Ben Golland, a final year student on the BSc Biochemistry with Professional Placement degree, describes his experiences on the course and during his year in industry, where he worked for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Title: BSc Biochemistry with Professional Placement (follow for video)
Duration: 5.22 mins
Speaker Names: S1 Ben Golland - undergraduate
S1 My name's Ben Golland and I study Biochemistry with a year in industry. I came to Birmingham because I think location's the most important thing when choosing university. So I come from London so I felt quite comfortable with another big city and I like the idea of having a campus uni that was right next to a big city.
I think the biochemistry course stands out for me because as you progress through the course to get to direct your own learning. So in second year you get to pick few modules and then in the final year you get you get to pick some as well and I think final year I've enjoyed the most partly because of the lab project you get to choose. So, just being able to wrestle with something and make it your own I've really enjoyed. I found out about my placement with GSK [GlaxoSmithKline] really easily. It was very well advertised on their website and I found that the case with most of Big Pharma. So Astra[Zeneca] and Pfizer also advertise their placements very well. The smaller companies, you tend to have to contact their HR department directly, but everyone is always quite happy to help so it's never an issue.
There was a few sessions put on by the Careers Network to help with sort of CV writing, applications, the process and stuff like that and what to expect which I did go to and I know there's a lot of resources online that the Careers Department give. They have links to placements as well so they're definitely worth checking out. I applied for about five placements. The recruitment process was very simple. They usually have online applications which you have to fill out but these were very straightforward. Most of the stuff you can lift from your CV, but they also asked a few questions like, 'Give an example of when you showed leadership' or 'and example of when you showed teamwork' something like that. The interview process with GSK was very straightforward so there was no phone interview it was just a face-to-face interview. I spent about 45 minutes talking with two employees who went over my CV and we spoke a little bit about the lab work I'd been doing at university and that was it.
As you progress through second year, it's going to get harder; the work's going to pile up. You don't want to have to worry about applying for a placement as well. So, if you can do, get that process out of the way early. Also it's useful to know that say GSK's placement opportunities come out before Pfizer's or before Astra's. So you can prioritise who to apply to first.
It's really important to make sure you get across that you understand the lab work that you've been doing and that you enjoy it as well. You are more likely to remember it if you understand what you've been doing. So, say, there's a wash step in a protocol that you are following. If you understand the reason why you do that wash step then you are more likely to remember it.
So a typical day on placement would involve a fairly early start. I'd like to get in about 8 o'clock and start off checking my emails but I would try and get some lab work started straight away and I would usually have planned that the day before. And there's always meetings to go to and there's also quite a lot of seminars that get put on, so you can go and listen to people talk about that science either that's going on on-site or sometimes they have external people coming in to talk as well.
I'd say the obvious things I've gained from doing a placement year would be the lab skills and a depth of experimental science. It's quite difficult to gain that if you're not in the lab every day. Spending all those hours a lot of things become second so pipetting and dilutions, I could do them in my sleep now. It's very useful for final year as well because you do have a lab-based project to do, so those skills do come in handy. I can anticipate protocols a lot better and I see some people start their lab work in afternoon sometimes and think, 'You're not going to get done until about 8 o'clock tonight!’ So, I think I manage my day a lot better.
You feel like you're thrown in at the deep end at the start but it's important and I think it helps you immersing yourself in that sort of environment. You get to grips with it quite quickly. There's a lot of opportunities to get involved with other things, especially working for a big company. So GSK does a lot of educational work and a lot of charity work as well, which I got involved with. I remember I helped out at the Big Band Science Fair which was at the ExCel Arena in London and they help interest schoolchildren in science. So we had a stand there and I just had a day of activities, which was quite fun.
I'd never been employed full-time before this so it was very useful experience in that sense. You get to grips with the pros and cons of working for a big company and the pros and cons of going in to a job directly linked with your course. It's fun, you get to take a year out of university. It's the first time in my life where I haven't had to do exams for a whole year, which was quite nice, and you get paid to do it. And then afterwards you have a whole year of university to look forward to when you come back. So it's definitely worth doing.
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