Category Archives: Placement Year Blog

Harriot’s Placement Year Blog

Hi everyone!

My name is Harriot, and I am a Medical Biochemistry student currently on placement at an agency called H4B Manchester, which is part of Havas Lynx – a leading global healthcare communications company. H4B is a company that aims to improve the quality of life of people with an illness, by combining pharmacology insight with consumer thinking by talking to real patients in order to look at all the things that make us human.

A quote from the yearbok - this just speaks for itself.I love my course, but I have never really been interested in a career in research. However one of my main goals in life has always been to help people and make a positive difference to the lives of others in one way or another. I of course understand the importance of research, and that the breakthroughs made lead to helping people all over the world. However, I’m a sociable person who likes to be involved in discussion and debate. I am also quite a creative person, and I thoroughly enjoyed studying art and design at A-level. I knew that I needed to use my placement opportunity to explore alternative career options available to a life sciences graduate. After browsing the available placement opportunities, the Havas Lynx Enterprise placement appealed to me the most. So I was very excited to be invited to interview!

I was given a tour of the office and I was made to feel comfortable and welcome by everyone that I met. I knew straight away that this was the sort of place I would like to work – so when I received the call to let me know I had been selected, I was over the moon! They told me that I would be included on the 2015 graduate scheme, so I was very pleased to find out that I would be starting on the same day as quite a few others; I wouldn’t be the only new girl, which was quite a relief. I was originally a little nervous, but really excited about the year ahead. The scheme kicked off with a company arranged ‘Freshers’ Week’ – a fun-filled, jam-packed week of skills development and team building exercises.

Working at an agency, life is fast-paced. Throughout this year I have never felt like a placement student – I was treated as a valued member of the team from the start, gradually being assigned more and more responsibility. And I loved it! However before I knew it, it was January and I was no closer to deciding on a project title. As much fun as I was having, the whole outcome of your placement is to produce a project report of the year!

Following some discussion with my placement supervisors, we decided that I would write up a project that we had been collectively working on, The World vs. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – an initiative created to help make the everyday lives of people living with MS that little bit easier. I have been heavily involved in the social media aspect of the initiative, community managing the social accounts, speaking with people living with MS and building a community to help support them. It has been an absolute privilege – it‘s so great to see our work really making a difference to people’s lives.

My other daily tasks typically include a lot of emailing, phone calls, meetings, generally coordinating and collaborating with the team to make sure that work gets done, and done well. My official job title is ‘Account Executive’. It is the accounts team’s responsibility to ensure that the team is aligned and motivated to help create the best outcome for the clients, and therefore for patients. However, throughout my time on placement I have had the opportunity to learn about a variety of job roles through both working with my team and other teams – collaboration is key to the success of any agency.

The final major part of the graduate programme is ‘Worksmarts’ which will be held just before my placement finishes at the end of June. We will stay off-site for three days of intense activity designed to challenge, test, and stretch the skills we have been developing over the past 12 months. We will be working in teams to develop ideas, which we will then be pitching back to some of the company directors – which is both exciting and a little daunting at the same time! As part of the graduate scheme, we are expected to develop a specific set of behaviours that will help our personal and professional development. These behaviours include: curiosity, personal credibility, drive to deliver, collaborative and consultative. We have had to self-evaluate on these behaviours, as well as eight specific deliverables (understanding the agency, quality control, financial and time management, science, strategy, creative, technology and client services) and I personally feel that I have come so far since starting at H4B.

We are definitely rewarded by the company for all the hard work we put in! I would be doing Havas Lynx a disservice if I failed to mention #LYNXLife. This concept was developed some years ago in an attempt to maintain the original culture that was felt in the earlier stages of the agency’s lifetime. From the smaller weekly perks like breakfast Mondays (free breakfast – pastries, fresh fruit, bagels you name it), and office dog days (employees are allowed to bring their dogs to the office, it’s amazing) to the more extravagant soirée’s. Since I started working at Lynx, we have been for a number of team meals and activities such as ‘Break Out’ and ‘Geocache Manchester’ which involved a sort of treasure hunt in which we had to answer questions related to particular location checkpoints around the city centre.

We also celebrated our achievements at the #LXAcademy Awards which was held at the town hall last month – an extravagant black tie event with special guest speakers, great food and dancing. My team swiped an impressive three awards overall (best motion, best pitch and grand prix) which of course we were thrilled about. May 2016 was important for Havas Lynx; it was the company’s 30th birthday. We started the day with a live Q&A session and talks from some inspirational guest speakers. Following this, we had great food, delicious cocktails, and endless fun in the photo booth. We celebrated 30 years of with performances from a live band and DJ. An incredible day spent with some incredible people. To top it all off, we got to witness one of my colleagues Chris crowd surf which was hilarious! My motto ‘work hard play hard’ definitely applies at Havas Lynx. We stay late, and work through lunch breaks some days too. But our work ethic just emphasises the fact that we are passionate about creating the best work possible for our clients, and in the long term bringing about the best outcomes for patients, which is very rewarding for us.

We had a blast celebrating Lynx's 30th birthday!

We had a blast celebrating Lynx’s 30th Birthday!

