1. Name :Emma Dalby (She/Her)
2. Course :Biological Sciences (Neuroscience) with a Year in Industry BSc
3. A levels:Biology, Chemistry and Maths (Psychology at AS)
4. Where did you do your placement year :GlaxoSmithKline, Stevenage (Functional Genomics department)
5. How was your placement experience ( pros and cons) and how did it meet your expectations?
Without a doubt, my placement year has been extremely valuable and beneficial, and I don’t for a second regret delaying completing my degree for a year to complete one. I had no idea about how science in industry worked before starting my placement, so it was a very steep learning curve for me, learning that science comes with a great deal of failure which you must learn to take in your stride, and I now have a level of resilience which I would not have achieved without this year.
I was given complete autonomy and independence of my project, and although it took me a while to understand the benefit of the work I was doing, I gradually saw how my project contributed to improving the work done by the department. The independence was scary at first and at time it did feel like I had been thrown into the deep end very early, but I was always supported by my supervisors and am grateful for their faith in my abilities to be allowed to have such ownership of my work.
Working for a large company such as GSK has huge benefits, including a very active community at the Stevenage site where I was based. There were opportunities to get involved in volunteering work outside of the lab, such as being an ambassador at the Big Bang fair to inspire future scientists which I found particularly rewarding.
Compared to university, it is a completely different style of working, and I think I can safely say this has been the hardest, most challenging and tiring year of my education so far. There were times when I really struggled with experimental work and had lapses in confidence, especially being thrown into an environment surrounded by very talented, intelligent scientists with much more experience. However, it has taught me so much about myself and the ways I like to work/cope with stress and setbacks which will prove extremely useful going forward.
I am unsure if I would like to return to Industry in the future, although I love science and the vision of companies such as GSK, I did find that sometimes the amount of business strategy and planning which is required for decisions to be made gets in the way of completing the science which I am so passionate about. However, the skills learnt in industry are completely invaluable for alternative routes, not just in academia but also alternative fields within science and beyond.
Finally, the experience and confidence I have gained over the course of this year I believe will help me an immeasurable amount going into the final year of my degree. The confidence and general lab skills I have learnt will put me at an advantage when starting my research project, and the work ethic and time management skills will hopefully set me up for success in my degree.
6. Journey in 3 words : Enlightening. Demanding. Fulfilling.
7. What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
I always had an aptitude for science at school, so the decision to continue it on to A levels was an easy choice for me. During my A levels I found a real love and interest for Biology and Psychology, and I find the fact that we understand so little about how the brain works fascinating. I’ve always been a very curious person and enjoy learning new things, so a field like science which is full of new discoveries every day sounds perfect. I also realise how much science benefits society and think it is a brilliant, exciting, constantly evolving sector to work in.
8. What advice would you give someone wanting to do a placement year?
Searching for placements is a lot of hard work, so be prepared to put in the hours, not only for finding opportunities to apply for but for writing applications and completing online assessments. Because of this I would suggest starting as early as you can, and spend some time initially making a good CV, cover letter and draft of a personal statement that you can adapt for applications as it gives you a solid starting point.
You will probably need to apply for quite a lot of placements to get one, but my advice would be to make sure you actually read what is involved in an advertised placement before you apply, you’re better to concentrate your efforts on the ones you really want and are suitable for than spreading yourself thin applying for every placement you find. It is a difficult process and takes up an extra year of your degree, so much sure any placement you’re signing up for is something you can imagine spending a year doing.
If you get an interview, congratulate yourself as that is possibly the hardest part done. Usually placements at big companies such as GSK will get hundreds of applicants for each role and probably only interview a few people, so by getting to interview you have already shown them you’re someone they want to hire. Interviews will vary from placement to placement, but make sure you do your research not just on techniques which the placement may involve so you can answer technical questions, but on the culture and values of the company. Ask questions, seem engaged and admit to gaps in your knowledge, they will be able to tell if you are bluffing!
If you are successful in gaining a placement, you’re in for a really exciting but hard year, so prepare yourself and rest up well over the summer before it, as a lot of placements are 12 months long and will probably not leave you with much summer before your final year. My biggest advice is to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. You will have your main project but try to go and shadow other scientists/departments in the company which interest you, volunteer, take part in clubs and social events. You can make some incredible connections and network a lot during your year so make sure you make good impressions and get peoples details to use connections formed in the future. Ask as many questions as you can, you are there to learn!
9. What advice would you give on dealing with rejection and perseverance?
Although rejection is never pleasant, learning to deal with failure is a key skill in science, so try to see any rejections as a learning opportunity. When applying for placements, you will be going up against students from all over the country and beyond, so try not to take it personally if you are not accepted. There is stiff competition and it may be that you just don’t fit one of the criteria they see as key. This does not mean that you aren’t a very bright student and do not have the potential to become a talented scientist. If you sell yourself well and make good impressions through your applications and interviews, you can take solace in the fact that you gave every application your best shot.
If you are unsuccessful securing a placement, ask for feedback from any companies you were rejected from so you can learn from them and carry that knowledge forward to applications in the future. Do not let it spoil your motivation for final year, try your best to obtain a summer placement between your second and final year instead, or speak to staff at the university and ask if you can come in once a week to assist or observe their experiments to gain more experience. Placements are incredible opportunities, but they are not the only way to gain valuable skills and experience in science.
List of places that offer internships: A place to start: https://www.thecatalystinme.com/post/list-of-places-that-offer-science-internships
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: