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A Year in Industry as a Chemical Engineering Student

Chemical Engineering student, Rosie, gives us an insight into her placement year, working for AstraZeneca.

After my 3rd year of studying a 4 year integrated masters in Chemical Engineering, I worked as a Process Engineer at AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company for a year. The first thing I learnt from this experience is that a Chemical Engineer and a Process Engineer are the same thing. I actually think Process Engineer better describes the profession which is all about designing, developing and improving processes that make chemicals. AstraZeneca researches, develops and manufactures medicines for cancer, respiratory, kidney and cardiovascular diseases. I worked in the department that develops the process and technology used to manufacture the medicines.

During this year in industry, no two days were ever the same. My role included a variety of tasks and responsibilities allowing me to develop my technical skills as an engineer and increase my confidence to work in a professional environment. I also developed a lot of skills that will help me function in a graduate role, such as communication and time management, which are essential for effective teamwork. In the pharmaceutical industry, chemical engineers are involved in work to develop the manufacturing process, as well as facilitating manufacture of material at varying scales for clinical trials or commercial supply.

I worked on a project to develop the manufacturing process for a cancer medicine, completing a lab based investigation to gain understanding of a filtration process in the current manufacturing route. A normal day would mostly be spent in the lab. I ran a set of experiments over several weeks, each taking a whole day. The experiment aimed to measure change in concentration of a liquid when recirculated through a filter. There were 4 key stages in the experiment; set up the equipment, run the experiment while taking regular samples, shutdown and clean up the experiment, and then analyse the samples. Once the lab work was complete, all the results were analysed to draw conclusions from the project. I then shared my conclusions and learnings from the project through oral presentations and written reports, in order to maximise the learning of the company from my project.

Rosie and her colleagues on their placement year at AstraZeneca

I also worked as part of a team to facilitate the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals for clinical trials. The work I completed involved assessing the safety of the manufacturing process. Chemical plants have to adhere to very high regulations on pollution and emissions from manufacturing activities, and my work included checking any release of chemical from process into the environment is within the limits. I was also involved in altering the manufacturing site to install all equipment required to manufacture this particular medicine.

Despite being in a professional environment, I found there was still a strong social aspect with my co-workers. Admittedly this was not comparable to attending university with thousands of other students in a city, however at AstraZeneca there were social events at an office level and entire department level. There were also around 20 other students completing the Year in Industry, and I made some good friends and enjoyed exploring the city of Manchester which was only a short train ride away.