Vikram Tejwani, BSc Biotechnology with Enterprise, work placement

Vikram Tejwani

Pursuing my ambition in research 

My placement year was with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) at their R&D site in Stevenage. I worked in the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) department as a laboratory scientist.

Ever since my first year at university, I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in research, particularly, in de novo drug research. I immediately realised the potential of a year in industry and what it had to offer in terms of providing a snapshot of how the pharmaceutical industry functions and how research methodologies are different from those we have in academia. Furthermore, it enabled me to form invaluable professional relationships and friendships which expanded my professional network.

More than ‘just’ a student 

I worked with the Translational Research team within CGT and most of my work was related to molecular biology particularly RNA and DNA extractions and Quantitative Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR). Additionally, I also had the chance to work with mammalian cell culture and isolations, flow cytometry, CRISPR and other cutting-edge technologies employed in gene therapy research.

As a placement student, I was amazed at how many opportunities we had to actually contribute to the inner workings of the company. Although I was assigned a research project that took up most of focus at work including writing up reports and presenting my data, I had additional responsibilities such as chairing team meetings, keeping up to date with tracking and storing of Human Biological Samples and assisting my project team either in the laboratory or in the office whenever possible.

Being part of a Placement Student community

Each day presented a new set of challenges and opportunities that allowed me to build a better version of myself and also exposed me to an assortment of industry knowledge I possibly would not have encountered doing just a bachelor’s degree. I also enjoyed many social events with my colleagues such as team-building exercises and department meals. As a placement student at a highly reputed company such as GSK I had the opportunity to take advantage of the vibrant Placement Student community in Stevenage itself and plan loads of activities. In the end, it was the concept of living a ‘work-life’ as opposed to ‘student life’ which has prepared me for the start of my professional career.

My degree enhanced my placement

Given that most of my work centred on working in the laboratory, some of the practical work we performed at university were relevant to this placement. Although the areas of focus were completely different, I had worked with or heard of a few the basic instruments and techniques during university practical sessions. In terms of lecture material, a lot of the content covered in the second year genetic engineering lectures were essential in establishing a fundamental understanding of primer design and mechanics in PCR and allowed me to get a quick head start on my project. Having said that, doing a placement year is all about trying something new and you don’t necessarily have to have studied everything relating to your placement – there is a lot of learning on the job which makes the whole experience more interesting and challenging.

Chance to network with professionals

This placement has allowed me to get in touch with a lot of interesting people not only at work but also at workshops and seminars on-site and conferences off-site. Over the course of the year, I have developed a strong professional network not only in my team but across my whole department. I do hope to come back in work for GSK in the future and being in touch with my colleagues will be instrumental in achieving that.

Helped my toward my future career

A year in industry can shed some light on career paths people definitely do or do not want to pursue. As I mentioned before, I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in research and development. This placement has allowed me to gather a myriad of different skills that would be applicable in most research positions. Besides that, I have also gained a huge set of soft skills that are transferable across any job including time management, functioning in a team and most importantly communication.

My advice to other students

Applying for placements can be extremely daunting and time-consuming. I tackled it by considering applications as an extra module and that is a fair estimation of the workload involved. Many of my peers were demotivated by constant rejection but the important thing to remember is many companies continue hiring until the summer of the year you aim to start your placement so do not give up! Also, do not simply rely on placements that are being advertised – if you want an edge over everyone else, actively seek out opportunities by directly emailing companies/firms you would like to work for. You would be surprised to know how many firms don’t advertise for placements programmes simply because they are unaware of the concept of a year in industry. Finally, do not simply focus on achieving high grades, try and get involved in as many extra-curricular activities as possible while at University. Additionally, try and utilise summer breaks productively by doing an internship or any form of part-time job that you may think to be relevant to your year industry; this might further prepare you for your entire year and set you apart as a more suitable candidate.

Career teams were always there for support

The University was extremely helpful right from the application stage. They offered a few talks about interview techniques, help set up mock interviews and also provided assistance on writing my CV. They really do leave no stone unturned in offering you the best quality of services so you can realise your full potential. While on placement I would get an email every few months to make sure everything is going well on my placement year. I was also assigned an academic supervisor who visited me once which presented as an opportunity for me or my manager to voice any issues or concerns about the placement so far.

Although my goal is to pursue a career in research, I am still at odds with myself in terms of the next steps to take in order to reach that goal. I could either go back and work in industry if I want to or stay in academia for a while longer and perhaps do a PhD and become a Postdoctoral researcher. I do know that the careers centre is exceptional in what they do, and I am confident that when the time comes for me to start considering my career choices, they will be able to provide me with the right guidance.

Leeds was the right choice for me

The Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds is highly reputed in the field of research and the credit for that goes to the outstanding team of researchers, professors and lecturers that teach at the University. Along with the academic aspect, the University of Leeds has a vibrant atmosphere on campus because of its wonderful Student Union, around 300+ clubs and societies and other pop-up events. And to top it all off, with 5 universities in the city, Leeds is reputed to be one of the best student cities to be in with friendly people, economical cost of living and a lively nightlife.

Leeds, through its countless societies, allowed me to meet a lot of remarkable people and enabled me to form a wonderful group of friends from all across the world. Additionally, my time on placement in industry was definitely a huge highlight during my time at the University of Leeds as I was able to experience two very different ways of living – living as a student and as a working professional.

Being a part of student life

During my time at the University of Leeds I took it upon myself to try joining different societies every year and as a result, I joined the Faculty of Biological Sciences Society in first year and the Motorsport Society in the second year. I attended social events and took part in society activities which not only allowed me to meet people from other parts of my Faculty but also from completely different teaching disciplines. I also helped establish a society, as a committee member, at the University of Leeds with a few people on the same course as me. My course, Biotechnology with Enterprise, is fairly unique as it offers a bridge between the highly technical aspect of biological sciences and the study of management, finance and entrepreneurial planning. With the intention of offering this unique educational experience to other people at our university, we worked towards establishing a Science with Enterprise society. This society enabled us to enlighten our members of the importance of integrating the fields of science and business and the various applications of technical skills in the field of business and vice versa.

Global community

The University of Leeds has established itself as a global university, with a significant chunk of its student population being International students. This would not have been possible without the extremely supportive and helpful staff present at Leeds. My personal tutor was always available to answer any questions that I might have. We were also assigned to peer-assisted study leaders that would help us with our academic workload if it ever got overwhelming. Additionally, the student union and student services are extremely helpful in solving matters not directly related to University like housing, mental wellbeing and any other concerns you might develop during your time at university.