My experience of working in a professional business environment has taught me so much. Being surrounded by such talented, experienced and inspiring individuals has helped me grow on a professional and a personal level. I feel so lucky to have found a placement that was so perfect for me. I have built working relationships and made friends for life.

If you are a hard-working, motivated, sociable individual that is ready to get stuck in to the working world, but are not sure that a lab based placement, or permanent graduate role is for you, I highly recommend an enterprise placement with a company like Havas Lynx!

Thanks for reading! Good luck with your placement applications.

Harriot Mather.

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Hope’s Placement Year Blog

Hi Life Sciences Student Blog Readers!

I’m Hope, a Biochemistry with Italian undergraduate. Everyone always asks the same question when I tell them what I study – Why would anyone ever mix science and languages?! Aren’t you just making life 10 times harder for yourself? I never quite knew how to answer (apart from that I kind of liked biology, chemistry and Italian at school so mixed them together and came out with Biochemistry with Italian!) and I’m not going to lie, I was sceptical myself. Now, after two years of juggling the two, I have finally been able to put them together during my placement year, and I have realised exactly why I chose to study a life science with a modern language, and why it was one of the best choices I ever made.

My lab pass (makes me feel super important)

My lab pass (makes me feel super important)

I’m currently on placement in Florence, Italy and have spent the past 7 months working in a cancer research lab in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Biomedical Sciences at the University of Florence.

At the beginning, probably like many of you, I wasn’t sure how a modern language placement would differ from a normal industrial placement. However, apart from being able to do your placement, and therefore live, in an exotic country for a year, the placement aspect is pretty similar. I’m working as part of a small and diverse research group carrying out a project on oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells and their resistance to aromatase inhibitors (a type of endocrine therapy). The most exciting part of my work here is to be carrying out research that has never been done before, and therefore no one knows exactly what the outcome will be! I was even lucky enough to get acknowledgements in 2 published papers for my contribution within my first 6 months in the lab. This was super rewarding and, believe me, it makes university work way more exciting when you see your own name when reading an article on PubMed!

Day to day work in the lab is pretty laid back. Generally, I can come and go as I please, so long as I get all my work done and make good progress with my placement, which often means getting in super early in the morning because I’ve had nightmares about my cells dying – they really have become like my pets! But it also means taking coffee breaks every 30 minutes and being told to ‘leave early and enjoy the sun’ on a Friday lunch time – so I can’t really complain!

Enjoying my afternoons like a true Italian - gelato, pizza and coffee!

Enjoying my afternoons like a true Italian – gelato, pizza and coffee!


Queen of the cells 2016

Queen of the cells 2016

However, it’s not all about eating pizza in the sunshine, of course there is a lot of hard work involved too! I spend about half my time in the lab taking care of my cells, treating them with various drugs, and carrying out hundreds of experiments on them. Although it didn’t seem like it at first, after a few months of working in the lab, the experiments really do become like second nature. The other half of the time is spent, ultimately, scratching our heads. Researching, reading, discussing, researching some more. But this is the most exciting part, no one has done this research before, no one can say for sure what will happen or why. And that’s the reason I have come out of this year fuelled with a passion for research, motivated to work towards a career in cancer research.




Without a doubt my main worry was how in the world I would manage to work in a research lab IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Especially as in second year I struggled to understand labs in my own language. But, believe me, I was pleasantly surprised. Although I’m the only English person in the lab, I’m actually in some senses at an advantage to everyone else, as English is the language of science. I therefore find myself spending a lot of my free time, whilst waiting for a gel to run or for a centrifugation to finish, translating words, explaining grammar rules, correcting papers ready for submission, or most often, explaining just why we drink so much tea in England. This is something I really enjoy, and not only has it given me the great experience in scientific writing, it also gives me the opportunity to ask a million questions on Italian words, phrases, grammar, etc. And, here we are, 7 months later, and I find myself thinking and even sometimes dreaming in Italian. To say a placement abroad is the best thing you could possibly do for both your lab/scientific and language skills is definitely an understatement.

But amazing language skills and lab experience are not the only benefits of studying a ‘with a Modern Language’ degree. On top of all that you get the absolute pleasure of living in an amazing, beautiful city like Florence for a year. Excuse the over-enthusiasm, but I’m well and truly in love with the place. Of course I’m biased, everyone says that about their placement location, but seriously, look how beautiful it is!

Just a few snaps of my favourite city in the world!

Just a few snaps of my favourite city in the world!

Not only do you get the experience of living in a different country, speaking a different language, and embracing the daily life of a completely new culture, you get the opportunity to meet awesome people not only native of your host country but from all over the world. In the space of the past 7 months I have eaten the best paella I have ever tasted (made by my Spanish roommate), learnt a bunch of super important German words (hay bale = Heuballen, kitchen roll = Küchenrolle…) on a roadtrip across Italy with 3 Germans, watched (and triumphed in) England vs. Italy at the amazing Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and cooked a proper British Sunday Roast for 40 foreigners, to name but a few! Not to mention the amazing trips I’ve had the opportunity to go on. My favourite one was for sure spending an exam/deadline free Easter visiting friends in the amazing city of Munich, most of all for the delicious German beer and sausages.

My first time in Germany with friends from all over the world

My first time in Germany with friends from all over the world

So, overall, it’s been a pretty amazing year. I’ve become fluent in Italian to the point where I dream in it, become skilful enough in the lab to the point that I think of my cells as pets, made friends for life from all over the world who I have already planned visits to see when I return to Manchester, spent every weekend discovering places everyone dreams of travelling to, as well as ones I never knew existed, and above all developed both academically and personally, developing skills and qualities that will help me for the rest of my life. I can’t believe that in a few months’ time it’ll all be over and I’ll be back looking longingly out of a university library window longing for the land of pizza, pasta and red wine…

So if you are considering doing a modern language placement, I have two words for you: do it! (Oh, and you now know the (very long winded) answer to everyone’s ‘why do a science and a language’ question).

Thanks for reading!  And good luck with your university or placement applications, or whatever else it might be.


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Declan’s Placement Year Blog

Hi guys, my name is Declan and I am a Pharmacology student at The University of Manchester. I’m writing this post to give everybody back home, prospective placement students in particular, a bit of a description of my placement with The MRC Unit in The Gambia. Here, I’m undertaking an immunology-based project examining the potential for Gambians to exhibit protective immunity to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB). I’ve been working here for around eight months now, and haven’t seen rain in about six! Anyways, I’ll try to give you all a rundown of what’s involved in a placement year with The MRC, what it’s like working in an international lab / in the field of immunology and what life is like in The Gambia.

We all received our offer letters sometime during revision for 2nd semester exams, so to say it all came as a bit overwhelming would be an understatement. After meeting my future housemates, Rowan and Claire, the university helped us with organizing all of our vaccinations and other medical preparations for travelling abroad to The Gambia in July 2015. When we left it was difficult for anybody to predict exactly how we would find the experience. We had very little idea what The MRC, or the country, would be like, but students from previous years spoke very highly of it and were happy to lessen our apprehensions. On arrival, everything was laid out for us, and we soon settled into a lovely house on-site for the three of us. Within a few weeks, training sessions were completed and we were ready to begin work for our projects!

Myself, Claire and Rowan

Myself, Claire and Rowan

The prospect of travelling to work on a disease as well-characterised as TB at a renowned research station was overwhelming – How could I catch up with centuries of research and somehow contribute to it?! However, I’ve found that once you get working on a project where you’re focusing all your attention on one subject (as I’m certainly doing here), it really helps you to digest the information and make real progress. My work is almost entirely concerned with my own project. It’s very rare that I’m required to devote time to any other work than my own, and I’m given a great degree of autonomy in the way I choose to work, which I adore – I couldn’t really ask for more. Work hours are about 8 hours per day, with a half day on Fridays, and a fair few public holidays. Anyways, I can try to describe what I do in my time in the lab here for anyone who’s interested:

Samples are taken from Gambians living with individuals with active pulmonary TB. This is conducted by the TB Immunology department’s sample collection team, who we’re always welcome to join on trips to various regions of The Gambia. These samples are used for a bunch of different projects in our department, but mine are concerned with comparing those who contract, with those who don’t contract, latent TB disease. The idea with this is to see what differences there are in the individuals’ innate immune systems that protect them from initial TB infection, before an adaptive immune response is even primed. The project is divided into three main lab phases. Firstly, I carry out assays for interferon γ, a routine protocol in our lab. This diagnoses whether a patient has latent TB infection. After this, I carried out a similar type of assay (multiplex cytokine assays, for anybody interested) looking at levels of a load of other cytokines, all implicated in TB in some way. Finally, we run flow cytometry experiments using isolated white blood cellsrozen in liquid nitrogen – super cool). This means we get to compare cytokine levels, then cell populations, then the cytokine production from those cells. It all sounds a bit complicated… It kind of is. Flow cytometry is a super complicated technique and hugely valuable if you want to work in immunology, or just want to show in your CV that you’re competent at difficult lab techniques.

The amount of data that we’ve generated has already been immense – it’s no wonder so many students end up publishing quality research papers at the end of their time here. An important thing I’d say about working in the field of immunology is that it all comes down to the analysis. You can spend weeks/months running samples without even seeing a hint of a trend, then it all comes together when you compare all of your data. I have amassed so much data that I could decide to analyse it in one of a thousand different ways. It sounds incredibly geeky, and maybe it is, but there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing months of data collection go into stats analysis and seeing something significant come out of the other side.

There’s so much more to draw from the experience of living and working here that I think I’ll struggle to write it all down. I think that working internationally really helps you to gain a sense of independence which is hugely beneficial to your confidence, vastly impacting your ability to work well as an individual. Also, it’s worth considering the importance of being able to work in a team of people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. At The MRC, everybody speaks English to varying degrees, but you’ll regularly hear people speaking French, Dutch, German, Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, Krio, Ibo, and a range of other languages depending on who’s in town at the time! It’s a really exciting educational experience for anybody who likes to learn about new languages and cultures. I’ve definitely been able to develop my communication skills during my time here, as I have taken the opportunity to learn some Wolof, a very useful local language in this part of The Gambia, and in a lot of West Africa in general. I couldn’t recommend this enough as it opens up so many more opportunities to explore. With MRC sites all over the country and plenty of other friends travelling around on weekends and holidays, there’s no shortage of hidden gems to visit where it’s possible to get a true “Gambian Experience” (cringe) in less touristy parts of the country.



