Amy Lane: BSc Biology
Industrial Placement at GlaxoSmithKline
How did you spend your time?
I worked in the Department of Genetic Toxicology which conducts pre-clinical safety assessment of new drugs to determine if they will be safe enough to carry through to clinical trials, specifically whether the drugs have any interaction with DNA which could potentially cause cancer.
The vast majority of drugs need to have safety testing and data created before they can be trialled in clinics so despite the department being a small group of around 30 people, all potentially new drugs come through the department for testing making it a very busy and lively area to work in. I was given a specific project investigating photogenotoxicity, the effects of UV interaction with drugs and DNA. Around half of my time was spent in the lab, either conducting experiments or preparing to conduct experiments with the other half spent producing reports on my lab work and helping colleagues with their studies. The role I was given required me to work alone on my project but also work as part of a larger team when urgent experimental work was needed for a quick turn around of results.
I was given plenty of training in specific techniques, as it is a fairly specialised area everybody in the department was very helpful and willing to teach me the various aspects of the work.
I was able attend seminars relating to my project and was lucky enough to be able to present my work at a four-day national conference in Cardiff, at which experts in the field attended. The work was well accepted which resulted in it being presented by another member of the group at an international conference. Data from my project is also being used in a paper due to be published this year!
How has your degree programme helped on your placement?
My degree programme covers a very broad range of subjects which gave me a good general background - the genetics especially helped. We were given plenty of support with time to read papers and attend seminars and introductory lectures with our manager so we soon gained enough knowledge to start our projects.
What did you enjoy the most?
The most enjoyable part of my placement was getting my work published and attending conferences! Also meeting other students on placement at the same site, Ware is a small site so there are plenty of opportunities to get to know people with in and out of office socialising. Getting paid is also great!
Do you have any advice for other students considering a placement?
The opportunity to work in a large scale industrial environment has been invaluable to me and has undoubtedly helped me with my final year project, given me ideas for future career paths and has boosted my employability. It's a fantastic way to find out if industry is a potential career path, learn about specialised areas you are not exposed to during your degree and potentially create contacts. It has increased my confidence and communication skills and any experience is extremely attractive to potential employers after graduation. Applying for as many placements as possible, as early as possible is a good idea as certain areas can be quite competitive to get in to. Also, take full advantage of working in a large industrial company as there are lots of training opportunities throughout the year which look great on a CV.
At the time of writing Amy was a 4th year student.
Nicola Sweeny: BSc Sports Science and Physiology
Industrial Placement working at QinetiQ
"I work within the Human Protection and Performance Enhancement Business Group. The facilities within this group include thermal chambers, a centrifuge, biomechanics and motion/vibration labs and a hypobaric chamber. As a student we are officially placed in one group, however, we have the opportunity to get involved across the different facilities.
Shortly after joining I had to complete a hypoxia run. This involves taking the hypobaric chamber to an altitude of 25,000ft, removing the oxygen mask and completing an easy task sheet. It takes about 2-3 minutes for you to struggle when performing simple arithmetic or writing your own name and address. It's a really good experience, however, incredibly important for pilots or those working in the chamber to be aware of their own symptoms if they are becoming hypoxic due to a leaking oxygen mask or inadequate oxygen supply.
Although this placement is not directly related with my degree programme it involves a lot more practical work which I have found useful in terms of laboratory equipment and practice.
A lot of the work that QinetiQ does is with the MOD so I have been able to have a look around some fast jets and get kitted up in all the gear! I also spent a 5 week stint in Germany working on a project, so had a few free weekends to experience the local area!
If I had the choice to do it again I would still take this year out. Although it has been a big change it has also been fun and I still get to go back to the student environment next year.
If you decide to do a placement and know other students are also doing a placement at the company you have applied to, think about trying to live together. I’m living with 3 other students and it’s such a bonus as we’re all in the same boat. Also find out where people from your work tend to live as it makes it makes it so much easier for social activities!"
At the time of writing Nicola was a third year student. She graduated in 2008.
Finn Eaton: BSc Zoology
Industrial Placement at The Natural History Museum
"I worked in the Herpetology Department within Zoology, whilst there I investigated the interspecies relationships of a semi-aquatic West African Skink ‘Cophoscincopus’.
This resulted in the discovery of a possible new species! I also found 2 toads 'Bufo crucifers' which were collected by Darwin that had been lost in the Museum!
I got to work with many eminent scientists and attended lots of lectures given by some of the best biological scientists from all over the world. I also got the chance to meet David Attenborough!
The most enjoyable aspect of the placement was having unfettered access to the whole of the museums animal collections, and their huge library. The most challenging aspect was discovering the huge amounts of work that had to be completed each day, just to get a little bit finished!... Still, a contribution and a personal achievement nonetheless!
I learnt a huge amount, not only about zoology but about how day to day scientific work is carried out. It taught me how much hard work has to be put in to a project to get really good results; this attitude is what I took away with me and it has definitely been applied to my final year at uni!"
At the time of writing, Finn was a final year student. He graduated in 2009.
Nicola Rutherford: BSc Biochemistry
Industrial placement at The Mayo Clinic, Florida
How did you spend your time?
I was based in a newly formed genetics lab in the Neuroscience Department, investigating new causes or risk factors for frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
I had two substantial projects; 'fine-mapping the region on chromosome 9 linked to families with a history of FTLD, ALS and FTLD-ALS' and 'identifying mutations in the TARDBP gene' - encoding a DNA/RNA binding protein, which were found in familial ALS patients, and resulted in a first author publication! When I wasn’t working on my projects I was carrying out routine lab work, including the screening of new samples. The lab I worked in was very small; only 5 people in total. I found them very welcoming and was able to settle in quickly. The primary investigator was young and enthusiastic and worked with me extensively, greatly increasing my understanding of the projects. She even let me co-write the publication!
I presented my data both internally, at 'The Mayo', and externally at the South East Nerve Net conference in Atlanta, GA, which was a greatly rewarding experience.
How has your degree programme helped your placement?
The knowledge I learned in the first two years of my degree, especially the genetics modules, provided a good basis for understanding the work I carried out. My primary investigator and other members of the lab explained new things to me, and reading papers does help a lot.
What did you enjoy most?
I loved working at 'The Mayo', but living in Florida was an amazing experience too. The house we rented was only 3 blocks from the beach where, if you’re lucky enough, you can see dolphins. Jacksonville is just over two hours drive from exciting Orlando and there are places where you can swim with manatees (incredible!). It was a fantastic experience, living in a different culture for a year with plenty of chances for road tripping!
What was the most challenging aspect?
Being so far away from home was difficult, especially in the first couple of months, but being with people in the same situation as you makes it easier.
Have you any advice you would offer to other students considering a placement?
The year is a great experience and gives you so much more confidence, especially in practical, organisational and IT skills. It has solidified my career plans to work in the genetics area of science, and will look great on my CV when I come to apply for jobs or further education in the near future.
At the time of writing, Nicola was a final year student. She graduated in 2010.
Joanna McCarter: BSc Neuroscience
Industrial Placement at GSK Singapore
" When I applied to do an industrial placement in Singapore, I don't think I really knew where it was – somewhere in Asia was probably as precise as I could fathom! Obviously, having lived and worked there for a whole year I now know its precise location. It is a small city state, based mainly on one single island off the south coast of peninsula Malaysia - just 60 miles north of the Equator. 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."
At the time of writing, Joanna was a final year student. She graduated in 2009.
Charlotte Fayle: BSc Biology
Shell Step programme
Charlotte Fayle receives her trophy
Charlotte Fayle took part in the Shell Step programme 2009 which aims to give undergraduates relevant work experience through 8 week placements with small and medium sized businesses across the UK. During her time on the placement with RCE Services UK Ltd she developed an energy reduction service which is set to generate a £300,000 turnover for the company and has secured her first place in the Shell STEP National Final awards meaning she has been named the "UK's Most Enterprising Student".
"I'm over the moon to have won this award from Shell! The opportunity to gain a new understanding of business and develop my communication skills has been invaluable and I feel sure it will help me when I move into the world of work."
Robert Cardis, Managing Director of RCE Services UK Ltd, said: "We're delighted that Charlotte has been recognised for the fantastic contribution she made to the business. She began with an open brief and, through showing great initiative, managed to secure an opportunity for a contract worth £250,000 by the end of the placement. She is destined for great things and we wish her all the best in whatever career she pursues."
In addition another University of Leeds undergraduate Jonathan Hutchinson, a 22-year-old Geography student, was named runner-up for generating up to 30% cuts in his host company's energy policy.
The University of Leeds Careers Centre manages the scheme in West and North Yorkshire and supported Charlotte and Jonathan through the whole process. Bob Gilworth, Director of the Careers Centre, said: "As far as we know, this is the first time that a single University has provided both the national winner and runner-up in the same year."
The awards ceremony in London featured keynote speeches from David Lammy MP, Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, and Wes Streeting, President of the National Union of Students.
Lammy said: "Internships are a great way to set students on the path to success offering them the chance to get a taste of a type of work they might not previously have considered as well as building the sorts of skills and experience that prospective employers really value."
James Smith, Chairman of Shell UK, said: "Work experience can help students stand out in the job market. Charlotte and Jonathan have clearly made the most of this chance. Their go-ahead style on their projects have been good for them and their host businesses. We wish them the best of luck with their future career."