Tatiana is studying for an MSci in Genetics with Immunology, and spent her fourth year on industrial placement with AstraZeneca working in Cambridge. Here she tells us a bit about what that included and the advice she would give to other students in a similar position.
AstraZeneca is one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world. I was based in its biologics arm in Cambridge that stands at the forefront of discovering monoclonal antibody therapies using phage display, for which Sir Gregory Winter was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018. He was also the co-founder of Cambridge Antibody Technologies, a firm which was incorporated into AstraZeneca, however many key people at the site where I worked were still from CAT. It was amazing to learn from those who first started making mAb therapies that went on to become “blockbuster” drugs.
The placement was advertised through my university on the Working Out? Placement & Career Skills course, a pre-requisite for all students intending to apply for a year’s industrial placement, which helps you prepare for the workplace and covers the skills necessary to complete placement applications. After hearing about the opportunity, I was able to judge the level of projects offered by AstraZeneca by attending a poster session delivered by the previous cohort of placement students. I received some invaluable advice from a former student on what the company is looking for in its applicants, and this helped me to write a “winning” covering letter.
Whilst on my placement I was given a cross-functional project and worked in Cell Line Development and Protein Purification Sciences departments. The aim of the project was to use cell engineering approaches to eliminate some protein purification issues. I received a lot of training in molecular biology, cell culture, protein work and was also given a lot of freedom to feel fully in charge of my own project.
As well as the excellent training I received, which ranged from Nature masterclasses to conferences and educational trips to Sweden, the working culture at the company exceeded all my expectations. There was a contagious feeling of lifting one another up, of teamwork, collaboration, sharing of knowledge and delivering the best science with the aim to help more patients.
My advice to anyone thinking about completing a year in industry placement is to just do it – regardless of whether you are considering an academic career or a career in the industry – an industrial placement will help you see the practical outcomes of scientific work without the stress of grades or writing up papers. You can still publish if you discover something interesting, but you will see that science is so much more than that!
It’s important to be aware that all labs are different with regard to facilities, training, funding, working culture etc. I was lucky to get one of the best placements on offer to science students, so be sure to speak to the students who have returned from placements, compare the stories, and choose wisely.
I would also like to mention that I am a mature student and ventured to Cambridge with two primary school age kids who also had a fantastic year. If anyone would like further information about this aspect of my experience, I am happy to speak more about it. From my point of view it is important to promote the fact that such opportunities are not out of bounds for women with children.