I spent my placement year working at GSK as a Clinical Development Associate

Ella Shepherd at graduation
Ella Shepherd
Placement organisation: GSK
BSc Biomedical Science with Year in Industry
Ella chose to spend a year on a paid work placement as part of her Biomedical Science degree, working at GSK as a Clinical Development Associate. During the year, Ella gained a wealth of knowledge around conducting Phase 1 Clinical Trials, and surprised herself with how much responsibility she was able to take on during the year.
Ella Shepherd at graduation

What made you want to study your course?

I've always known I wanted to go down the route of learning about human biology, because it's something I know I can apply to a career which aims to help others, whether that's directly in a patient-facing role or in a 'behind the scenes' laboratory/research role. Biomedical Science gives you such a well-rounded knowledge ranging from cellular biology under the microscope to anatomy and physiology which you can explore through cadaveric dissection in the Medical Teaching Unit. Sheffield's Biomedical Science course also offered the opportunity to go out on placement after second year. I was fortunate enough to spend that year with GSK in Phase I Clinical Research.

What made you decide to study at the University of Sheffield?

The University of Sheffield's Biomedical Science course stood out to me due to its practical focus, with the opportunity to take part in cadaveric dissection and utilise their world class research facilities. The quality of teaching is second-to-none with academic staff integrating their own research into their lectures, to really give a feel for what the University has contributed to the global science community. Sheffield has been the perfect city for me to study in; its proximity to the Peak District has meant I've been able to enjoy the beautiful walks and wild swims whilst being close to the student night-life and top-rated Students' Union.

What have you enjoyed most about your course so far?

The amount of choice students get in choosing their modules is far greater than I expected, especially after speaking to Biomedical Science students from other universities, particularly in final year. This meant I could study modules which I enjoyed the most, and which I would get the most benefit from when thinking about my postgraduate options. I thoroughly enjoyed my final year research project in which I was allocated a disease (Multiple Sclerosis) and was able to pick my own dissertation title to research into - this made it highly engaging, as I was able to pick an area of the disease I was most interested in and found engaging. I chose to look at disease diagnostics and how they could be improved to get a better disease outcome for patients.

What skills have you developed during your course?

My scientific writing skills (and understanding of others' scientific writing pieces!) have undoubtedly improved through both university assignments which give you a taste of different writing styles (lab reports, literature reviews, research proposals) but also across my placement year where I was exposed to clinical trial documentation that is given to patients or reviewed by professionals on ethics committees. As a biomedical scientist, I think this is so important for future work, as it teaches you to question what you read, and to challenge things, instead of taking things for face-value. This is also highlighted by academics when reviewing research and data in lectures.

What did you do for your placement year?

During my placement year I worked as a Clinical Development Associate for GSK. I was based at their Phase I Clinical Trials Unit within Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. My role was largely involved in coordinating the teams that worked on each different trial, and communicating effectively across teams to ensure that the timeline was met. It was exciting to know that the work I was doing was contributing directly to people. Whether that was the Informed Consent Forms that I authored that were given to participants to sign (an important step in clinical trials!) or scheduling participants into beds on the ward. There are so many trials going on at any one time so you get to learn about many different diseases and disease aspects.

What were the best things about your placement?

It can be very nerve-wracking starting placement because you feel as though you don't know anything compared to everyone else there. But it is extremely satisfying to come away from the year and look back on how far you came in terms of knowledge (for me that was around conducting Phase 1 Clinical Trials) but especially in terms of confidence. If you'd have told me at the beginning of my placement how much responsibly I would be comfortably and voluntarily taking on in the final months, I would have laughed at you (and maybe cried a little...)! You meet so many new people and the network of placement students within the larger companies are great spaces to socialise and find out that you're not the only one who has no idea what they're doing at first. Placement years are as much about personal development as they are about professional development, and I can not advocate for them enough.

What would you say to a student thinking about studying your course at Sheffield?

If you are looking for a course which gives you plenty of options, and a good mixture of lecture-based teaching versus practical teaching then this course will suit you well and give you a broad skillset which you can take with you to whichever career excites you. Sheffield is such a friendly place to study and the staff can not find enough ways to support students through their studies, whether that's by putting on additional support sessions or through 1-2-1 support for both academic help and mental wellbeing.

What are you planning to do after your degree?

I will be taking my university and placement year skills away with me and applying them to a new role in clinical research or healthcare. I will be excited for whatever comes my way as long as I know it is contributing to bettering patient's lives, whether that's directly in the NHS or via testing new medicines in clinical research. The opportunities that come with a Biomedical Science BSc are endless and quite frankly I'm still not done with exploring even half of the options!

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