Siri Place is in her final year of a BSc Medical Biochemistry degree following the completion of a placement year at P53 Lab in Singapore. Her story shows that although it is not easy to find a placement year, persistence, hard work and taking chances can pay off!
Applying for placement
The job hunt for placements was long, tedious and hard. It began in freshers week and consumed my life until I finally gave up in March. I had applied for everything under the sun: from R&D to supply chain to marketing and I was constantly being rejected at the final stages of each role. I was fed up of video interviews and assessments and decided it was time to focus on revision and my looming deadlines.
That was until I randomly stumbled across p53 Lab in Singapore. The prospective student had dropped out last minute and I’d overheard the lab were looking for someone to take their place. It was May, a week before summer exams were about to start and I remember sitting in the library, finding any way to distract myself revision.
Spontaneously, I sent off my CV with a small cover letter and heard back immediately – they wanted a skype interview the following day, but because of the time difference, it meant waking up at 6.30 for a 7am call.
I had felt fairly unprepared, not expecting a reply so fast, and so spent the rest of my day researching around Singapore, p53 and what to expect in a lab-based interview. The interview lasted a total of 15 minutes and I was offered the job there and then; it seemed they were impressed by my CV and initiative to apply.
It just shows that some jobs can be found purely by luck- by being in the right place at the right time- had I not overheard the conversation, I would not have known to apply! All the hard work and rejection had finally paid off.
Moving to Singapore
I was unbelievably nervous to start a new job, let alone move 13 hours away from all my friends and family. Luckily, I had known the other student who accepted the same placement so we moved out together and found ourselves a lovely condo to live in. It seemed too good to be true; the complex had a pool, gym and was close to the lab.
However, moving abroad was not all fun and games – it involved a lot of medical exams, money and copious amounts of paperwork to fill in. There was some homesickness being so far from home, but we can both look back and say it was truly worth it.
Working in the lab
I had no experience in a research lab, other than from labs at uni, and so my first few months involved learning, reading and more learning. Nevertheless, my team were super supportive and I quickly picked up the key skills. I was even crowned the ‘queen of Western blots’.
Working in a lab can be tedious, long hours and sometimes involve a lot of waiting. It can also mean messing up a week’s worth of experiments if you don’t concentrate 100%.
But it was also very sociable and fun. I enjoyed the work I was doing and was invested in my project. I even got the opportunity to attend a two-day conference on peptides and proteins, which was largely insightful and a great networking opportunity.
Living in Singapore
It wasn’t all hard work in the lab. My weekends consisted of expensive brunches, beach clubs and even a few weekends abroad. With Malaysia and Thailand next door, I visited several countries and even spent my 21st in Bali with some friends.
Singapore is a diverse country and full of expats so I was never short of friends. The lifestyle was unforgettable – the work party was even on a yacht!
Reflections and tips
Reflecting on my experience, I think it’s really important to not give up and to stay positive. I was lucky enough to have ‘stumbled’ upon this opportunity, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard work to get there.
Don’t be disheartened, and take every opportunity you can get. If you can get the chance to work abroad, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Even just showing you moved away and adapted to new cultures is a great thing to put on your CV and will make you stand out to employers.
I developed an abundance of transferable skills at p53Lab and looking back, I feel as though I am at a great advantage not only in applying for graduate roles but also in final year.
I am now looking for opportunities move back to Singapore after graduation as I enjoyed my year there so much!