Year In Industry #2 – Europe

It had been clear in my mind for a long time that I would take a “year out” following graduation from the University of Edinburgh.  I hadn’t opted for a Gap Year when I left secondary school, reasoning that I wanted to kick off my degree promptly. Summers spent working meant that I’d done little travelling during my time as an undergrad, or had the time to do exciting volunteering things.

Come my final year as a Chemistry student and I realised that I wanted something quite specific. Namely, another shot in industry.

There were numerous personal and professional reasons why I had a craving for a full-time pharmaceutical job rather than casual work & travelling. I had been told that chemistry  internships/graduate-level lab jobs were looked upon exceedingly favourably by grad school admissions.

  • The phD student would be more skilled and experienced doing practical work; more capable of working with lower levels of supervision and quicker at adapting the academic lab environment.
  • A first-hand knowledge of the ups and downs of Research and Development (R&D) would inure the candidate against the stumbling blocks in any researchers’ work; as well as give them an idea of strategies and approaches to obtaining data.
  • A full-time long term 9-to-5 laboratory job would equip the candidate with a strong work ethic and good organisational/time management skills.
  • Depending on the type of R&D work already completed, the candidate may already have a clear idea of where they want to take their phD, what areas they are most interested in and what the background to their area of interest is.
From reading the application guides to numerous universities, I saw that having referees with good knowledge of your practical/theoretical experience was very important to securing an offer of admission. Most grad schools in America request 3 referees who possess knowledge about your professional capacities. As you can imagine, supervisors from industry fit the bill perfectly.
I then came across a snag. Most pharmaceutical companies advertise internships for penultimate-year undergraduates, or for the summer after 2nd year. If you are a graduate in chemistry then you are directed to the graduate programs. Most graduate programs last over a year, and the assumption is that you stick with the company afterwards: that wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
This doesn’t mean that no pharmaceutical company will hire a cheap intern for 12 months after they graduate – it just means you have to ask around personally. As I discovered, leads in several pharmaceutical companies were amenable to the idea.
It was thanks to contacts that I got something sorted. A chemistry friend of mine had worked for several summers with a Novartis in Basel, Switzerland and knew them to accept chemistry graduates who were looking for sandwich placements between undergrad and postgrad study. Armed with names I made my application. And was made an offer.
So, for a whole 12 months I will be working for Novartis’ Process Development team in Basel. I stand to gain a lot from my time there:
  • Broadening my knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry. Whilst at GSK I worked in the Drug Discovery (Hit to Lead Optimisation stages) as a Medicinal Chemist. Process Development Chemistry is a different beast altogether. Not to mention the fact that I’m working for another company entirely…in a continent subject to a different set of laws and office culture. Such a range of experience is important when it comes for me to choose future jobs in the industry.
  • Broadening my chemistry experience. New reactions, new conditions, new synthetic approaches, new standards. In Process Development you are looking to product economical, efficient reactions. In Drug Discovery you are looking to generate novel analogues on a small-scale: expensive reagents and low temperatures are acceptable.
  •  Directly useful for phD applications. As well as helping me to establish connections with industry and gain useful advice/information, it I will allow me to talk about my experiences on the Personal Statement and be a topic for my referees.
  • Travel & Horizons. I’ve done embarrassingly little in the way of exploring Europe. I hope that being centrally-located and having access to French, German & Swiss railways, I’ll get to see much more of the diverse continent. It is also a chance for me to gain some skill in speaking both German and French.
So yes, exciting times for me. I look forward to reporting back on it.
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