Sandy beaches stretching on for miles are about a 5 minute walk away from The MRC. We’re spoilt for wildlife, really – it’s possible to pose for photos with crocodiles in the sacred pools at Bakau, go bird-watching on the river from Tendaba or Lamin and watch the hippos from Basse town. You can take a 20-minute bike ride to the see the Senegambia monkey park, though I haven’t done this, since you can oftentimes wait in The MRC for the local monkey families to come and steal the oranges growing in the garden (cute!). If you’re feeling adventurous, a short journey north into Senegal takes you to safari parks featuring lions, giraffes, rhinos and a host of other wildlife. On that note, Senegal offers numerous great short trips outside of work. We visited Dindefelo Falls (awesome), plan to attend the St. Louis jazz festival, and know plenty of other people who have travelled into other areas of Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

Scroll over photos to view captions:

Another fantastic thing about working in The Gambia is the tiny size of the country. This gives you so many opportunities to meet people who you would never get to meet working in other countries. During our time here, we’ve hung out with numerous US Marine and Peace Corps, spent a lot of time with students from all over Europe, working not just in The MRC, but at clinics, hospitals and other organisations all around the country. If you’re lucky, you may get the opportunity to meet the ambassadors for the US and the UK – they’re actually pretty sound to have a cup of tea with. Basically, I’d say to any prospective applicants for projects based here, don’t be worried about being away from your friends in Manchester. There’s a pretty cool bunch of people here, people who I’m sure I’m going to miss just as much when I return to England as I’ve been missing all my university friends for the last eight months.

To summarise, working in The Gambia is pretty sweet. If I could pick anywhere to start getting an idea of what full-time research work is like, I’d certainly choose it to be somewhere sunny, with ample opportunities to relax away from work. This place certainly seems to provide that. In short, I almost don’t want to come back!

Thanks for reading, and if anybody wants to contact me to ask about placement years, The MRC, immunological research or The Gambia, feel free to drop me a message at I’ll always try to respond as quickly as possible!


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Katie’s Placement Year Blog

Hi FLS student blog readers!

I’m Katie, and I’m an undergraduate Biochemist currently on placement with the British Mycological Society (BMS). I’m based right here in Manchester, along with many of you! The BMS is a learned society that focuses on encouraging people to be more interested in mycology (the study of fungus). Although the BMS offices are currently based in Manchester city centre, the society has eyes and ears all over the UK, from Aberdeen to Cambridge. I might still be getting the Magic bus to university but my placement is a little unusual, and very new and exciting. I’m carrying out a science communication and media project for the society.

Manchester The centre of the Universe

Manchester: The centre of the universe

Everyone’s first question, “so you’re really interested in mushrooms?” Not particularly! Or at least I wasn’t to start with. In fact I had to Google what mycology was when I applied. Surprisingly this works well though because it means that as I don’t know much about it, I’m in entirely the same boat as my target audience, allowing me to have a really advantageous perspective. Most importantly, the magic of a science communication placement is as long as you’re enthusiastic about life sciences; you’ll be absolutely fine communicating it. So there was my motivation to apply! I’m really passionate about life sciences, and enthusiastic about getting people involved. Also after taking A-Level English Literature, I really enjoy writing and have always been interested in a career in science communication or medical writing.

Miss Mycology 201516

Miss Mycology 2015/16

I began in August last year, and my first few weeks were spent getting to know the society. My project has a strong focus on developing educational resources, so I spent a long time digging through all the resources the BMS currently has. UK Fungus Day is the BMS’ main public outreach event, and October 2015 was its fourth year. Up to a hundred events are held across the UK at venues such as Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and Sherwood Forest, all concentrating on increasing public interest in fungi. It’s gotten to be a pretty big deal now within the world of mycology! This was really convenient for me because it meant that I spent my first few months on placement helping to organise a massive, national event.

After all the excitement of UK Fungus Day I felt familiar enough with the society to begin working on my own project, which is increasing public engagement with mycology. With such a broad task there was so much freedom with what I could do; meaning I initially struggled with the lack of guidance. It’s quite difficult to find a starting place when you can do whatever you want! I developed the idea of writing a blog so that I had a weekly target that I could continually work on, and this is how “The Mycelium Comedian” (click for link) was born. The biggest hurdle with communicating mycology is that it can be quite a dry topic to the public. To be frank, when I asked my friends if they wanted to learn about fungi, they awkwardly shuffled their feet and politely declined. It can be quite a boring subject, so I saw that the best way to engage a large audience is through humour. If I could make mycology funny and more relatable to the average person then they’d be more inspired to listen. I aim to publish a post on ‘The Mycelium Comedian’ every week; they have to be witty (aka full of rubbish jokes), laid back, but most importantly educational. It’s been really successful! I’ve written about things such as bioluminescence, fairy rings and using yeast to make beers and wines.

