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!

Day in the life of a Student Dietitian on Placement – Eating Disorders

Hi – it’s Georgia the Student Dietitian again! So on the last blog post I talked about what it was like to be on placement in a secure inpatient unit. I said I would also give some insight into my day in the life in an Eating Disorder unit – so here it is!

Background context – Eating Disorders is an umbrella term that can describe many different disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and others. The patients in my care ranged from 18 to 75 years old and covered all genders. There is lots of psychology often required within Eating Disorder services, so Dietitians work alongside other healthcare staff to provide a holistic form of care to patients. For my placement I worked across inpatient units (on a ward within a hospital), community, and day service. This gave me a really good insight into all of the different areas you could work in as a Dietitian in Eating Disorders.

The different types of services: So i mentioned that there are three different types of services. I am just going to explain a tiny bit about each one so that you are aware of the difference.

Inpatient services – This is where patients are on a ward and have their own rooms. They are monitored and supported 24/7 by staff and are sometimes allowed leave off the ward. Patients on these ward often get their weight and bloods monitored more often and can be put onto a feeding tube if necessary.

Community – This is a service which manages and supports Eating Disorder Patients within the comfort of their own homes. Dietitians will often visit patients where they live and provide advice and support around meal plans and cooking facilities etc.

Day service – Day service is a service which allows patients to attend a clinic for the whole day or half the day to have their meals and be supported by cooking for themselves. So patients tend to spend the whole day at the service and they will have supervised breakfast, lunch, dinner and 3 snacks. They are also supported to cook for themselves in order to mimic what it would be like for the patients at home.

My day to day experience:

As all of the services were very different, I unfortunately do not have enough writing room to describe all of these (plus I think you would probably get bored!). Therefore, here is a day in the life of a student on an inpatient ward….

Morning: I usually arrive at the hospital at 9am to prepare for the day. The Dietitians have their own office where they can produce resources, write up notes and host team meetings with other healthcare professionals. The start of the day I would usually read about on patient backgrounds and fill in my patient notes based on what I can already access (for example recent weights and blood results). I would then find out what diet plan they are currently on and assess whether this would need changing (diet plans are often progressed step by step to gradually increase intake). After this, I would then usually see around 2 patients for lunch to discuss their progress and come up with future action plans.

Afternoon: After the patients (and staff) have their lunch, we usually continue consultations with patients throughout the afternoon. We do have to be careful to not interrupt snack times however as this is obviously a very important part of their day. Often patients are very visibly upset during consultations as the last thing they want to discuss is food, so showing lots of empathy and understanding can really go a long way during these sessions. Again, my communication skills in this sector definitely developed further as it was very different to what I had learnt at Uni! After my consultation sessions, I would then make any changes to diet plans if this was necessary that day and would add this to the patient notes. I would then head home for a good sleep as I am usually very tired by the end of the day!

As always, if anyone has any questions about what it is like to do Dietetics and what placement is like, please leave a comment! Thank you 🙂

Day in the Life of a Student Dietitian on Placement

Hi everyone! My name is Georgia and I am a 4th year Dietetics Student. When people ask me ‘so what do you do?” I dread it, because the conversation normally goes like this: “I do Dietetics at University” “You do what now? I’ve never heard of that! Do you just tell people to not be fat?”.

So, in order to give a bit of an insight into what Dietitians do, I have decided to describe a day in the life whilst I am at placement! My placement is split into two sectors – Forensic Secure Inpatient Service and Eating Disorders. I am going to give you a bit of an overview of what it has been like in both, however I will do a separate post for my experience in Eating Disorders otherwise this could be quite a lengthy post!

Secure inpatient services

As the name suggests, Secure Inpatient Services is a hospital for people with mental health illnesses who have committed crimes. Rather than going to prison, people are admitted into a secure hospital for psychiatric treatment. You might think – “How does a Dietitian fit into a secure unit?” – I thought the same thing! The main role that I had during my time at this service was educational sessions regarding cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately in a service such as this, many patients are on antipsychotic medicines which can often have a significant side effect of weight gain. Due to this, many of the patients within this unit had a BMI of over 45 (for reference, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9).

So now I have provided some context, welcome to my day in the life!

Morning: I wake up at about 7:30 to make sure that I have time to have a proper breakfast and get prepared for the day. I then drive to the hospital and often join a team ‘huddle’ in the morning. Huddles are a meeting with all the Dietetics staff (including Nutritionists and Dietetic Assistants) to discuss how we are getting on with the patients and if we have any new referrals. After this meeting, I would then go down to the ward to see a patient for an education session. To get onto the ward you have to go through an airlock system with lots of security measures in place. Once on the ward, I would normally have an educational session regarding the consequences of high saturated fat and sugar intake on our cardiovascular health. Some patients who I was giving education sessions to were in ‘seclusion’, which is a separate room from everyone else that most people are not allowed to enter. This made communication fairly difficult, but it was a great learning curve!

Afternoon: After lunch, I would usually prepare for the patients that I was seeing that afternoon. I would read through all the patient notes to gather a background on the patient and produce any resources which I may need for the sessions. Many of the patients that I was working with could not read and the only resources we had available were lengthy written resources, so I spent a lot of time producing easy read, pictorial resources for patients which seemed to go down very well. After my sessions with the patients, I would then attend a basketball session with a patient with a BMI of 54 to encourage physical exercise. This was a great session as it also allowed the staff to participate and build rapport with the patients. I really enjoyed this! Finally, I would go back to the office and write up all of my notes from the patient consultations so that other health professionals can be aware of what we have discussed.

I would then tend to go home, cook something quick because I was tired and then watch Netflix until I fell asleep!

I hope you find this useful and if you have any questions please feel free to comment. I really enjoyed this placement and would recommend it to anyone doing Dietetics as you learn communication skills that you probably wouldn’t learn anywhere else. So if you get allocated this placement welcome it with open arms! You may love it like I did.

Language Barrier- English as Second/Third Languange?

By: Caroline Elaine

There are approximately 6500 languages in the world, each with its own distinct characteristics that distinguish it apart from the others. Most international students at Newcastle University come from all over the world, from Asia, Europe, and so on. They grew up speaking a language other than English and only began learning English in school. Some people will become really fluent at it, while others will not. Therefore, the language barrier is one of the reasons why studying in a foreign country can be difficult.

Continue reading “Language Barrier- English as Second/Third Languange?”

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!

Continue reading “A big pharma placement? There’s more to do than just science.”

My Summer Travels with Cryptosporidium

Rosie, our Biomed undergrad tells you of her experience working in Wales and Liverpool on a summer research placement

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”

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?”

Student Enterprise Ambassador’s #EntrepreneurshipDiary: #6

John Cornilius was appointed as the School of Biomedical Sciences first ever Student Enterprise Ambassador earlier this year. Through a series of blog posts, his youtube channel and his LinkedIn profile, John aims to share reflections on his own enterprise journey. Follow along by clicking the #EntrepreneurshipDiary tag or the link in the sidebar.

Networking

Networking? or Nerve-wracking? Today’s video is a bit different, I need your help. How do you fully take advantage of networking opportunities to get the best out of them? I usually use the “Host mentality” method and ask a lot of “Whys”, “Hows” and “Wheres” rather than “Whats”.

Enjoy :)”