Biological Sciences student at University of Leeds

Matthew Windeatt

About your Industrial Placement

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

I completed my placement with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) at the Medicine Research Centre in Stevenage. It was a laboratory research role in the BioPharm Discovery department which primarily developed antibody therapeutics.

Why did you decide to do a year in industry?

I wasn’t sure which direction to take my career after by degree. I had enjoyed by degree so far but wasn’t sure if I wanted to follow a research based career or whether I would prefer a career in finance. So I decide to apply for research placements with large pharmaceutical companies so I would have experience working as a scientist but also have the opportunity to shadow people in a multinational business.

Could you describe a typical day on your placement?

As you progressed through the placement you became more independent in the lab. You start with a lot of support from your supervisor but progress to planning your own experiments and managing your own week. At this stage you will meet up with your supervisor several time during the week to informally chat about how your work is going and they will set deadlines to complete work. On a typical week my time would be spread: 60% in the lab, 25% writing up reports and 15% in research seminars, career development sessions or meetings.

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

I was given a project outline at the start of the year which I worked on for the first six months; this involved optimising an experiment the department use to screen a library of drugs (antibodies) against target proteins implemented in disease. I mostly used mass spectrometry and high performance liquid chromatography on this project. In the second half of my placement I completed a molecular biology.

We want other students at Leeds to know what an exciting opportunity the year in industry is. What was the real highlight for you?

A real highlight was being given the opportunity to lead a group of Industrial Placement students to organise a fundraising glider flying event. We provided staff with a range of raw materials to make gliders in teams of four and challenge was to build a glider which flew the furthest. As a team we successfully organised the event in which eighteen teams of four participated and several hundred spectators watched. Through donations at the event we raised over £900 for Save the Children.

What opportunities has your industrial placement opened up to you?

The transferable skills on my industrial placement including project management, team work, organising events, data analysis and departmental presentations helped me obtain the position of School Rep for Molecular and Cellular Biology and get a place on the audit graduate programme at Ernst & Young (EY).

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

The transferable skills I gained from my placement and the opportunities I sort to shadow GSK employees in finance departments was a significant factor in helping me gain a graduate job with EY.

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

It’s a great opportunity to develop your skills, enhance your employability and get a more diverse experience from your time at university. To aid your application I would think about the skills companies are looking for in their industrial placement students and try to experience these skills in extracurricular activities, part-time jobs or volunteering.

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

Through contacts I made across GSK I organised two days of shadowing at GSK House, GSK’s headquarters. I shadowed people who worked in various finance roles including consumer health care, internal audit and R&D. This gave me an insight into how the global pharmaceutical company functioned and helped me make an informed decision about my future career.


About the University

Why did you choose the University of Leeds?

I was immediately impressed with the Biological Sciences course structure and academic staff at a Faculty of Biological Sciences open day. Also, Leeds University Union looked fantastic and the city looked an exciting place for a student to live. All have exceeded my expectations!

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

It’s hard to pick as I have had so many great memories from university life. Top 5 from my four years: having a diverse network of friends, my industrial placement year, final year lab research project, being a Leeds Student Radio presenter and being the School Representative, representing students across the school of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

What aspects of your course helped you to make friends?

I made friends on my course initial with people in my tutorial group or who were on my lab bench. As first year goes by you start to speak to a wider group of people before lecturers and at societal socials (FobSoc).

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

In previous years I have been a course rep representing the views of students on my course with staff members. In my final year I took up the role of School Rep for Molecular and Cellular Biology representing students views from across the School at a Faculty and University wide level. I have thoroughly enjoyed both roles, I especially enjoy conversing with a wide range of students and working to help improve the student experience.  

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

It’s a great programme which offers a lot of flexibility in the molecular and cellular biology field. First year really does give you a good grounding of knowledge and you can specialise in your second and third years into areas of interest. I specialised in infection and disease, I particularly enjoy studying how viruses and cancer evade the immune system.

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

I am starting a graduate programme with Ernst & Young (EY) in September 2015. The programme is for audit accountancy and runs over three years. I aim to have qualified as a chartered accounted by the end of the programme. In the future I would like to specialise in pharmaceuticals either working with pharmaceutical clients or within a multinational company. The university careers centre is brilliant and I have used it throughout my time at university and they have helped me obtain an industrial placement and graduate job.