Diki Fundu, one of our Chemistry students, blogged for us earlier in the year about her placement in a lab. She is now reaching the end of her time “out in industry” and here are her tips on how to make a lasting impression on your employer and how to get the most out of an industrial placement. Over to Diki:
“When you start work you might find, like me, that it’s your first experience of an industrial laboratory. Suddenly you’re carrying out experiments for which no one knows the outcome. The leap from the university environment to this is huge. You’ll need to gain your colleague’s trust to progress. My advice is always to be transparent in your work and let your colleagues know if you’re unsure. Be prepared to ask questions. I would much rather ask a silly question than get something wrong which may waste time and/or money.
Unlike in undergraduate laboratories, your experiments will probably affect a host of different peoples’ work – you’ll be part of a large team of people working towards a common goal. The most important thing is to realise that your failure is the team’s failure and your success is the team’s success. You must let your colleagues know when you make mistakes – they’ll be able to help you correct it.
Boosting my skills
An industrial placement will present you with many different experiences which you would not have been exposed to at university. Not only did I notice a real improvement in my scientific skills, but I’ve also become a much more confident person. I had the chance to attend and present my work at Royal Society of Chemistry Student Days and I presented my achiral SFC project work at the Waters UPC2 Nordic Symposium in Gothenburg. This was very exciting and gave me the chance to network with scientists in my field.
Applying the knowledge that you’ve learned in lectures to a task that you may be asked to carry out on a real life sample can be daunting. For example, making up a stock solution. Chemists have all done it before, but how will you fare without that ‘instruction manual’ we all use in our undergraduate labs? Many graduates fail at these simple tasks. It’s solely due to a lack of confidence! There are training courses designed to bridge the gap between university and industry. They will help you with these things – it’s for you to decide if you want or need them.
Making an Impact
Most chemistry placements will include a yearlong research project or a variety of small projects. Typically you will work on the projects alongside day to day tasks. I completed many small projects, and a main research project. I had to hone my efficiency in the lab in order to be able to achieve all of this.
I am very proud to be able to report that the results of my main research project, on achiral SFC, are being published sometime later this year in the Chromsoc magazine, a publication widely read in the analytical community – watch out for that!
I think the most exciting thing is to know that your work may impact how the business works as a whole, and contribute to the work of a wider scientific community.
Life after Placement?
Doing a year in industry will always be useful in helping you decide on your next career steps. For me, it helped me decide that a career in chemistry is definitely what I want to do and that after graduating I want to pursue this through doing a PhD. I mostly enjoyed the research aspect of my placement and I want to continue with that whilst working in industry. A year in industry may also help you realise what is the wrong career for you. This is still a positive thing. The skills you will have picked up along the way will be useful to you in another field. So either way it would be a year well spent!
If you have a chance to do a placement, seize it!”