1. Name Ellie Handford (she/her)
2. Course BSc Medical Biochemistry with a year in industry
3. A levels Biology, Chemistry and Maths (with AS Geography) 4. Where did you do your placement year? GlaxoSmithKline’s Research and Development site in Stevenage
4. How was your placement experience (pros and cons) and how did it meet your expectations?
My placement year was invaluable. I have gained great confidence, in both my skills as a biologist and in myself as a person, that I don’t believe I would have had if I had continued straight into final year. I got the opportunity to work with extremely knowledgeable scientists, on fascinating projects that gave me the chance to learn a plethora of new skills. While I thoroughly enjoyed the scientific aspect of my placement year, the ability to understand and navigate the workings of a larger organisation did not come as naturally to me. During my year I worked between two departments with very different cultures and attitudes, which I found to be difficult at times. Despite this, working between departments gave me the opportunity to work with incredible people with a great range of scientific backgrounds. In many ways, my placement year exceeded my expectations. The amount of ownership and responsibility I was given on my project was far greater than I expected. While this was overwhelming at times, it was also extremely rewarding. I did not expect the large amount of development opportunities there was available to me. During this year I have: acted as a STEM volunteer, helping with work experience weeks and giving site tours to interested students; taken part in journal clubs; and presented at poster sessions, all of which were new experiences for me. However, I was not prepared for how mentally demanding this year would be. Doing a placement year in a scientific field requires you to very quickly develop critical thinking skills, great resilience (particularly when facing failed experiments) and the ability to be extremely adaptive. There is a very steep learning curve but there are always people around to support and encourage you and, once learnt, these skills will be invaluable for any future career path in any field you choose.
5. Journey in 3 words Challenging, rewarding, enjoyable. 6. What motivated you to pursue a career in science? Curiosity. I have always loved understanding how things work, in fact my Mum frequently reminds me about how as a child I would always ask her ‘why?’ as a response to literally anything. Therefore, throughout my education, I always found the sciences to be my favourite subjects as they answered all the questions I’d ever had (and lots I didn’t even know I wanted to ask). During my GCSEs I found a particular love for biology and have continued studying in this area ever since.
7.What advice would you give someone wanting to do a placement year?
Balancing your applications with your studies can be quite difficult. Writing a good application takes time, so if you’re applying to lots of placement opportunities (which I would also recommend doing) it takes lots and lots of time. Get ahead in the summer between first and second year and write template CVs and cover letters that can be modified to the specific role, depending on the criteria required as listed on the advertised. Make sure to utilise the careers service at your university - they can help with anything from writing your CV to taking you through a mock interview. Try not to be disheartened (which is easier said than done) if you don’t hear back from a lot of the places you apply for, I applied for eight and only heard back from one!
If there is the opportunity to undertake a summer project at a university during this summer break, it will give you a perfect opportunity to gain some research experience before applying to placements. On several of the applications I completed, there was a section asking for descriptions of any research projects I had undertaken. Completing a summer project can give you that research experience. Sometimes these opportunities are advertised, but in my case I obtained a summer placement by emailing a Professor, whose lecture content I have particularly enjoyed, and speculatively enquired.
Throughout your placement, keep a list of everything you achieve or skills you learn, as at the end when you come to update your CV it can be hard to remember everything you have done. Use this year as an opportunity to gain other experiences outside of your work, for example GSK run a STEM initiative that requires volunteers. You will likely have more spare time this year than during a normal university year, so it is a good opportunity to gain experiences that can boost your CV. Finally, the obvious one, network! The people you meet during your placement year are potentially your future in-roads to a job. Keep in contact with people you meet during your placement after you leave – LinkedIn is great for this, so I would recommend getting a profile started before you arrive on placement. While this year is predominantly about gaining work experience, more than likely you will be moving to a new city and meeting new people - so make the most of it! 8. What advice would you give on dealing with rejection and perseverance? I found the best way to deal with it was to spin it into a positive and use these experiences as a way to improve. If you get rejected, ask for feedback, take the feedback onboard and that way you can improve for next time. It can be easy to take this rejection personally, but it can help to think that there are often hundreds of applicants for the same position and often only a few of them are accepted, so most applicants are in the same boat as you. Try not to let it get you down too much, there is a position out there with your name on it!
I hope this post inspires you to follow your passions and acknowledge that at every stage of your career will involve perseverance, consistency and discipline to help you achieve your desired goal. Never forget that “ no accomplishment is too small and no goal is too high”
The following links will further help you with your career search: