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.

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!”

So your immune system’s an overachiever; what I’m doing about it during my placement at GSK

By Emma McCarthy

Hey, it finally worked!

I look at the screen and smile. After an intensive six-hour lab session involving lots of careful pipetting, I’m ecstatic that the experiment I’ve spent weeks on has succeeded at last.

At the moment, I’m based in a biology research unit at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies on the planet. I’ve been on placement here for over nine months; I still can’t quite believe it some days.

Continue reading “So your immune system’s an overachiever; what I’m doing about it during my placement at GSK”

Meet the Employability Ambassadors

Meet the Employability Ambassador Team 2018-2019

Want to make yourself more employable? Well, we are here to help!
As employability ambassadors, we are keen to assist School of Biomedical Sciences students like you in their career development and to help prepare you for life after university. Whether you want advice on placements, work experience, mentoring or just need some guidance on how to structure your CV, please let us know.

Keep an eye on Blackboard community and your emails for our upcoming events!

Check out the careers service events page for what workshops the careers service have coming up including CV writing, interview practice, assessment centres, recruitment fairs, journalism, starting your own business, careers fairs and lots more! Continue reading “Meet the Employability Ambassadors”

Student Enterprise Ambassador’s #EntrepreneurshipDiary: #2

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.

Background Story Part #1

Hi guys!

As my LinkedIn profile indicates, I recently started a role at my university as a  Student Enterprise Ambassador. In this video I give an introduction to what this role means for me and you, as well as my motivation for applying. I will be creating some content regularly and posting that up as my business idea progresses from seed to idea to product.

Take care and leave me your feedback in the comments 🙂

Summer Placement Poster Presentation Event 2018

December saw our Summer placement poster presentation event with research presented from across the Faculty of Medical Sciences.

SBMS summer placement poster presentation event 2018, hosted in our new superlab.

First of all, let me thank all of you who presented/provided posters for the event, it was fantastic to see your hard work up on those poster boards in our swanky new lab! Secondly, I’d like to thank all of you who attended, asked questions and engaged with the event (not just for the mince pies).  Finally I’d like to thank our judges who did a sterling job deciding our prize winners! Continue reading “Summer Placement Poster Presentation Event 2018”

My summer research really ‘complemented’ my degree

By Sam Murray – 3rd Year Biomedical Sciences student

Vacation Research Project

During the summer I worked alongside scientists in the Institute of Cellular Medicine in Newcastle University to complete a 8-week research project in Complement Immunology, and was paid £200 a week to do so! I produced a poster to communicate my research and defended it at the university wide Celebrating Research Scholarships & Expeditions presentation evening. I was awarded a Commendation for oral defence of the poster and also won 3rd prize at the School of Biomedical Sciences Summer placement poster presentations. Continue reading “My summer research really ‘complemented’ my degree”

Becoming Sport & Exercise Scientists

With a tough season ahead, Newcastle University Rugby Union Performance Squad enlisted the help of staff and students from Sport and Exercise Science to perform physiological testing to inform the squads training and preparation.  Seven second year Sport and Exercise Science students lead the physiological testing of the squad in collaboration with academic staff, technical staff and the Squad’s strength and conditioning coach.  It was a real team effort to ensure the day ran smoothly and that all athletes put in their best efforts. Continue reading “Becoming Sport & Exercise Scientists”