Job market / Work experience

A placement year at an SME – a Chemistry student enthuses!

Recently we’ve had several posts about working in the City, but today it’s the turn of the scientists to take centre stage. You may have the option as part of your degrees to do a placement year and for some it may be a requirement. There’s lots of research which suggests that such a placement can be really beneficial. Some studies suggest that it can increase your final marks by as much as 5% and it certainly has a favourable impact on employability. What’s not to like?

Diki Fundu is on a MChem Chemistry degree here at Warwick and is currently undertaking a 12 month industrial placement at Reach Separations, a small business within the chemical industry. Diki is becoming increasingly enthusiastic about her work and the opportunities the placement affords her. Here she shares some of her thoughts and experiences. Don’t stop reading if you’re not studying chemistry! Diki says lots which is relevant to those studying other subjects and considering a placement. Here’s Diki…

Choosing your placement

“When you start applying for internships you often think first of the schemes run by large companies. The application processes for them are usually very competitive and they’re not for everyone! I initially applied to some of the best known chemical and pharmaceutical companies, and found that I wasn’t getting much success in receiving offers. I knew I needed to rethink my strategy and I attended the chemistry department’s careers fair. I had the opportunity to meet and network with representatives from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); this encouraged me to search for and apply to SMEs for my year in industry. I was excited by the realisation that their placement schemes were mainly project based laboratory work, designed to benefit them as well as me. I was much more interested in this, than in the idea of working in a role specifically created for a placement student in a larger organisation. After a few weeks here at Reach I know I was right! I’m so glad to be making a real contribution to the business.


Reach Separations specialises in the separation and purification of small molecules within the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and fine chemical sectors. It’s located in Nottingham’s Bio-Incubator, BioCity. Bio-Incubators are home to around half of the UK’s emerging bioscience companies and each houses between 5 and 50 different firms. They offer flexible office and laboratory spaces which enable life science companies to enjoy relatively inexpensive accommodation costs and to conduct their research and business in the same area as other similar companies.

Industrial placement in-textSince being here at Reach my enthusiasm for SMEs has continued to grow. Bio-incubators like BioCity can be the perfect place for undertaking a placement and gaining lab experience. BioCity Nottingham contains over 50 companies which I hadn’t previously known about. Each of these has the potential to offer invaluable experience within its own sector.

My placement is benefitting both me and my employer

Placements in small companies often expose students to cutting-edge techniques, allowing them to work on emerging products such as innovative new drugs or analytical techniques. In an SME you have more chance to be closely involved in the employer’s whole business process and gain a real insight into how it operates. As a laboratory team member I have gained knowledge about methods such as High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Supercritical Fluid Chromatography (SFC). I have also been given significant duties within the team increasing my confidence in the work place and accelerating my learning – these are all things that will be very beneficial when searching for jobs after graduation

Reach Separations often takes on placement students and values their contribution to the business. Phil Abbott, Technical Director enthuses:

“All of the placement students we take on contribute positively to the business in one way or another. By having access to students whilst they are still undergraduates we are essentially getting a preview of the best talent our universities are delivering.”

In a smaller organisation a spare pair of hands can undertake tasks no-one else has time for. I am currently undertaking a Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) research project based on achiral SFC; which will shed light on this chromatographic technique and will benefit the future of Reach Separations. I have been setting up the apparatus, troubleshooting the instrument and testing new columns and live samples.  My yearlong project will therefore be of genuine value to the analytical chemistry sector as well as to me.

I am also being granted the opportunity to attend a mass spectrometry conference in Manchester. I will be learning about advances in mass spectrometry and networking with current and potential clients for Reach Separations. I am in no doubt, my placement is providing me with many opportunities to enhance my abilities and preparing me for a bright career in the future.

I would urge anyone considering a placement to look carefully at the opportunities in SMEs.”

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