I am soon to be starting my final year as a Biochemistry undergraduate, but last September I had just started my placement at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Working in the ‘Protein and Cellular Sciences’ department involved a wide variety of disciplines, including: molecular biology, protein biochemistry, and analytical techniques from western blots to mass spectrometry. With all GSK placements, I had a research project; mine involved expressing proteins using bacterial, mammalian and insect cell-lines and evaluating the level of expression.
Moreover, I designed and generated proteins required by a project team to generate biopharmaceutical antibodies. This involved the subsequent protein purification and evaluation of biological activity using various cell based assays. If the project team remains as successful as it has, the final selected antibody will enter clinical trials in 2020-2021, as the first medicine to target (directly) propagation of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
During the year, I had 12 students (15-18 year-olds) work-shadow me. There were many other opportunities to inspire the next generation of researchers as a STEM ambassador. For example, working on GSK’s (Birmingham) Big Bang Fair stand, which provided the opportunity to meet colleagues from sites across the entire country. ‘Development Days’ to learn, for example, X-ray crystallography to study protein structure, and assay development techniques were also encouraged!
Attacking the Application
The application process for a GSK placement is industry standard: submission of an up-to-date CV and questionnaire form. The questionnaire replaces the cover letter, and directly describes the ‘ideal’ candidate. Questions may ask to describe a time when you faced conflict and how you dealt with it (good teamwork under difficult situations), or describe an independent project (research approach, presentation and communication skills, working automatously, etc.). The specific questions vary each year; however, applicants are free to modify their answers limitlessly. Therefore, open the application early, read the questions, and plan (avoiding repetitive responses). Typing the responses in a word-processor first will minimise grammatical and spelling errors.
Plan a general CV early on, and modify it for each position. Look at example CVs for inspiration, but many of these are ‘experienced’ based. An alternative is the ‘skill’ based CV, which highlights a candidate’s ability, making it easier for a recruiter to find the necessary attributes, and is rapidly becoming the norm for industry:
- Personal statement (3 lines, who you are and goals/aims)
- Research experience (e.g. research projects, time management, independent learning etc. – give 1 sentence long examples of each)
- Laboratory work (university labs, work shadowing etc. – 2-3 sentences detailing techniques
- Further, experience (societies, teams, explaining skills involved, e.g. communication)
- Hobbies and interest
Final Words of Wisdom
Show that you will fit into the department; they have to work with you for 12 months! Show yourself to be a rounded individual in the hobbies section of the CV, be it by sports, Scouts, baking, etc. Whether you will fit in or not is one of the key reasons of success and failure. Good luck!
*ECC Note: Have a look at our Effective CV and Cover letter leaflet in the Careers Resources section of Surrey Pathfinder.