A year in industry at AstraZeneca


Lillie Bell a final year Medical Biochemistry degree student at the University of Leeds spent her placement year in a lab based role at AstraZeneca. She explains how she secured the role, what she took from it and gives some top tips on how to be successful in applying for a year in industry.

Applying

At the time of applying for my placement, I had lab-based experience outside of my course through the Laidlaw Research and Leadership Scholarship, where I had conducted 6 weeks of project work in a Leeds University laboratory. Having this experience gave me talking points for my AstraZeneca interview and provided me with examples for the “Tell me about a time…” questions.

This experience was definitely beneficial to my getting the role, however I think that being able to speak with interviewers about the background of my research project and how my individual research related to the wider scientific community, was of greater significance than the hands-on technical experience.

The role

My year in industry was in the High Throughput Screening (HTS) department at AstraZeneca. Day-to-day, my role was mostly lab-based; I was culturing cells, running smaller scale preliminary experiments, and setting up the automation platform which was used to run our high throughput assays. I also spent a significant period of time in the office; here I would be analysing data, searching the literature for new papers about degraders and new experimental ways of identifying them, and chatting with the rest of the team about my work and theirs.

The project aim was to identify small molecule degraders of an oncology target that were present in the AstraZeneca Compound Collection – a library of just over 1.8 million chemical structures. For the majority of this work, I designed, optimised and tested experimental procedures with the aim of providing proof-of-concept data, and developing a cascade of assays which could be applied to novel disease-relevant targets in the future.

Success!

I was eventually successful in developing this cascade and was able to present my findings at an important conference in the field, SLAS Europe 2021, where I won the Student Poster Competition award. My poster, as well as more informal conversation about my Year in Industry, was captured in a podcast interview I did with the SLAS team, and can be found here: New Matter Podcast You can read more about my year in industry and the skills I developed in my profile on the University website.

The value of team discussions

My most valuable experience from my placement- despite learning many new experimental techniques and laboratory procedures- was speaking to my colleagues in the office every day. We would discuss our own work; what had gone wrong or right that day, what we planned to do next, and whether we needed to consider a new angle.

We would also discuss wider scientific work; we had monthly journal clubs where 2-3 scientists, myself included, would present a paper they found interesting, talking through the key data and findings, and opening a discussion about how the scientific community has received the paper for future research and the impact it has had.

My advice

If I were to offer advice to anyone considering a placement the first thing I would say would be: do it.

I learnt so much in a relatively short amount of time, and the experience was invaluable. Whether you want to apply for a placement at AstraZeneca, a different pharmaceutical company, or a non-scientific organisation,

I feel that the most important thing would be to show you are passionate about what you want to do.

Technical, and lab-based skills can be taught, but you must be enthusiastic about your chosen topic to have the desire to learn and push the boundaries of your project. Knowing what you want to do in the long run isn’t vital (I still don’t!) but having a good understanding of what your options are and how to get there is important.

My final piece of advice on placement applications would be to create a list or mind map of all of the experience you have so far, e.g. part-time jobs, sports teams, volunteering. Don’t worry about relating all of your examples to science or University! I found it useful to see these things written out, then I could list skills that I believe I learnt from each one and link them with specific examples.

Good luck!

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