I thoroughly enjoyed my placement within Biopharm Discovery at GSK due to the intellectually stimulating work involved, the wealth of equipment and resources available, the friendly atmosphere, the guidance from my supervisor and many other employees, and the plethora of learning opportunities both within the department and on-site.
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I felt very valued by my colleagues, especially towards the second half of the placement as I'd developed enough knowledge and skills of certain techniques and instruments to be sought out for demos or advice. My colleagues were also engaged when I contributed in meetings and during my presentations, demonstrating a genuine interest in my project aims and data. I also liked how placement students were included in feedback sessions.
Biopharm Discovery has taken on placement students for many years now so has a good support and guidance system, with a general IP manager whom all the students report to for academic, logistical, general issues, and an individual supervisor for each IP who guides the student in their project or general work within the department. My weekly 1:1 sessions with my supervisor were very helpful in getting up to speed with other developments which tie in with my project, reviewing data and exploring other experiments or ideas to test out.
I had a fair amount of free time in the first few months due to instrument delays not within my control. However this was a great time to shadow other people in different lines within my section and build basic lab techniques. I was also given preliminary experiments to perform which accelerated my work later in the year. I was much busier towards the end of the year, in a fulfilling and not hectic sense. As my work is technology development and not project-aligned, I did not have tight deadlines to meet, minimising stress.
I was given a large degree of responsibility during my placement. My supervisor was quick to recognise my preference for freedom in learning and working and gave me a large degree of autonomy. This included flexibility in determining the direction of my work, deviating from the initial project proposal and instead developing my interests, developing scripts for a robot which the department has invested a lot in. I was also trusted with running the instrument as a demo during visits from senior members within the company and presenting progress updates in my supervisor's absence, recognising my work in the area.
This placement has exposed me to areas within biology R&D which I did not initially recognise as integral components, including automation and data handling. I have discovered where my interests lie and the key gaps in industry, and plan on pursuing those in my degree and future studies. Having one year's lab experience will also aid in approaching my final year wet lab project.
The atmosphere was good. The whole department sits in the same office and the open plan seating makes it easy to find people and ask them questions. Chats are not discouraged. There is also a keen appetite for cake and biscuits. Regular tea breaks allow socialising and re-energising between work.
The placement was organised well within my department. However it must be noted that placement students are not directly hired by GSK but by SRG, a recruitment agency. They are prone to mistakes and often send out multiple versions of the same communications to correct errors in key information. Not to mention the formatting of their communications look very crude. They also failed to provide an accurate holiday accrual calculator for projections of days to be earned through the whole time placement duration and only recently introduced a record of how many days you have taken and how many you have left. However in most cases, you will have minimal contact with SRG and your placement at GSK will be rewarding.
The company was willing to invest and enable my development. My supervisor was happy for me to go on a site visit to a different site and attend any of the many talks and events held on site. Having trained me up on a robot, he also pushed for me to be able to go on the official user training for certification, despite the course being just before the finishing date of my placement.
As GSK hires a large number of placement students, jobs are not guaranteed after finishing the placement. However lots of information is provided by IP Unite (the placement student group) throughout the year. This covers both general career advice and workshops, inviting people from different areas of the organisation, and specific talks on GSK's graduate scheme.
There is a decent social scene amongst placement students. IP Unite has organised a few events within Stevenage, some of which have been cancelled due to a lack of interest. However the Christmas ball and summer boat party along the Thames are main-stays and allow interactions with IPs working in different sites. There are also social events within the department with full-time employees, both at the department scale and for teams.
Rent and socialising is generally more expensive in Stevenage due to its proximity to London. A pint is more expensive compared to northern university cities, however Stevenage does have two Spoons for a cheap drink. Stevenage also has multiple gigantic supermarkets at various price points which is good for grocery shopping.
Virtually non-existent. Stevenage does not have any official clubs (there are pubs and bars) and they can often be empty during Friday and weekend nights. It will be a shock coming from a university city. However London Kings Cross is <30min away and the trains back on weekends run through early morning.
Compared to university, there is much less on offer. However there are regular sport sessions at the on-site sports centre. There are also opportunities to volunteer in science fairs outside of work hours. London and Cambridge are also very close if you are in need of weekend activities and setting up unofficial activities with other IPs is also possible.