Like many students applying to university, looking at the many exchange programmes, I was fascinated by the idea of living abroad for a year during my studies. I wanted to experience new places, meet interesting people and develop better life skills. However, as I was applying to study biochemistry and I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in a lab (like many biochemists are), I thought the best way to combine my need for work experience with a passion for new experience was to apply for a course with a year in industry.
A year in industry is a year placement in your field between your 2nd and 3rd year at university. The aim is to introduce you to the world of work and allow you to gain that invaluable, highly sought after experience each prospective employer is looking for. In practice, my placement year, in GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), by far exceeded these aims; providing me with a wealth of knowledge and experience that has guided me through completion of my undergraduate degree and beyond.
For this reason I would like to share with you some of the main advantages of undertaking a placement year.
Adding a years work experience within one of the largest pharmaceutical companies worldwide has instantly doubled the value of my CV. It’s been a major talking point of every job interview I have had since, and has definitely allowed me to get positions others without pharmaceutical experience are fighting for – including a Master’s at the University of Cambridge and work in consulting.
What better way to determine if this is the right career path for you than a no strings attached taster year. My time at GSK taught me the lab is not the right environment for me, at the same time it has opened my eyes to whole new worlds of research careers I didn’t know existed.
One of the things going against placement years that often universities will make you pay a fee to keep you enrolled over the year. However, as all placement years are paid this shouldn’t be a problem… or, like myself, you can also get a student loan for the fees and spend the money on not living like a student for a year; having the extra cash to get a few nice things was another great part of the year.
Although I had dreams of carrying out my placement year in France, Switzerland or, even better, Australia, I ended up in Hertfordshire. And even then it was great. I really enjoyed moving to a new place, meeting tons of new people and having a whole new house dynamic. There were also lots of students also taking placements in the same company, which created a great social scene, and I also met some girls who studied at my university so I came back to a 4th year with great new friends too.
Having a placement year is a great way to get your foot in the door of a large company. Other students working on the same placement year as myself are now working within that company or carrying out a PhD with them. For me, the placement has led me to gain some great contacts within the industry with whom I can now work alongside.
Having weekly meetings in which I had to present my work and ideas for moving forwards has greatly developed my confidence in giving presentations and developing my ideas in the work place. This practice has helped me significantly at conferences and other scientific events.
While others were still struggling with a pipette, I came back to my final year lab class a complete wiz in the lab. This helped me get better results in my experiments, a better final year mark and also to finish the experiment quicker and leave early on a Friday afternoon. All of these were big bonuses for my final year.
If you like the sound of a year in industry take a look at which placement might be right for you, ratemyplacement or individual company websites are great resources. It is important to know that whichever course you apply to or whatever university you are at it is possible to apply for a placement at the start of your 2nd year. So here is my advice to you: discuss a placement with your university tutor, apply and have an incredible year to add to your university experience.