my work and ideas.

Looking to the future

In terms of the future, I can definitely imagine myself working in industry having had this experience. Prior to my placement year, I had my heart set on working in academia, and had written off working in industry as too corporate. However, seeing the wider impact of the work carried out at Leica, and the potential it has to make a difference in the world, has made me realise there are benefits to working in industry; the resources, opportunities for growth and sense of community.

My workplace for the year!

Would I recommend doing a placement year?

I’d definitely recommend doing a placement year, whether you’re thinking about pursuing a career in research or industry after university, or if you’re looking to get more comfortable working independently and brush up on your skills in and out of the lab.

Read about doing a placement at GSK here.

Check out how to find a placement.

Finally, our placement destination blog lists some of the companies that our students have done a year placement with.

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