- Course: BSc Genetics
- Year of graduation: 2019
- Nationality: British
- Job title: QC Biosafety Analyst
- Company: Astra Zeneca
Stand out from the crowd
Many people are attending university now and achieving top marks, personally, I felt I needed something that was going to set me apart from other candidates when applying for graduate schemes and jobs. Many of my lecturers and tutors suggested an industrial placement was a good way to prove to employers that you are hard-working because you have already undertaken a year of work during your degree. Possibly the most important reason I decided to do a placement year was that it allowed me to decide what I did and didn’t want to do in my future career. Even if you end up in a job role you believe is not for you then you have the opportunity to talk to so many people around the business, on site and off site to determine what job role you would like in the future. I was excited by the fact after a year of working I would end up with experience from a global pharmaceutical company on my CV as well as obtaining a good reference.
What I did on placement
My key responsibilities included tissue culture work, cell-based assays, filling out logbooks and paperwork to GMP standards, freezer movements, receiving cells and regents from materials management, inventories, the site’s sustainability project, going to meetings and communicating with other departments on site. One of the aspects I particularly enjoyed was, although I had not yet finished my degree I was treated with the same respect and given the same responsibility as people who had.
Due to working in a pharmaceutical environment training was extremely thorough and there were multiple aspects that had to be signed off. As I progressed through my placement I became trained on more and more assays allowing me to perform these on a day to day basis. Despite only being at Astra Zeneca for a year before returning to university, management did not hesitate to train me on as many assays as possible to gain as much as experience as I could in a year.
My day-to-day jobs
My role involved quality control testing, flu vaccines and Instead of working 9-5, Monday-Friday, I actually worked shifts. I would work 4 days on and 4 days off, 7:00 am - 7:00 pm. When I arrived at work in the morning I would use the time before my breakfast break to check emails from the previous shift and clean my biological safety cabinet in preparation for the morning's tissue culture. (7:45-8:15- Breakfast Break). At 8:15 am we would have a team meeting, all the analysts with specialists and coordinators to discuss today's tasks and any issues. From 8:30 am -12:00 pm I would spend my time in the tissue culture lab carrying our passages and plating cells to be used in assays later that day or in the next few days.
After lunch my activities varied, I would spend time working on my projects and going to meetings, training, carrying out assays. (4:30-5- Afternoon Break). What I did after lunch until the end of the day would depend on that we had been scheduled by the coordinator. The coordinator would decide this on what assays we were trained on and what we have done in the previous days to ensure we weren’t doing the same tasks every day.
Working for one of the big six pharmaceutical companies
The highlight of my year in industry was being able to work in one of the big six pharmaceutical companies. I absolutely loved being able to talk to other members of staff on-site and off the site about their experiences and how they got to where they are today. I feel like I have a head start when applying for graduate schemes and jobs due to the experience I have and also an in-depth understanding of how a pharmaceutical company works.
At the Speke, Liverpool site, I was lucky enough to see the process of drug development from research and development through to manufacturing. Due to the nature of the flu virus, different strains may be included in the vaccine each year depending on which strains are in circulation in the population at the time. The genetic variability of flu and the rapid ability of strains to adapt means new flu strains have to be researched every year. The Speke site was self-contained meaning the site had everything needed for the flu vaccine to get from research and development to the EU and US market.
My degree gave me a great basis for my placement
Studying Genetics gave me a good understanding of why a new flu vaccine had to be developed each year which was extremely helpful when trying to understand what we were testing for when training in a new assay.
I was able to put a lot of theory and techniques I had learnt in lectures into practice on my placement. My placement and degree when hand in hand to solidify my understanding of technologies and lab practices.
My placement preparing me for my future career.
My placement will be extremely relevant to my career, although I may not be working in the exact same area it has given me a vast understanding of pharmaceutical companies and the quality area. All the skills I have gained will be transferable to any job I have in my future career. I have improved valuable skills such as teamwork, communication, leadership, interpersonal skills, organisational and time management.
My placement has opened up so many different opportunities to me. I have the potential to go back and work in the same role at Astra Zeneca. Due already working in quality and having a good understanding, I have the option to work in a different area within quality such as quality assurance or regulatory affairs either at Astra Zeneca or a different pharmaceutical company.
I spent some time discussing graduate schemes with the senior leadership team and they were able to provide me with some insight into some of the graduate schemes offered and the type of skills and experience they are looking for. I realised the importance of LinkedIn on my year in industry. I have put my year in industry on my LinkedIn profile and I have had numerous offers of interviews from pharmaceutical companies in the quality area.
