I thoroughly enjoyed my placement at GSK. From the very first day, I felt well integrated into my department. My work consisted of a range of activities including experimental lab work, data analysis, project planning, presentations, team meetings and report writing. I was also able to attend seminars, training courses and workshops and also to volunteer in site-wide STEM events as a STEM ambassador and member of the STEM Committee. Despite only spending 6 months on site due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I continued to work on fulfilling projects that contributed to team objectives.
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The department I was in was very welcoming. I felt valued from the start and after initial training I was entrusted to carry out independent experiments on expensive laboratory equipment such as robots. I was regularly invited by my line manager to give project updates on the experimental work we were doing together. This included presenting on behalf of both of us to my team when she was unable to be present, and presenting our work through a virtual meeting to a team of overseas GSK colleagues. I feel like my experimental project work was valued as it contributed to an important departmental objective for the year. Colleagues were always willing to provide support, technical and scientific advice and careers guidance.
I felt I was very well supported by my department. There were 4 IPs in my department and we all had the same line manager, as well as individual supervisors. Due to unexpected circumstances, my supervisor had to change after the first few months, however this was quickly resolved and I received additional guidance and support from my line manager and team lead. Throughout the year I had weekly 1-to-1's with my supervisor to discuss my week and the work I had been doing, as well as regular meetings with my line manager (who was coordinating my specific project) to discuss experimental work, data analysis and literature. In addition we each a had pastoral supervisor. Whilst we were working onsite, we had fortnightly 1-to-1s to catch up and make sure we were feeling well-supported, however during working from home in the COVID-19 pandemic, this increased to weekly. We also had several meetings throughout the year with our Department Head.
This was very dependent on what stage of the project or experiment we were at. Whilst working on site, some days I would be in the lab early until late all day and would only have time for a half hour lunch break due to large amounts of time critical experimental work. However our line manager, supervisors and other colleagues consistently reminded us to do shorter hours the next day if we ever spent a very long day in the lab. On other days I would spend a couple of hours in the lab, and the rest of the day in meetings or writing up experiments or reports. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was working from home so unable to carry out experimental lab work. Despite this, I stayed busy with data analysis and report writing.
Initially the first few weeks consisted of online training modules and e-learning, however after this was all complete, we started our lab training. Once this was complete, I was given a good amount of responsibility during my placement. I planned and carried out experiments independently and with the other IP students and was able to use expensive robot equipment in the labs alone. I was also able to present my work with overseas colleagues as well as within my department.
I gained a huge range of experimental laboratory skills which I had not had the chance to gain practical experience with at university. I also had the opportunity to learn important data analysis skills including multivariate data analysis. As well as developing technical and scientific skills, I also had the chance to develop many transferable soft skills such as presentation skills, teamwork, critical thinking, communication etc. These will all be very useful in my final year of university as well as in my future career, and will provide excellent evidence for competencies and skills during graduate careers interviews and job applications.
My department was very friendly and welcoming. It was quite a big department of about 70 working in a large open-plan office. Hot-desking meant I had the chance to talk to different people regularly. Cake was regularly brought in for everything from birthdays, team meetings or just because someone fancied baking a cake. We had a 'cake table' in the office which was rarely empty! Cards were signed by all members of the department for people's birthdays. It was also nice to chat with colleagues in the labs.
Whilst GSK were the placement providers, I was employed by SRG (a science recruitment agency), so it was SRG that provided the information about pay and holidays. This was often communicated quite poorly, for example they changed our holiday allowance a few months into our placement starting. However they were quick at responding to queries with my payslip and correcting errors. There was also little communication about working from home due to COVID-19 and when we were told for definite that GSK/SRG would not be allowing us to return to site for the remainder of our placement there was no communication at all from SRG. It was left to our manager's to inform us. However from GSK's end the placement was organised very well and we had little contact from SRG. They have been taking placement students for many years and are well set up for this.
There were opportunities for events like IP Swaps with a GSK IP on a different site or in a different business area of interest to you. There were also opportunities for GSK Site visits to other GSK Sites. Unfortunately due to COVID-19 these were cancelled so I was unable to attend these. However, I was able to attend other training and development events. Webinars about data analysis training were frequently shared on the GSK Workplace social media, and we were encouraged to attend these. Specific training courses in data analysis software were also offered to our department, which I attended. Different teams within the department ran 'Development Days' for colleagues in other teams to learn more about the different areas of the department. Colleagues were often willing to give training in different experimental techniques, if you asked. If I had been on site for the full year rather than only 6 months, I feel I would have had an extensive range of personal development and training opportunities.
Whilst GSK do not typically offer future jobs directly to IP students, there is the Future Leader Programme for graduates, which IP students can fast-track the application process for. This is not something I was interested in however as there were no specific R&D programmes available for my year of graduation. There are also direct entry jobs which are frequently available and I feel the experience of a year already at GSK, as well as the networking and contacts we have benefitted from throughout the year, would give an advantage when applying for roles such as these. My Department Head was keen to support us in our future careers and encouraged us to get in touch if we were interested in the GSK/Imperial PhD programmes joint with my department or if we were interested in direct entry jobs. As such, GSK is definitely a company I would consider for future employment, however as the majority of the department have PhDs or Masters, I am hoping to continue my education in this way prior to applying for a job.
There was a great social scene both within my department and with other IP students. My department organised team builds as well as a black-tie Christmas Party at a hotel, subsidised by the department. There were also often team lunches to Nandos or the pub and monthly pub trips on a Friday evening. Usually there are other events such as the summer department BBQ as well, however we did not get to attend these due to COVID-19. IP Unite were the group which organised social events for placement students. The main events for this are the black tie New Year's Drinks which was at a venue in London and the summer boat party on the Thames. Unfortunately the boat party was cancelled. There are lots of placement students on the Stevenage site so I quickly made a group of friends and we regularly organised our own events together such as trips to London, restaurant trips, cinema evenings, house parties and drinks nights.
I found it similar to my university town. Due to the proximity to London, accommodation it was still relatively expensive. The house I shared was slightly more expensive than my university house and was quite bad quality. However transport to work was free (I used the shuttle bus provided) and cost of supermarkets were good as well with a giant Tesco and Aldi available. As there was not much to do in Stevenage, regular trips to London, home or my university were made, which did add up on train tickets. However as I was being paid, this was not significant.
There was very little nightlife in Stevenage. There were no real clubs, however there were 2 Spoons as well as several other pubs, which we frequently went to. London is very close by as well and there are obviously many other options there. Other IPs often organised events like house parties or drinks nights or pub crawls, so we did end up mostly staying in Stevenage.
I got involved in the site STEM Committee through which I volunteered at STEM events such as A-Level Work Experience. With a few other IPs we also formed an IP STEM Engagement Team to get other IPs involved in STEM. This was a great activity to get involved in through GSK.