Pharmacology student at University of Leeds

Teodora Trendafilova

Why did you decide to do a year in industry?

I did my placement year at Mayo Clinic, Florida, US and I worked as a Biomedical Sciences Intern.

At Mayo Clinic I was very fortunate to work on two different projects which meant that I rarely had two identical days.  Usually in the morning I would check my emails and plan my experiments for the day. These could involve using mammalian cell lines to mimic Parkinson’s disease or assisting in surgeries on rats and analysing the collected samples. Some days were busy and full of experiments. Others were more relaxed and I would spend my time reading articles, writing my thesis or preparing presentations for lab meetings. Usually, the work days started at 9am and finished at 5pm with a lunch break at a convenient time. Occasionally, I had to stay later to finish my experiments or go to the lab on a Saturday or a Sunday for an hour or two. I also worked in a team with a post-doctoral scientist who was always around to help me and answer my questions.

There are two main reasons why I chose to do a year in industry. First - I wanted to see what working in a laboratory feels like on a daily basis and whether this was the right career choice for me; and second – as being a scientist requires a certain set of practical skills, I knew that learning these skills early on could give me a significant advantage in my graduate job search.

What were your key responsibilities? How did these develop as your placement progressed?

At the beginning I worked on one project and I was supervised by a post-doctoral scientist.  My responsibilities included performing techniques by following previously prepared protocols.  Later, I had the opportunity to develop new techniques and create new protocols which were used by my colleagues in the laboratory. With time, I learned to understand and interpret published literature and this gave me the chance to discuss my scientific interests with my supervisors and start my independent project. At this point, my main responsibilities included not only performing experiments but also designing them, analysing the generated data, reading scientific articles and presenting my work at lab meetings. As a result, I will be listed as a co-author of one of my laboratory’s future publications and one of my projects was presented at an international conference in France.

What were the most enjoyable and most challenging aspects of your placement?

My year in industry was full of new and exciting experiences. I moved to sunny Florida, had a great time visiting Miami, Los Angelis and New York and met many inspiring people and new friends. One of the highlights for me was when, after months of hard work, I presented the first successful results from my independent project at one of our weekly lab meetings. My colleagues were excited about my work and gave me a number of useful ideas. For the first time, I realised how much I had grown since the beginning of my internship. 

The most enjoyable aspects were the travelling, the new friendships, the successful experiments and the progress I achieved during my year in industry. The most challenging part was adapting to being a professional – learning how to work in a team with a post-doc, managing my time efficiently and dealing with the failure of some of my experiments. Looking back, I think both aspects of my placement developed me personally and professionally. 

What have been the highlights of your time at the University of Leeds?

Leeds gave me a number of opportunities to meet new people and create friendships. In third year I worked for the Leeds University Welcome team where I had the chance to meet international students and help them feel welcome at their new University. It was a very rewarding and enriching experience. Academically, the highlight of my degree was my year in industry which showed me what being a scientist really is. 

Have you joined any student societies/sports clubs at the university? If so how has this enhanced your time at the University? 

I am a co-founder of one of the cultural societies at Leeds University Union and over the past two years we have collaborated with several other societies. Being a part of the Students’ Union is exciting as it gives you a chance to meet people who have similar interests and ambitions. It helped me adapt to Leeds and find a group of friends to spend my time with. Having a position in a Society committee is also something that I would recommend. It is not only exciting to lead a society but also teaches you team work, communication, problem solving and other invaluable skills that look great on a CV.  

What key aspects of your experience of Leeds would you highlight to students thinking about coming to do the same course/programme?

I have always enjoyed solving puzzles and this is what Pharmacology has given me over the past 4 years. It is a very intellectually stimulating course and it pushes you to think, understand and learn complex ideas. At the University of Leeds I met lecturers who were not only good scientists but also great teachers and mentors. They truly care about the structure of the course and this is why I felt like the progression from level 1 to level 3 was relatively smooth. The professors are very approachable and students can always email and ask them questions about the lecture material or career choices. We also have access to a large selection of scientific journals and well-equipped laboratories which is a key when doing a science degree.