As an industrial placement student in medicinal chemistry my task was to synthesise chemical compounds with the aim that they would show biological efficacy and could be developed for use as medicines. This involved collating the starting materials, reviewing the literature preparations, carrying out the reactions and then purifying the product. Once the compound was made, I would send it to the biology team who would test its medical efficacy. After the results from the biological tests came back we would, at our weekly medicinal chemistry team meetings, review the data and discuss changes which we would need to make to the compound to increase its effectiveness as a potential medicine.
“The biggest highlight of working in R&D is knowing that you are working at the cutting edge of this area of science, and knowing that you are working on compounds which could become some of the key medicines in the future,”
The biggest highlight of working in R&D is knowing that you are working at the cutting edge of this area of science, and knowing that you are working on compounds which could become some of the key medicines in the future, and contribute to better health outcomes. You become so used to working with very accurate, state of the art equipment on a daily basis that you almost take it for granted. Although not directly related to my daily work, another highlight of my placement was an opportunity to drive the McLaren F1 simulator. Being a huge motorsport fan, I really enjoyed sitting in the front half of an F1 car pretending I was driving around Monza!
In comparison to many other placement roles, I was given a lot of responsibility. I was invited and expected to contribute to medicinal chemistry meetings, as well as the larger science meetings. Students were also given the opportunity to deliver a talk at the monthly medicinal chemistry seminar. Not only were we asked to contribute to meetings but we had to take charge of our own work. If you had any problems along the way, the supervisors were always happy to help, but you took a real sense of ownership of your work, and the project as a whole. I was treated like a full-time member of staff rather than as a student.
My placement has given me a major insight into the world of chemistry R&D. I was working with scientists who had bachelor degrees, PhDs and postdoctoral experience from many different universities, and who had all worked at a variety of scientific companies. By speaking and interacting with them you acquire a broad range of scientific contacts and gain a great understanding of the opportunities in the field of science. GSK offer great ways of building your academic record whilst learning "on the job". All my colleagues at GSK were more than happy to give guidance and advice on career opportunities and prospects in science. I am sure my work placement at GSK has been invaluable because it shows employers that in addition to an academic record, I have real experience of working in research in the commercial world in a world leading company.
My typical day at GSK begins at 8.30 a.m. I check my emails and my calendar for any lectures or meetings that I might have that day. I then check the progress of ongoing experiments, or maybe set up another reaction. After that I might have a lecture on medicinal chemistry, or take part in our chemistry team meeting and discuss ongoing experiments, potential targets and results. More practical chemistry would be done after the meeting, which would take me up to my lunch hour. After lunch, ongoing reactions would be monitored once again. I would then write up my electronic lab notebook, describing in detail my experiments, the results and outcomes. We have an afternoon tea-break at 3.00 pm, and I continue working in the lab until around 5 pm, and then I head home – apart from Wednesdays when I play football with colleagues at the GSK sports facilities.
“By speaking and interacting with them you acquire a broad range of scientific contacts and gain a great understanding of the opportunities in the field of science”
My biggest advice is: get your application in early and prepare for your interview. When I was applying, I had just started 3rd year at university. My workload at the time was fairly horrendous and trying to balance your university work with a placement application is fairly taxing. So get your application sorted as early as possible and answer the online questions to the best of your ability. Also preparing for your interview is really important. Make sure that you look over your lecture notes from previous years as well as preparing for a competency based interview. The application and interviews come at a fairly busy time, so do as much as you can of the ground-work before you start university again. In short: preparation is key!