Science student talks about her time on industry placement
Second year Applied Science student Eleanor Ancliffe completed an Industry Placement with Reach Separations Ltd during her first year at college. Her host company specialises in the separation and purification of small molecules through chromatography for customers in the fine chemical, pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.
Eleanor underwent a selection process to secure her placement, submitting her CV and being interviewed at college. Then, alongside her studies for her Level 3 BTEC Diploma, she embarked on her placement, attending two days a week for approximately six months, commuting by train to Reach’s laboratory at a bio-tech industry hub in Nottingham city centre.
Although she was sure she wanted to gain experience in a science laboratory, Eleanor was very nervous in the beginning. She said: “I felt incredibly apprehensive before my placement: I was entering a completely new and alien environment and was not sure what to expect!”. Thankfully Reach put Eleanor at her ease and a member of their staff acted as her mentor to support her along the way.
Describing her placement Eleanor said, “While at my placement, I was fulfilling the role of laboratory technician. Initially, I was responsible for cleaning glassware, ensuring that solvents and consumables were readily available for the scientists and helping with shipping. However, as I progressed in my placement, I was taught how to clean down various bits of high tech equipment and the chromatography kit.” Some of this specialist equipment is worth many thousands of pounds and the cleaning process itself is very technical, so a great level of trust was placed in her. Eleanor added, “The highlight of the placement for me was when I was able to work more autonomously: it proved that I was trusted to work with minimal supervision. This meant a lot considering I had never done anything like it before.”
Throughout her placement Eleanor was taught about the chemistry behind the activities in the lab and about the process of performing a separation. She said, “I was taught about chiral and achiral separations, as well as seeing mass spectrometry being used in an industrial setting.
“The staff made me feel like a part of the team, rather than an outsider. They encouraged me to get involved, were patient while I learnt what to do and explained everything they were doing as I shadowed them so I could learn about the process.”
The placement has supported Eleanor’s studies too. She said, “Just by being in the lab environment, I picked up a lot of knowledge that helped with the chemistry-oriented coursework. Also, through the experience of operating in a lab, it improved my confidence in performing practicals for my college assignments.”
There was though one particular challenge to overcome. Eleanor explained that being able to talk to people has never been her strong suit. She said, “I was too anxious to talk to any of the staff at first. But by the end I could hold a conversation about the work with any of the staff. In fact one of the main benefits of the placement has been developing my teamwork and communication skills - in such a small and tight-knit company I had to! – and it’s improved my skills both professionally and socially too.”
The industry placement has also informed Eleanor’s decisions about her future career. She said, “It became apparent early on that the lab was an environment that I was comfortable in and one that I could see myself working in. I found myself picking up what was going on pretty quickly and discovered that the lab work was interesting, so I’ve decided that this is something I want to do for a career.”
“I can see that the industry placement at Reach is one of the best things I have ever done. It has provided me with so much experience that will be useful when it comes to finding a career in my desired field and it’s expanded my horizons in terms of the jobs available within the science industry,” she added.
Indeed looking ahead, Eleanor’s placement has already proved a great springboard for her journey beyond college as she is now planning to take up a Higher Level Apprenticeship at Reach Separations and the University of Nottingham. Her journey shows how much you can achieve with resilience, commitment and an industry placement!