I also have other side projects with my placement, which keeps it really fresh and exciting. I’m developing a collection of laboratory practical’s for undergraduate students that will hopefully be published on the BMS website. I’m also lucky enough to attend events as a BMS representative, which is really exciting. I joined the “Invasive Fungus” conference in September, as well as the Fungal Biology Research group committee meeting in October, and I was really busy being out and about with numerous things in December! I travelled down to London for the Education and Outreach Committee meeting, which was so much fun (mainly because the society paid for all my travel and a hotel room) but also because I was given the chance to give a short presentation on my placement and work for the society so far. I also attended a school visit to present prizes for a BMS poster competition. This was fabulous purely because it was so nice to see the school children so enthusiastic about fungi!

My certificate of attendance from the 'Invasive Fungus' conference, which brings back memories of the wonderful buffet that was provided

My certificate of attendance from the ‘Invasive Fungus’ conference, which brings back fond memories of the wonderful buffet that was provided

It’s quite difficult to explain what I do on an average week because my placement is so creative. I spend approximately three days a week on my placement work, and I can do most of that from home (ie. in bed), or in university buildings like the learning commons, where I focus a lot better. I’ve also continued on this year as a student ambassador for the Faculty of Life Sciences during interview days. With all this freedom it means I’ve kept my part time job at the student union bar, and best of all I get an extra year living in Manchester. This is fantastic because I still have the legendary Manchester social life and live with my friends in Fallowfield. Best of all I’ve experienced a year living in Manchester not as a student without the stress of exams and deadlines. This has been just as enjoyable (if not more) than you’d imagine. I took advantage of my revision free Christmas by travelling to Berlin with my friends, and smugly sitting back whilst they stressed about university revision and dissertation planning.

The face of someone free from deadline and exams during Christmas holidays

The face of someone free from deadlines and exams during the Christmas holidays

The highlights of my placement so far? I recently received news from the University of Tennessee that one of the essays I posted on my blog will feature on their “Introduction to Plant Pathology” reading list next semester. This is so exciting because I never expected my writing to get that far in such a short space of time. Additionally, I’m currently writing a piece that’ll hopefully feature as an online document for the Biological Sciences Review. It’s known as “digital surround”, and will complement an article on mycology that is due to feature in their April issue.

I was skeptical about undertaking a placement that’s so unusual and new, but I feel really lucky for all the opportunities it’s given me (and I feel so jammy to have had an extra year in my favourite city!).

Thanks for reading! Good luck with your placement applications if you’re a current student and if you’re a prospective applicant, I would highly recommend doing a degree with industrial experience!


(Link to the Mycelium Comedian:

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Izzy’s Placement Year Blog


My name is Izzy and I am a Zoology student currently on placement at The University of Melbourne, Australia (where people do in fact say “g’day”). Being a Zoology student, I am interested in all things animal – in particular, animal behaviour, ecology and evolution. My work here focuses on long-term monogamy in the iconic and charismatic black swan Cygnus atratus. I spend most of my time either in the field or trawling through the university’s very large swan database (I’ll talk a bit more about that later). So far I have learned a lot about the life of a researcher and have really loved getting to know Melbourne – and it’s rather favourable climate.

Melbourne University and City Centre

Melbourne University and City Centre

My placement was self-arranged and I managed, with a bit of luck, to secure it fairly early on in my second year at Manchester. I had a vague idea of what I was interested in so I had a browse online to see if there were any university research teams that tickled my fancy. As luck would have it, one of the first that I came across was the Mulder Lab at The University of Melbourne – specialising in the evolutionary ecology of birds. After exchanging a good few emails with Prof. Raoul Mulder, my placement was arranged! It was a weight off my shoulders and goes to show that it’s always worth asking! Following this came organising visas, health insurance, flights etc. I won’t bore you with the details but I will advise those planning trips outside of Europe – save yourself a lot of panicking and look into visas early. Don’t do what I did (i.e. leave it until a few months before going and then PANIC).

After a ridiculously long journey, during which I made the mistake of watching ‘The Imitation Game’ and cried a lot, I stepped off the plane and into Australia for the first time. Unfortunately, it being winter in August on the other side of the world, it was raining and cold. That soon changed though and I was able to spend my usually drizzly November birthday in 30 degree heat… on the beach. Definitely not a bad thing!

My first few weeks at the university involved meeting my supervisor’s group of master’s and PhD students and spending time getting to know their individual projects. During this time, I learnt the basics of mist netting, a technique used to capture small birds within a study area, as well as DNA extraction and molecular sexing in the lab. I also enjoyed a jaunt to Werribee Open Range Zoo where one master’s student was studying mate choice in the critically endangered (and totally adorable) eastern barred bandicoot. While there, I met three beautiful Maremma sheepdogs who were being trained to protect a population of bandicoots from predation. Non-native foxes and feral cats are a big threat to Aussie wildlife, so I thought this was a pretty awesome solution. But, before I carry along this tangent, I should probably tell you what I actually do here on placement…

I had initially planned to carry out my own investigation on a bird species called the superb fairy wren (cool name, I know). However, after a month or so of planning and collecting some preliminary data in the field (or ‘the bush’ as it’s known over here), it didn’t look like the project would be feasible. After this I turned my attention to the black swan population at Albert Park in Melbourne and, after much umming and ahhing, I decided to look into long term monogamy and reproductive success.

