Biopharm molecular discovery: antibody engineering/ antibody technology scientist
The placement was good and I gained a lot of lab based experience, the reason I didn't rate it higher for enjoyment is because I learnt that I don't want to be a lab based scientist and bench work is not what I enjoy, also the site I was based at in Stevenage had little to do outside of work.
I felt very valued by my colleagues, people asked me my opinions and were always happy to take time out of their day to help. I was fully integrated into my team and felt I was given significant responsibility in the lab, and that my project was contributing to something of wider significance.
I met weekly with my supervisor for catch ups and they were available any other time I needed help with absolutely anything. If my supervisor couldn't help, I would be pointed in the direction of someone who could. As well as my supervisor I had a line manager who helped to integrate my work into the rest of the line within my group, this helped me with bigger picture things and writing my project up. Finally there was a line manager specifically for all of the placement students in the department. This helped to bring the placement students together and was useful for specific placement student advice.
the year started off less busy and then the workload picked up around November. This varied week by week dependant on how much lab work I had on and if I was presenting, or writing up my project. During quiet periods you could easily get bored, so it's important to be pro-active and seek additional lab work to help other people out, or attend seminars, talks or training events that are frequently put on from guest speakers and other groups within GSK
After training most lab work is conducted alone, which is quite a lot of responsibility when working with expensive reagents or carrying out assays from which the data will be used to make key decisions about projects and the drug pipeline. I was responsible for managing my own time and ordering my own resources. Help is always available should you need it, but contact with my supervisor after settling in was mainly to tell him my plans and ideas and to ensure I had enough work to do.
The skills gained in the lab and ability to manage my time/ resources will help me enormously with my final year project, as well as getting into good habits such as writing up all experiments immediately after conducting them. I have gained confidence in presenting my work in front of groups of people ranging from 4-40 people, and the confidence to organise meetings to discuss scientific findings with colleagues. Regular journal club meetings every two weeks have improved my ability to critique scientific papers and have the confidence to express my opinions. The placement taught me a lot about what I want out of a career even though this may not be in a lab.
The offices are quite big, most implement the 'hot desk' system, allowing you to move around the office. But most people sit in a similar area every day. The open plan aspect made it easy to find people, but also meant you can't be too loud as it may distract people. someone often brings some kind of cake or sweets into the office and most people are really friendly once you start talking to them.
The placement generally was well organised. GSK have a well established placement student scheme, with 120 placement students on my site alone, so they know what they are doing as they have been having students in for years. The placement students have their own committee and organise social events and lectures which can be useful. In terms of individual projects, organisation varies between departments and teams. my project and all of the timescales were set out from the start so I had clear direction of what I was doing and the purpose of my work. Others may not have a firm project outline until later on in the year.
The company offers a lot of training at the beginning as computer based learning modules. Students in my department were given lessons on basic lab skills, but a lot of the training received such as on specific software or robots was informal and ad hoc, which is good in many ways because you are not bombarded with training, but also it may be nice to get a bit more formal training. In terms of development, it is very much the case that if you are keen to get development opportunities and seek them out you will be able to take time out "development days" to do this.
There are lots of opportunities and schemes to get a job with GSK following a placement year, which are well advertised and give an advantage over graduates who have not done a placement year at GSK. I am interested in further education or a different career path so will not be seeking further employment with GSK.
There is an organisation called IP unite which organise a few big events throughout the year for all GSK placement students across the country, but these events are usually based in London. The department I was in have a great culture team which offer quite a few events throughout the year including quizzes, scavenger hunts, Lunches, drinks etc. Each group has a team build day which is a good way to get to know colleagues. People take tea breaks at 10am and 3pm which provides a good opportunity to chat with colleagues, should you have the time. Certain teams have "orange day" which is where the team go out and do something for charity. There are often team lunches to attend for birthdays or people leaving, which is always nice because you can take an extended lunch break.
The cost of living in Stevenage is relatively cheap compared to many cities in the south. Unfortunately there is not a lot to do in Stevenage and many students chose to go away at the weekends. Bonuses are that London is only a 20 minute train ride away and Cambridge is relatively close (both not very expensive to get to)
There isn't really a nightlife in Stevenage, there is one "club", Bar and beyond, and quite a lot of places to eat out. London night life is obviously very good if you want to get the first train back the next morning and in Stevenage there are quite a lot of local pubs if that's more your thing.
There are some local sports clubs and quite a few options of Gyms to go to. The onsite gym offers some good classes and in reasonably priced. There are lots of placement students in Stevenage so if you can get a group of people together to do something together it could be quite good. But unfortunately as Stevenage is not a student town there are a lot fewer things to do for young people than you may be used to.