Emily Talbot studied Human Physiology at Leeds, graduating in 2016 and secured a place on AstraZeneca’s IMED programme. In this post she outlines the path she took to her current role and shares her advice for other students.
How I Got My Place on the IMED Early Phase Drug Discovery Graduate Programme at AstraZeneca
For science students, there is one question which circulates in the mind of many who want to remain in science after University: do I have to do a PhD? I studied Human Physiology and as graduation loomed closer, I knew I wanted to remain in science but wasn’t ready to commit to a PhD.
In a second year epiphany/panic, I decided I didn’t want to do an industrial placement year so I looked for opportunities within the Faculty of Biological Sciences. I got involved in Physiology Challenge, a public outreach scheme designed to encourage enthusiasm towards science, and led Peer Assisted Study Support (PASS) sessions. I then secured an educational research internship in second year and a Dean’s Vacation Studentship with the Denecke laboratory (Plant Cell Biology & Biotechnology) in the summer before final year. From these internships, I gained experience in independent literature-based research and invaluable laboratory skills.
Having had an excellent experience during my internships, I wanted to stay in science but was still unsure about a PhD and felt like a Masters wasn’t for me, so I searched for alternative research experience aside from the typical academic route. I attended the University careers fair and searched for graduate opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry but found that companies were mainly offering graduate programmes in business sectors. AstraZeneca however, have the IMED Early Phase Drug Discovery Graduate Programme.
The programme is two years, consisting of three 8-month rotations in different areas of early stage pharmaceutical research and development and runs in the UK, primarily in Cambridge, Sweden and the US. The rotation format offered by the programme perfectly suited my indecision at the time; I could experience different fields and hone in on an area I could pursue further.
The Application Process
The programme is very competitive, so I invested a lot of time in my application since I was competing for one of six UK positions against applicants with a Master’s degree or industrial placement year. The application consisted of my CV and a written application, featuring short answer questions designed to demonstrate your passion and scientific understanding. I sought help from the University careers service with both parts of my application. Thankfully, I was invited to a 1-day assessment centre; a daunting prospect but I found it to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience. Whilst I may not have been the most experienced candidate, I found that my interviews turned into exciting scientific discussions, enabling me to communicate my enthusiasm and motivation.
Life on The Programme
As scientists, there is sometimes the impression that laboratory-based research is the main option for those who want to pursue science after studying. Whilst all rotations are science-based, they are not all lab-based meaning we can shape the type of experience we want to gain. I completed my first rotation in Genetic Toxicology in Drug Safety and Metabolism (DSM), developing a novel test for detection of drug-induced genetic mutation which can be applied to future drug discovery projects. I then switched to a whole new field and joined the Mass Spectrometry Imaging group, where I used cutting-edge imaging technology to map the distribution of drugs and endogenous metabolites in biological tissue. My final rotation is in Oncology Bioscience where I am validating novel drug targets to combat cancer.
Outside of my rotations, I have had the opportunity to travel to Sweden and the US as part of a personal development programme and am involved in organising seminars, socials and symposia for AstraZeneca’s early talent network. Overall, the scheme has been a huge confidence builder. As an inexperienced scientist, I struggled to trust my abilities whereas now, I am more independent and amazed by what I have achieved here.
Now in my last rotation, I have gained experience across a range of fields, contributed to drug discovery projects, collaborated with external institutions and published research. All of which has enabled me to secure a competitive PhD position in an area I discovered a passion for whilst working at AstraZeneca.
Programmes like this are rare so my advice to anyone hoping to secure a similar role is to gain additional laboratory experience either in an academic or industrial setting. When thinking about life beyond lectures, socials and the inevitable all-nighters in the library sustained by meal deals, University students are faced with the classic catch-22: you need experience to get a job but you need a job to get experience. I found that taking advantage of varied opportunities within the University allowed me to get around this, after all, the University is a leading research institution so you don’t need to look far. Science is constantly developing so it’s important to stay informed on what’s new and exciting- following research institutions on LinkedIn is great for this. Overall, it’s important to work hard throughout and make the most of your degree. I was awarded the BMS Prize for First Year Human Physiology student, an award which recognised my hard work and massively helped me to stand out in a sea of talented graduates.
The Careers Centre is here to support all Leeds students with their next steps following university; whether that be help exploring options, making decisions, or help with application processes. See our website for details on how we can help you