My time is mostly spent either in the field, working on the database, or reading papers. Field work is awesome. Not only have I gained valued experience in handling and banding wild animals, but I also now know how to safely wrestle and capture a swan – a skill I am certain will be useful in later life… maybe. On top of this, I have also learned the art of handling cygnets and, let’s face it, life is better when you get to cuddle tiny fluffy swans. Other field work has included taking population censuses and canoeing around the islands where the swans nest. It’s hard work in the midday sun but it’s rewarding. My work on the database involves ‘tidying up’ 10 years’ worth of swan breeding data – it’s a fantastic resource and I’m getting some key experience on a widely used platform. I also attend a lot of seminars and generally live the life of a PhD or master’s student – which is great as I’m considering going down that path myself. On a side note, if you fancy seeing some of the black swan project in action then click here for a beautifully filmed ‘science short’ made by Wild Melbourne (I feature briefly as ‘girl in blue jumper releasing swan’).

The swans of Albert Park (including my good friend L40)

The swans of Albert Park (including my good friend L40)

It’s a real privilege to be here in Australia – a country of strange marsupials, oversized arachnids, and birds that really remind you of their dinosaurian origins (by which I mean emus). In addition to swans, fairy wrens and bandicoots, I have had my fair share of animal encounters since arriving. Only yesterday (as I write this) did I have a very close encounter with a brush-tailed possum on my way home. Needless to say I was very excited, despite brush-tails being about as common as the squirrels of Platt Fields Park. For my birthday I was surprised with an overnight trip to Melbourne Zoo (it’s a thing – google ‘Roar and Snore’) which, as I’m sure you can imagine, was filled with some incredible animal experiences, including feeding some very adorable wallabies. I have also visited a colony of little penguins and chased an emu on my bike (don’t ask).

Living abroad offers the chance to really get to know the nooks and crannies of a new country (cue ‘A Whole New World’ from Disney’s Aladdin). Being on placement has allowed me to get to know Melbourne – voted the world’s best city to live in for a reason! I’ve been to various amazing festivals, gigs, bars, sports matches and markets, made easily accessible by Melbourne’s cheap and frequent tram network. One highlight would be the night noodle market – a huge wonderland of paper lanterns and the best Asian food I’ve ever tasted. Outside of the city, I have spent some time on Mornington Peninsula appreciating its mobs (yes, I googled the collective noun) of kangaroos and the beautiful coastline. I had my New Year’s Eve in Sydney, overlooking the harbour bridge and its magnificent fireworks, and have recently booked my flights to New Zealand for 9 days of hiking, volcanic spas and generally enjoying the scenic views of Middle-Earth. I will also be ticking ‘visit Hobbiton’ off the bucket list. I am a big Lord of the Rings fan so to say that I’m excited is a monumental understatement…

Shameless selfie at Sydney Harbour

Shameless selfie at Sydney Harbour

All in all, my placement year has given me some incredible opportunities and valuable skills – I couldn’t recommend it enough to those of you currently deciding on a course to study at university. To current students, I wish you luck in sorting your own placements and thank you all for reading my ramblings.

Izzy x

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Kai’s Placement Year Blog

Hello dear FLS blog reader,

Long time no see! Last we checked in I had received my placement offer in the midst of exam season craziness. Now, a few months later, I have resurfaced to give you a little recap of what I am doing for my placement, hopefully giving you a bit of insight into the type of opportunities available to you with your FLS degree.

In September I started my placement as Associate Study Manager in Clinical Development at GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK as we now call ourselves (that acronym has yet to stick in the public vocabulary). I spend my days in GSK’s offices in Stockley Park, which is an industrial park just outside of Uxbridge in the Greater London area. Stockley Park is one of GSK’s five Research & Development sites in the UK, with the others being located in Stevenage, Harlow, Ware and Weybridge.

Although you may associate a pharmaceutical company only with scientists, GSK employs some 100,000 people across the globe (16,000 of them in the UK) in sectors of finance, accounting, marketing, IT, programming, statistics and more, many of which are represented at Stockley Park. There are about 30 other placement students here in the various sectors, so we are a diverse bunch.

In the pharmacology industry, research efforts are divided according to therapy areas, such as oncology (i.e. cancer), respiratory (e.g. asthma), metabolic disorders (e.g. diabetes), among others. I work in the Infectious Disease Therapy area, in two clinical trial development teams — one for a flu drug, and another for a malaria drug. Both are currently in phase II, meaning they are on track for being clinically tested for safety and efficacy in a hundred-or-so people on a global scale.

The ultimate goal of the clinical development process is to set up and advance the progression of clinical trials with the aim of bringing new medicines to patients to allow them to do more, feel better and live longer. Running a clinical trial is a staggeringly complex enterprise (that I’m still just scratching the surface of!) that involves hundreds of people working together from various disciplines. This can be anyone from the physicians that will be recruiting patients for the trial in their practice or hospital, to independent ethics committees overseeing the trial, medical monitors, statisticians, clinical supplies managers, biomedical scientists, formulation chemists, central laboratories, document translators, regulatory bodies, contract managers, the list goes on. The role of the Study Managers (me!) is to act as a gravitational body to pull together all these disparate activities to ensure the trial progresses. In practice this is achieved through running training, debrief and discussion meetings with GSK employees and third parties across the globe, developing and evaluating trial protocols, projects, timeline and budget management, writing newsletters, making spreadsheets, and using online trackers, and more, depending on what needs to be done at any given time point.

