I genuinely enjoyed my year-long placement. It was a great insight into industry, especially because at my university, there is a large emphasis placed on academia. I also gained great confidence in working in an industrial work-force as well as gained knowledge and skills that will definitely aid me in my last year back at university.
From the get go, I was treated as a member of the team and department rather than just a temporary student. This also meant that I was expected to contribute in a manner similar to any other colleague. This truly built up my confidence and I had colleagues coming up to me for advice as I became the main point-of-contact on my project. I've definitely made useful contacts for the future as well.
As GSK, especially our department, was used to having a turn around of placement students, everyone was open to questions I posed. I never feared going up to anyone to pick their brains and even had talks with several members of my department to gain an insight on jobs after university. My supervisor, as well, was always willing to help with any problems I had.
In the beginning of the placement, I did not have much to do other than training programmes and induction courses. As I delved into my project, I became more busy and had a routine going. However, I did have weeks where if an experiment I had planned had to be postponed, I'd be left with nothing to do which got boring.
I was given full responsibility over my project and actually am the only person who runs the weekly experiments. Additionally, I was asked to pick up other projects in my department and those are also my responsibility for the year. From the get go, I have been treated as any other colleague and have been expected to handle that responsibility which I have greatly appreciated.
In terms of my lab skills, I have become independent in the lab as well as more confident in doing experiments on my own. Additionally, I have become more flexible if anything goes wrong in the lab. I have also gained more inter-personal skills. For example I have become more confident in public speaking situations to the point that I enjoy it greatly. I have gained practise in preparing academic papers and posters which will be very useful for the future.
My office consists of 9-10 people depending on the day. It is mostly quiet but a relaxed atmosphere where no one is afraid to have a conversation or make a phone call. Everyone in the office is in the same department so we all get along quite easily and do have casual conversations throughout the day.
What truly encouraged me to work for GSK was to see how organised everything was for placements. GSK has had student placements running for years so the participating departments knew how to organize new students each year. If there were any issues, it wasn't hard finding someone who could help and they were usually solved quickly.
GSK does a lot for the personal training and development of not just its IP students but also its employees. At our site, we had talks and seminars happening almost everyday that anyone on site was welcome to join. This allowed me to learn about what was happening in other departments in GSK as well as science in general. Additionally, we had IP-specific talks and training that ran throughout the year that were useful for both our year at GSK as well as after.
GSK, in general, doesn't offer jobs to leaving students as it is such a large company. However, when applying for jobs after leaving, we've been told that GSK does prefer previous employees as they have a better understanding of the system. Several people I've met at GSK started off through a placement so the chances of coming back are high!
Another advantage of being a placement student in such a large company was that we had a large cohort of placement students working on site. Our employment agency set up a Facebook group beforehand where several students had a chance to reach out and meet up as well as find housemates. Additionally, we had an on-site IP Unite run by placement students that organized events and talks. Also, since many of us had moved to Stevenage it wasn't hard to organize events between ourselves either.
Having moved from central London to Stevenage, the cost of rent was much cheaper and allowed me to support my own living costs through the money I was paid on placement. In terms of socialising, Stevenage has a couple of restaurants as well as a cinema and bowling alley. These were all the price I expected living in London.
Stevenage doesn't have much of a nightlife. There's a Bar and Beyond that most people tended to go to. However, since we were only a 20min train away from London, it wasn't hard to pop into the city on the weekend where there were many more options but this was more expensive than just staying in Stevenage.
The Stevenage site has an on-site gym that held classes in addition to having the general equipment. I, along with several other placement students, went to netball and zumba classes through the year. Our site also gave us the opportunity to become STEM Ambassadors where we could volunteer both on- and off-site. Our department also held several Christmas events that the placement students were invited to as well as a team-build in Cambridge.