Medical Sciences student at University of Leeds

Rozalyn Yorke

Roz chose to take an industrial placement year as part of her Medical Sciences course, working as a Research and Development Scientist on an immuno-oncology project at MedImmune.

About the University

Why did you choose the University of Leeds? 

I came to Leeds for the Medical Sciences post applicant visit day and was really impressed by the way the course was presented. In particular the strong focus on research-based teaching and the well organised year in industry programme stood out to me as I was considering research as a career option and was interested in doing an industrial placement. I’d also heard from people who had studied in Leeds that it’s a great city for students with loads going on.

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

  • My year in industry really helped shaped my plans for the future and has made me feel more prepared for that.
  • I was able to study the Integrative Biomedical Sciences module in my final year that gives an insight into in vivo sciences and is taught in a really interactive way – this was different to other modules I’ve studies and I found it really enjoyable. I’ve also discussed my experience from the module at interviews and it doesn’t seem like similar modules are offered at other universities as interviewers are always surprised at the content covered.
  • Summer research placements through the Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship (UGRLS) scheme enabled me to get good research experience and also meet friends from across different faculties that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.
  • Getting involved in societies has helped me pursue interests outside of my degree.
  • Any downtime spent with the friends I’ve made here – Leeds is a really vibrant city with events going on for whatever your tastes are – gigs and the music scene in the city are particularly good.

How have the facilities (libraries/labs etc.) helped you get the most out of your degree?

I really appreciated being able to learn anatomy in the dissection rooms, which are usually only accessible to medicine students at other universities. I’ve also been involved in two summer lab placements through the UGRLS scheme – now renamed Laidlaw Scholarships. This gave me the chance to get experience of an individual research project at undergraduate level and having this experience from my first year placement helped me in my applications and interviews for industrial placements. I also did some lab shadowing in my first year. There are lots of opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in research which has really helped me build a string CV throughout my time here.

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

I attended ballet classes with the Ballet Society in years 1 and 2 which enabled me to carry on a hobby from home that I love and also allowed me to meet another social group who I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise. I was on the committee of LUU:Sci, the university’s science magazine, in my second year. This allowed me both to build some soft skills to use in my CV and to do something that interested me that I’d never tried before. Now in my final year I am campaigns manager for Mind Matters society. I lead the organisation of a mental health and wellbeing awareness day that gave me the chance to utilise leadership skills and to work on a project outside of my degree that I’m passionate about and can be proud of.

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

  • In terms of the course, the lecturers are active researchers meaning they teach the most recent developments in their fields. This means that you’re really well prepared to enter into the workplace – this came across in my year in industry. They’re also really passionate about their work so are always happy to help you if you share an interest, for example suggesting contacts to approach for placements or helping you set up societies or discussion groups.
  • The careers centre and particularly the employability team for the faculty are really helpful. There are events highlighting a huge range of careers that can follow on from this degree so whether you’ve got an idea of what you want to pursue or you don’t know where to start they’re really useful. The support with industrial placements (both searching for them and once you’re on one) is also really strong.
  • Outside of the course there are a huge variety of opportunities on offer to gain skills you’re interested in or just to do something you enjoy / meet likeminded people. For example I’ve taken up a lot of opportunities in getting research experience and got involved with societies. There’s also a massive range of volunteering opportunities. There’s so much to choose from that you can really tailor your university experience and make it exactly what you want it to be.

What are your ambitions for the future? Do you have specific career plans? Has the Faculty (careers centre/lecturers etc.) helped you with these goals in any way?

I have a place on an MRes/PhD programme in Biomedical Sciences at Kings College London, so (results pending) I’ll be moving onto this next September. I really consolidated my interest in a career in research through my year in industry and the contacts I made there have been invaluable in giving advice on next steps, which is how I decided to pursue a PhD and which type of programme suits me best. I was introduced to the area I would like my PhD to be in during first year lectures. I then got a placement year in this area to try it out so the process has been quite logical. The careers centre helped advise me in writing cover letters and my CV for PhD applications. I also had a mock interview to help prepare me. I’m also a mentee on the Nurturing Talent scheme which pairs you with a mentor who has experience in a career of interest. This has given me another useful perspective and person I can ask career-based questions to. I’m also potentially going to do a short placement with this mentor if I can find a suitable time which will give me the opportunity to learn some bioinformatics, a skill that that’s becoming ever more prominent in research. 

About my Industrial Placement

Where did you do your placement year & what was your job role?

MedImmune, a biopharmaceutical company in Cambridge. I was a research and development scientist on an immuno-oncology project.

Why did you decide to do a year in industry?

I was considering a career in research when I came to university so I thought getting some experience before I graduated would be really valuable in helping me decide if it was the right career for me and to learn skills necessary for that. I also knew that getting an idea of what a workplace outside of university is like prior to graduating would help prepare me for moving on after graduation. 

Could you describe a typical day on your placement?

I would usually start in the lab in the morning, getting set up for whatever assay or work I needed to do that day. Once I was done with the first part of my lab work I might have a team or project meeting with colleagues in the same line of management or working the same project as me. This was great as I got to hear about other research projects within oncology and everyone would help each other trouble shoot and contribute to discussions on one another’s work.

