Neuroscience with industrial placement abroad student at University of Leeds

Joanna McCarter

"In the west of the main island, in a modern new science park, is GlaxoSmithKline's Cognition and Neurodegeneration R&D centre where I worked.

I was assigned to the molecular biology team and given my own project of creating a biochemical assay to assess cognitive improvement. Although my supervisor had ultimate control, I was allowed a lot of input into the direction that my project took.

I found the lab work was very tough at first. I was doing RNA extraction and reverse transcription followed by PCR to determine the relative gene expression in various brain regions. These procedures are very sensitive to mistakes and prone to contamination, so the accuracy of my technique was essential to obtain good results. However, after a couple of trial runs and a huge improvement in my practical skills I started to produce accurate data. By the end of the year I had completed several studies and had enough novel data to produce a scientific poster and present it at an international conference in Singapore, which was a very proud moment!

I would definitely recommend a year in industry to anyone thinking about a career in science. I developed my practical, presentation and literature searching skills and I also discovered first-hand how the R&D side of a pharmaceutical company works (you get paid too!). Everyone there was very welcoming and because of the small size of the department, there was a good social element to it, which meant that I made friends within the company. Many people were different ages and came from different cultural backgrounds to myself.

I joined the GSK corporate dragon boat team, which was a lot of fun and our ladies squad managed to get silver medals in the national championships. Obviously, I had to take full advantage of my placement being in South East Asia and did a lot of travelling. Being able to pop over to Thailand or Malaysia for the weekend was really cool and experiencing so many amazing countries was definitely one of the highlights of my year. However, I did really enjoy my project and would have enjoyed it wherever it was. The great location was just a very welcome added bonus."