I thoroughly enjoyed my placement year, and didn't want to leave! I particularly liked being in the lab and constantly learning new techniques, and getting the chance to attend free seminars from internal and external speakers. I was in a department with 12 other placement students, which made every day extra fun.
My whole department were extremely friendly and welcoming, and I knew that I could ask questions of anybody. Through team meetings, journal club sessions, informal pub lunches and teambuilding days, I got to know everybody in the department. My colleagues on all levels of seniority were supportive towards me, and took time to listen to my data and share their comments and advice.
My supervisors spent a lot of their time helping me to learn lab techniques, interpret my data, and prepare reports. They were very patient and kind, and never made me feel I was a burden (although I'm sure I was at times!). Management at higher levels were also highly supportive, reviewing my data on a regular basis and helping to decide the future direction of my project.
The amount of work I had to do each day varied, but I always felt that there was plenty to do- even if it was just researching literature relevant to my project. I was encouraged to complete my University assignments (full report, poster, and a presentation to a visiting tutor) during work hours, which was helpful and meant that I only very rarely needed to take work home. When I did take work home, this was completely voluntary, and usually to do some extra preparation for a presentation, or to work on my University projects.
I felt that the level of responsibility I had was well-balanced. I was never overwhelmed by my responsibilities, and knew I could always ask for help if I needed it. I liked being able to run presentations and reports past my supervisors prior to use. However, I was able to work independently in the lab, and to fully participate in deciding where my project should go based on data I had generated.
I was surprised by the diversity of skills I was able to learn and practise on placement; from practical lab techniques (cell culture, Western blots, ELISA immunoassays, cell staining), to formal report writing and frequent presentations. Regular feedback on everything I did was very useful in helping me to improve. I now feel far more prepared for returning to University labs, writing my dissertation and presenting scientific data, as well as my career beyond University.
The atmosphere in my office made work very enjoyable, but not too difficult to focus. There was occasional conversation in the office, and great team spirit while decorating for Christmas and doing a World Cup sweepstake! There were quiet spaces open to people who needed a silent place to concentrate. In general it was a fun, humorous and hard-working atmosphere.
I found my department's organisation of the placement year to be exceptional. Before the placement started we had an induction day, where we were able to find out more about the placement, meet our supervisors, talk with current students, and meet our future colleagues. We had a 2-week training period where we got to know the other students in our department and got to grips with commonly used computer programmes, lab techniques, and scientific concepts.
I felt highly valued as a placement student. The level of training we received was exceptional, and we were entitled to a lot of the same benefits as full-time GSK staff; discounts/free entry to various attractions, site BBQs, seminars and a 'volunteering' day once a year (for which you still get paid). Because we were technically employed by SRG rather than GSK, we were not entitled to all of the benefits that GSK staff receive, but this is understandable.
There are Graduate schemes and the Future Leaders Programme, which ex-placement students can be recommended for by their supervisors. However, the FLP schemes tend to be more focussed on regulatory areas, rather than being lab-based. Having said that, there are many lab-based job opportunities for graduates across GSK, and having a year's placement within the company would definitely be a big advantage.
The group of placement students in my department were very close; we celebrated everyone's birthday with cake and presents, and went out for drinks/ meals/ laser tag/ trampolining(!) lots. There were also events organised for placement students across all GSK sites, such as a Christmas party and a boat party.
Stevenage was not too expensive to live in, especially considering its proximity to London. Rent varied a lot, but decent properties were available for around £400 each per month (excluding bills). Bus travel was not expensive, and trains into London were fairly cheap (<£15 return on weekends). Places like bars and restaurants were priced at about average levels.
The nightlife was not fantastic, with no real clubs, and a few bars. However, it was always easy to get Ubers and taxis back home, and London is only 20-30 minutes away by train. Trains between London and Stevenage ran until the early morning (around 1.30am), and started again around 5.30am.
There was some choice of things to do outside of work (but definitely easier if you drive!) For instance, I helped to run a local Guide unit, and my housemates often went swimming and to the gym. Other than this, there were shopping areas, and local running clubs, watersports clubs, and sports teams.