NAME: Alexander Mullen
DEGREE/EMPLOYMENT: Graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in 2004 with a degree in Biomedical Chemistry. He now works for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca as a process chemist.
Work Experience: Alexander spent the sandwich year of his four–year course working with AstraZeneca.
What was your motivation?
I’d attended a couple of interviews with different companies but I was really impressed with the modern facilities and the well equipped labs at AstraZeneca.
What did the application process involve?
The university I attended was really proactive in bringing leading industry figures in to talk about placement opportunities. They also helped arrange interviews.
What did you do?
I found it sold itself. A lot of companies will prioritise candidates who have taken a placement with them. Particularly if you have made a good impression and good contacts during your time.
How did you sell the experience on your CV?
Overall, the experience benefited me tremendously.
It really helped being able to quantify the benefits my work had brought the company.
I could write about what I’d done on my CV and being able to draw on the experience also made it much easier to answer questions during interviews.
Did you enjoy it?
Yes, it was a very different atmosphere to the one which I expected –
I hadn’t expected people to be quite so friendly and I found the atmosphere was very lively and laidback. It’s a very diverse workforce with lots of different experience and a wide age range. I found that the work can be incredibly rewarding and people were always willing to help.
What did you learn?
I developed a real appreciation and understanding of the monumental effort that goes in to producing new medicines. It became clear that when you are working you have to have to organise your time very carefully. I also gained a lot of experience in working in laboratories which benefited me greatly in my final year.
Becoming confident in the lab. At university you read a lot in your text books but it’s very different when you go into lab. Things don’t always work as you would expect and you have to be creative and solve problems.
It was a bit daunting entering a workplace where there are a lot of very intelligent people, but I soon settled in.
Advice to readers:
There is a lot of competition to get places so really get out there and look for placements. Once you have one take every opportunity they offer and be really hands on. What happens during your placement can really influence what you do in your final year and where you eventually decide to work.
GET AHEAD WITH PLACEMENT
Check company websites for details of their placement schemes. AstraZeneca, for example, offers email alerts to let you know about any opportunities. Also check your university careers services and talk to lecturers to let them know what you are looking for. If you are not on a sandwich degree then you should consider an internship. In multinationals most internships are paid positions (up to £500 a week) and last between 10–12 weeks over the summer. Internships lead to permanent jobs for around 50% of students and those lucky enough to get on to these schemes can work in a variety of areas including engineering, sales, HR, IT, marketing and finance. The deadline to apply for internships is the spring, though early applications are strongly advised. Internships are mainly aimed at second– or penultimate–year students.