Lauren’s Placement Experience: an Introduction

My name is Lauren, and I am a BSc Biomedical Sciences student currently on placement at a pharmaceutical company called ApconiX, which is part of the Manchester Science Park in Alderley Park.

ApconiX offers consultancy expertise across all aspects of nonclinical safety, with a laboratory focused on ion channel research and electrophysiology. The ApconiX lab focuses on the high throughput screening of new pharmacological compounds and bespoke ion channel assay development for TRP, CaV, NaV, ENaC, K2P, NMDA, GABA, and BKCa using automated patch-clamp techniques.

ApconiX is under the supportive wing of the BioHub, operated by the company BioCity, which have two other locations around the UK that supports emerging life science businesses.

I’ll be updating you throughout my placement year as I test the new territory of the pharmaceutical industry and my laboratory project as the first ever placement student at ApconiX.

Autumnal sunset over the farm in Alderly Park
Autumnal sunset over the farm in Alderly Park

My placement so far

Cup of tea on the company, anyone?
Cup of tea on the company, anyone?

So far, placement has been an invaluable and rollercoaster experience. After only three months of employment, I have transformed from a self-doubting undergraduate into a fairly competent lab scientist.

Although the majority of AstraZeneca (AZ) have made the move down south to Cambridge Science Park, there is still a large AZ presence here at Alderley Park. I’m lucky enough to work with the nicest group of people who are all ex-AZ employees. Not only does this mean that I have a great insight into current big pharma affairs, but I also regularly interact with AZ employees. For example, a group of my closest friends are all placement students at AZ and will feature heavily in all my blog posts.

My life as a student worker in the lab started in early September, and for the first few weeks it mainly consisted of paperwork, health and safety demos and lab safety training with Mike, my laboratory supervisor.

Even though I am a biomedical sciences student, I have always had a keen interest in the pharmacology side of my degree. Having loved second-year modules such as Drugs in the Brain and Clinical Drug Development, I was super excited to use lab techniques that we had learnt about in lectures and see how these skills transferred to a real lab setting.

I have learned an array of different and transferable techniques, from cell culture of transfected cells and handling stem cells to cryopreservation and automated patch clamping. Although there is still room for improvement, I feel like I am capable of getting on with my lab work independently. I can’t stress enough how different being on a lab placement is to university labs!

As for my placement project, I will be focusing on using induced pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocytes (iPSC-CM) on an automated patch clamp platform. On my project, I am lucky enough to be collaborating with Sophion (Biolin Scientific) and three different stem cell providers in the hope that a scientific paper can be published by the end of my project. So, roll on the new year when, as my supervisor says, I can start my ‘sexy science’ placement project.

Outside of work

Cat running in Alderly Edge
Cat running in Alderly Edge

Although placement consists of working hard, there is still a lot of fun to be had outside of the lab. Alderley Park is situated in 400 acres of beautiful Cheshire parkland, which even has a working farm at the heart of the site.

As a keen runner, having all this mileage right on my door step at work is perfect for me – I’ve even entered the onsite race! I successfully persuaded my friend on placement, Cat, to run with me and admire millionaires’ row in Alderley Edge, well known for its affluence and large footballer/WAG presence.

 

Life at Manchester Science Park is always busy, and if you know me personally you’ll know that I love to be busy. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the weekly events that happen on site.

Recently, I’ve been giving Cat a helping hand organising a pick-up point on site for the shoebox appeal sent to homeless shelters in Manchester. We have been advertising and encouraging employees to make a shoebox for the homeless to spread the Christmas cheer to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Another thing I did take part in was a big Macmillan charity bake sale. This was a huge success – we raised over £1,200 and it was so much fun to be a part of (despite the fact that my crappy student oven ruined a batch of brownies). Never underestimate the power of cake and how it brings people together!

Cake sale
A modern renaissance masterpiece of me serving cake to hungry scientists

Life in Manchester as a placement student

Madrid visit
Señoritas guapas take Madrid…(I’m third to the left)

Although staying in Manchester for my placement year wasn’t something I had planned, I am loving living in Fallowfield with my friends who are in final year and rubbing it in their faces that I have no exams this year. I’ve also continued my job as a Student Ambassador for the School of Biological Sciences, working on UCAS interview days, and have a part-time job at the Students Union Café and Bar.

I’m really enjoying the routine that working life pushes you in to. And, above all, I love the fact that I can sit at home binge-watching RuPaul’s Drag Race guilt-free from uni work. I recently took advantage of being deadline-free and went travelling to Madrid with my friends. Sipping sangria and eating approximately 2kg of potatoes a day was 1,000 times better than third year literature review writing!

 

My experience of working in a professional pharmaceutical business environment has taught me so much after only four months of being here. Being in the lab every day has not only enabled me to be competent, but also to have confidence in the work that I do and report back to my colleagues on a weekly basis.

Working with such talented scientists and networking with new people every day inspires me and has helped me grow on a professional and personal level. Sure, there are hard days on placement, but, on the whole, I feel lucky to have found a placement that is so well suited to myself.

Thanks for reading everyone and watch this space for more of my placement updates.

Best of luck with your placement applications!

Lauren

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