I was treated as an equal and would present at a project meeting every 3-4 weeks and the same for team meetings. Here I would share my results and my plans for my project. It was really useful to have input from people across different departments and with such vast collective experience – I learned a lot from them. I’d have a weekly meeting with my primary supervisor to discuss my results and plans for further experiments. When I was doing coursework for uni (my literature review or my final write up) I would use these meetings to get feedback.

Once I was done in the lab for the day I might do some data analysis to figure out what my results meant and help me plan further experiments. I was also on the committee of AZ Inspire, a network for early career researchers across MedImmune and AstraZeneca, so I might have a meeting or some work to do for planning an event with them.

A highlight was helping run a trip to AstraZeneca in Sweden where we learned about the parts of the business run from there, it was a great opportunity to see a research environment in a different country. There were often guest speakers in from academia to give seminars so I’d try to make those when I could. I lived with other students with placements at MedImmune so it was nice to be with them at home after work.

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

I was investigating how several variables together influenced the activity of novel antibody-based drugs, designed to stimulate an anticancer immune response. My key responsibilities were to do the experiments I had panned and report my findings back to my manager and then the wider team. As the project progressed I gained more independence in the lab and was able to move into new avenues of the project that opened up based on my results. This meant learning new practical skills and managing more data. I also made collaborations with other colleagues so I needed to manage my time between each branch of my project.

Towards the end of my time there we had an internal science fair for which I made and presented a research poster in the early career researchers section. In the last few months I started tying up my lab work to focus on my write up for Leeds. 

What was the real highlight for you?

Becoming more independent in the lab and learning to plan my own experiments. Knowing that I was the first person to ever see the results I was generating was a really exciting feeling. I generally gained a maturity being in a working environment that I wouldn’t have got from university alone that’s prepared me to enter work/further study after graduation. It was also a really nice break to do something away from university for a year where I had weekends and evenings free as final year is pretty hectic so it allowed me to be better prepared for that coming back. I met some really valuable contacts both mentoring and career wise and just friends that I’ve stayed in touch with.

What aspects of your degree were relevant to your placement?

The Principles of Drug Discovery module in year two was very relevant to a pharmaceutical placement. Other modules such as Immunology and lab modules provided relevant knowledge and skills. The mock interviews and CV preparation done in Scientific Skills modules helped when applying for placements and data management tutorials in this module were useful for analysing my data.

What opportunities has your industrial placement opened up to you?

I’ve gained really valuable mentors in my manager and other colleagues from my industrial placement. They’ve been massively helpful in proofreading my CV and personal statements for post-grad applications and generally advising on the options available. Importantly, I’ve had offers for PhD programmes without needing to do a Masters because I’ve got a year’s worth of relevant lab experience in an individual research project.  While I was there I was exposed to many different areas of the pharmaceutical industry and learned about different career options from colleagues. I was also able to attend conferences and guest seminars from leading researchers in my fields of interest.

How can you envisage your year in industry being relevant to your career prospects in the future?

My experience in the lab has equipped me with a range of practical skills that I will use as I plan to continue in research. I also have first-hand knowledge of immuno-oncology projects and the biopharmaceutical industry, which are both big areas of growth so it’s really valuable to have got experience at such an early stage. There is the possibility that my data will be included in publications or patent applications in the future which would be a huge benefit.

What advice would you offer to other students considering doing a year in industry?

Go for it – even if you don’t want to be in the lab there are a huge range of placements you can do. I also know a lot of people who found an area or job they are interested in pursuing after graduation that wasn’t what they did on placement but they were introduced to it at their company. Whether you decide to go into a similar job or not, just having a job for a year in a degree relevant position will give you a good perspective on what things will be like after university and can help you decide what you want to do.

Student support is an important part of a successful placement. How did the university support you during your year in industry?

The careers centre proofread my CV and cover letters and advised me on how to target them to an industrial position. I also did a mock interview where I was asked similar questions to those in my actual interview so I was able to prepare quite well. Faculty staff also had knowledge of the company so were able to give me some tips on what to look into before my interview.

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

Most challenging – research can be frustrating at times and when results aren’t coming it can become draining as you put a lot of effort in and seemingly don’t get much out. However, this was one of the most valuable things I experienced because it taught me to be resilient and to trouble shoot a process rather than blaming myself for things not working. This is an essential ability for anyone staying in research!

Most enjoyable – being part of a really fun team and working on something that I can be proud of. My work contributed to a really interesting project which was always good motivation.

My Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship (UGRLS)

On this scholarship I did two summer research placements (one after first year, one after second year). I gained experience of research techniques further to those learned in first and second year labs and more relevant to individual research projects (this was helpful in applying to industrial placements). These placements were paid which is rare for summer studentships – this allowed me to apply to the scheme otherwise I’d have had to go home to work over summer as many students do, so the scholarship removed that barrier. We also learned transferable skills on the scheme through events like away weekends where we learned leadership skills, presentation workshops and opportunities to present research at internal and external conferences. As a University of Leeds scholar I had access to the scholar network and have worked as a scholarship ambassador for the Alumni and Development Team at several fundraising events and celebrations of philanthropy. This allowed me to see a side of the university that I would not have been able to without a scholarship and the opportunity to network with donors and other scholars has enabled me to meet some people with really interesting careers and skills. A particular skill I’d highlight from my UGRLS is presenting or discussing my research to non-scientists – a vital skill for researchers that I’ve had a lot of practice with through the scheme.