The pharmaceutical industry is among the most regulated in the world, and the environment in which trials are run is always changing and becoming ever more complex. This means you cannot rest on your laurels and calls for being an active learner on the job. A lot of my time has been devoted to training and understanding the environment I am working in; attending seminars from medicinal chemists, global manufacturing managers, in vivo bench scientists and many other functions. This has given me a bit of a cradle-to-grave overview of the pharmaceutical industry, and working in the influenza and malaria clinical development teams has put me in the “perfect storm” of all things clinical trials (and opportunities to work on fun side projects — see image below).

Kai Hove

A more hands-on depiction of the team on GSK’s annual out of office volunteering day, Orange United (me on right ready to poke someone with a paint roller)

Now, far be it from me to be so vainglorious as to claim that I am any sort of authority in all these things I’m supposedly managing (my job title has the word “Associate” in it, after all) and to be fair, you are not expected to be. Everyone will reiterate to you that an Industrial Placement year is primarily a learning opportunity. If there is one insight that I have arrived at so far, it is that learning has different implications outside of academic institutions, where the problems you will be presented with are often neither clear-cut nor will you always know whether the solutions you come up with are the right ones. However, part of that learning process is developing the confidence to believe that your work and input can be of value to someone and hopefully when my placement is over I can come back to Manchester knowing it was!

So if you are thinking of doing a placement year, my parting words to you would be that it is definitely a worthwhile experience and you should jump on the opportunity! Take a risk — you will be all the better off for it.

Yours until further notice,


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Henry’s Placement Year Blog

Hello everyone!

My name is Henry and I’m a third year Neuroscience student on placement in the USA! I’m lucky enough to be working in the University of Nevada Reno’s Physiology and Cell Biology department, looking at energy utilisation in a giant synapse called ‘the calyx of held’. So far it’s been an absolutely invaluable (and all-round-incredible) experience and the three months have already transformed me from a bumbling undergraduate into a (mostly) competent lab worker!

 “But what actually happens on placement?” is the question that I think crosses most people’s mind when they sign up for industrial experience. Sure, you know you’ll have to do ‘a project’ which you’ll have to write up to earn those sweet, sweet percentage points towards your final grade. But beyond that is kind of a mystery, right? Now, I won’t pretend that I have all the answers, but I can at least give you a good rundown as to life as a student worker in the lab.

 I arrived in Reno mid to early August, and for the first two weeks was mostly paperwork and general lab safety training while Sean, the head of the placement scheme here, found us supervisors that matched our research interests. As a Neuroscience student, I was delighted to be placed in a synaptic physiology lab. Then as August rolled into September we moved onto more lab-specific training. As it turned out, my lab needed someone to generate fluorescent images for them to demonstrate that they were indeed knocking down their protein of interest and show visually how this changed mitochondrial structure and distribution. Having loved the ‘Dynamic Cell’ module in second year, I was really excited to try the techniques we had learnt about for myself in a real lab environment.

Touristy photo of the iconic Reno Arch upon arrival!

Touristy photo of the iconic Reno Arch upon arrival!

 Since then I have learnt many different techniques, from animal handling to tissue preparation and confocal microscopy. While I still have room to improve, I feel like I’m getting the hang of these and am able to actually contribute to the work done by the lab. I have just started learning the basics of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, which would make for, as my supervisor put it, a ‘sexy’ project. Once I have these foundations down, me and my supervisor will sit down and flesh out a title. Then I can get to work on the project I plan to submit for my placement report!

 Now, as a placement student, you’re expected to work hard. But that shouldn’t stop you from having fun outside of the lab too! And this is where Reno has really shone. Uber has just arrived to the city so getting around has become much easier and affordable. Midtown, Reno’s Northern Quarter equivalent, is one of our favourite haunts. Full of independent coffee shops and bars, there’s something for everyone. As an ice hockey fan it’s been great to be able to go to a sports bar and watch my favourite team play (Go Sharks!) while enjoying a local beer.

 Perhaps even more exciting is Reno’s surroundings. Perched in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s, I’ve rekindled an old passion for the outdoors. With Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains only a 40 minute drive away, it’s been really easy to get outdoors. In the first couple of weeks, our faculty took us for a BBQ by the shore of Lake Tahoe. With temperatures in the low 30’s the weather was perfect for swimming. To be honest it was a truly surreal experience. The water was so clear I was convinced it was salt water, so it was a pleasant surprise when it wasn’t (even if it was a little chilly). Tahoe also has some of the world’s best ski slopes, with the local mountain, Mount Rose, even closer than the lake. We’ve just started to get heavy snow and it shows no sign of stopping. The locals are predicting the best ski-season in years and I can’t wait to get back to snowboarding. It’ll be a big step up from Chill Factore (an indoor ski slope in Manchester) I’m sure!