Outside of my placement – I got to travel
The most enjoyable aspects of my placement were definitely being able to network with other employees in the business and learning valuable new skills to help me in my future career. I made friends that I am still in contact with now and as a student, it was quite nice to have money to be able to visit friends on years abroad. While on my placement I had the opportunity to visit friends on their years abroad in Philadelphia and South Carolina, while I was there I travelled around New York and Boston. I was lucky enough to celebrate my 21st birthday in Val D’isere and go on a few city breaks, my favourite was to Prague.
The most challenging aspect of my placement was probably the first few days, it was a bit of adjustment going from university and living with friends to working on a site with around 300 employees. It took a few days to settle in and meet everyone but after that it just felt normal and you get to build relationships with your colleagues and we often spent time together outside work.
Leeds is a campus in the city - with a great student community
I just loved it when I went to visit on the open day. I loved the fact it was a campus university in the city, everything was within walking distance, I honestly think it’s the best place to live as a student. I had made my mind up the first time I went to visit.
The Faculty Biological Sciences has a very good reputation and when visiting I got to speak to potential lecturers on my course, I liked the sound of how the BSc Genetics course was taught and the modules on offer sounded extremely interesting to me.
It is such a social place for students and I felt safe. In Hyde Park there are thousands of students living in close proximity, it’s so much fun, you are always bumping into someone you know. Hyde Park is such a pretty place particularly during autumn and summer, getting to walk through the park every day to uni is a lovely way to start the day. In summer thousands of students descend on the park to enjoy the sun and spend time with friends.
My Dads favourite story that he loves to keep reminding me of was when he drove me 5 hours down to visit another university open day, we had been on campus around 5 minutes when I turned to my Dad and said “It’s Leeds”, as you can imagine he wasn’t too impressed after the drive but he assured me you have to pick the university you think you’ll be happiest.
I helped mentor students looking at going on placement
I volunteered to be a mentor for students looking to complete a placement. I had a small group of students and I set up meetings to provide assistance with CV writing, job applications and interview preparation.
My favourite modules
My favourite modules have been Dr Henry Greathead’s modules, particularly Sustainable Food Intensification in my 2nd year. We were able to go on a farm visit as well as conducting lab work studying the best feed for livestock to give the most efficient conversion of feed to meat. I enjoyed Dr Greathead’s modules so much I chose to do my dissertation under his supervision, I really enjoyed my topic and he was an amazing supervisor.
In my final year, I really enjoyed the Applied Genetics module, this module allowed us to learn about technologies and how to apply them to real-life situations.
Flexible degrees to suit your interests
Honestly, lab work is not for me, I just don’t enjoy it that much. I was able to choose modules which suited my interests.
I think that is a common misconception when studying a science degree, people assume you are always in the lab. This is definitely not the case and you have lots of options when it comes to picking modules. There is plenty of a science career paths which do not involve being in the lab so potential students should not worry if they like the look of biological sciences courses but do not enjoy lab work.
I’m interested in a non-lab based career
I am really interested in working in pharmaceuticals so I really like the quality area but I love communicating with people around the business. This, combined with my love of problem-solving, I really like the idea of working in project management. Project management and quality go hand in hand when drugs are released on to the market. My ideal career would be project managing drug release on to different markets.
The big six pharmaceutical companies all offer operations (non-lab based) graduate schemes these give you the options in working in a huge number of roles. You can choose to work in Quality Assurance, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Project Management, Regulatory Affairs, Legal Department, Medical Governance, Finance, Site Management, there are more options of non-lab based careers that there are lab based careers in pharmaceuticals.
Ideally, I would like to get into one of these operations graduate schemes as they give you a chance to try a few different sites as well as the opportunity to work at sites around the world.
I loved being part of the ski and snowboarding society
Outside of lectures and studying there is lots to get involved with. The society that changed my university life was Leeds Snowriders, the ski and snowboard society. I went skiing with my family since I was a child and always thought I would like to go on the two annual ski trips. I have met lifelong friends through this society and even my current housemates.
Leeds Snowriders offers socials (normally around twice a semester), weekly trips to Castleford to ski on the dry slope and two trips a year. I have completed every ski trip since starting at Leeds and have loved every minute of the trips.
Don’t worry if you have never skied before, lots of beginners go on the trips to learn to ski and absolutely love it, everyone is so welcoming, just get stuck in and involved. Joining Leeds Snowriders has definitely encouraged me to do a ski season after I graduate and lots of my friends I have met through the society are doing the same.