 Something that I didn’t know about Reno before I arrived was how close to Northern California we are. In September we took a long weekend in San Francisco and I’ve completely fallen in love with the city. We managed to snag an apartment at the top of Market Street overlooking down-town San Francisco, a truly unforgettable view. Having coffee on the balcony watching the sun rise over ‘The City’ is a memory that will stay with me forever. We spent the weekend exploring the city, shopping in the Castro and of course around Union Square. The next day we hired bikes and cycled through Golden Gate Park and up to the bridge itself. It was a tiring day but something I really recommend if you ever get the chance. Since, I’ve been back twice (travel is cheap, $20 for a return bus ticket) and I know we’ll be going again.

Cycling in San Fransisco

Cycling in San Fransisco

 But that can wait. Right now the US is abuzz with Thanksgiving celebrations and I was lucky enough to be invited to my flatmate’s for the event. In preparation, we made pies for the big day, so I introduced our friends across the pond to Banoffee Pie, and they were very grateful for it. After we were finished baking, we made the thirty minute drive down south to his parents place followed by a few beers as a night-cap and an early night ready for the festivities.

 Thanksgiving itself was a very busy day. We were up early for a light breakfast before the Thanksgiving football games began (first up was my newly adopted team, the Detroit Lions. I made sure to brush up on some football beforehand). We then juggled football, beer and cooking for the rest of the day. The rumours of Thanksgiving feasts are no word of a lie. We sat down at around at 5pm to two turkeys (one oven cooked, the other deep fried… You couldn’t make it up) with rivers of gravy and mountains of mashed potatoes. All washed down at the end with a coffee and a nap to ensure we were ready to hit the mall at 8pm for the Black Friday sales. I guess the deals are just too good to hold off until Friday itself.

And that’s my adventure so far! Already this has been one of the highlights of university for me and has not only helped me firm up my future plans, but also given me a truly unique experience living abroad. I’ve made some great friends and memories here and I’m certainly looking forward to more!

 Thanks for reading everyone. Best of luck on your placement applications!

Henry xx

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Alice Copperwheat’s Placement Year Blog

Hi I’m Alice Copperwheat and I am a third year (not final year) zoology student currently on placement in Greece. For those of you who read the blog last year, you may remember my 2nd Year Blog and so, welcome back! For new readers, nice to meet you! For all of you, both returning readers and new visitors, I aim to use my posts to give you an insight into my adventures and experiences on placement. My placement is with Archipelagos, Institute of Marine Conservation based on the small island of Samos in Greece. I will use this post to talk about how I found the placement, helpful advice for students applying for placements and a quick bit of information about my first month.

First of all, how I came across my placement. When applying for Manchester I didn’t apply to do a placement year, however in the interview I was offered it and I gladly accepted. Nonetheless, I still had to achieve at least 60% in first year in order to remain on the course. After getting over this hurdle, the dreaded search for placements then began. I didn’t find it as hard as it was made out to be mainly due to how helpful the placement office were. The first placement I applied for was in November, with a science communications/media company. Unfortunately I did not get this placement but they gave me lots of helpful feedback. Finding a placement is competitive so don’t worry if you get rejections, just take the positive notes from them and use them to help you in future applications. I found out about my current placement around December from a list sent out by the placement office. I applied and quickly had a Skype interview lined up. I made sure I tidied my room and looked presentable, however the interview ended up being voice only! The interview took place mid way through my January exams, which did add to the stress, but luckily I got the placement. This took a weight off my shoulders as it meant I no longer had to search for placements whilst balancing university work. Don’t get put off if it takes you a long time to find a placement, one of my friends got hers in August.

Next, a bit of advice and knowledge about placements. When you find and accept a placement you will stop receiving emails from the placement office and thus you might, like me, always be wondering what other opportunities you might have missed. The best thing to do is to try and put this to the back of your mind or you will always worry. Some organizations, like the one I am currently on, take placement students throughout the year so you do not have to rush to meet the deadline and can find out about other placements if you so wish. Definitely take the time to think about where you are going and do lots of research into different placements available, you can also search for your own placement instead of just sticking to the ones sent out by university. Making sure you will enjoy what you are doing on your placement is crucial to your experience. Also, I truly believe that what you put in to your placement is what you get out of it.

Finally, my time here so far…when I arrived in Greece it was definitely a shock. I am used to travelling and meeting new people, however living and working in a very remote place with people from all over the world can take some getting used to.  Nevertheless, I quickly adapted and threw myself into work. For the first 5 weeks I was located at the main base on Samos, I then moved to an even smaller island called Oinousses and have been here 5 weeks now. I will talk more about my first 5 weeks on Samos in my next post and about the last 5 weeks in Oinousses in a future post. I really can’t believe how quickly my placement has gone, I’m already nearly a third of the way through. My final comment is that anyone who is contemplating doing a placement, do it, you won’t regret it.

Stay tuned for more of Alice’s Aegean Adventures!

p.s. since starting my placement I have set up my own blog to tell others  all about it. The blog includes posts about my day-to-day life on placement, my adventures and also scientific posts that are not only interesting, but also relevant to my placement. With the Manchester Life Sciences blogs I aim to summarize my experiences on placement, however if you would like more detail then follow this link to my blog: Alice’s Aegean Adventures. 

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