How did you find your current placement?
Finding a placement was challenging. Thousands of students across the country are competing for similar opportunities, and it was difficult to meet application deadlines while working on the multiple assignments I had at university in my second year. I had to develop a lot of organisation and prioritization skills to be able to balance my studies with searching and applying for placements.
At one point, I had lost hope in getting a placement. I had applied to 37 different placement roles in various companies and very few had got back to me. Thankfully, I got help from the Mentoring Scheme run by the PDC (Professional Development Centre) where I was assigned an external mentor from a field I wanted a placement in – pharmaceuticals. She gave her time away from work to help me develop essential skills such as CV-writing, preparing for interviews and group assessment skills.
Over time my applications improved and I was invited to two different group assessments. I wasn’t successful in the first one, but I got through the second one and luckily was offered a position just when I had given up hope on ever getting a placement. I’m now working in the marketing department for a pharmaceutical company.
What does a typical day involve?
Every day is different. As soon as I get into the office I deal with all kinds of email requests, so I might need to get an approval form ready for a company event, to make sure it is in line with the ABPI code of practice which every pharmaceutical company follows. On other days I might be planning events and organising them using an advisory board consisting of experts within the field to make sure the outcome of the event is in line with the objective. My role also includes updating different schemes used by the sales team, reading and keeping up to date with the latest clinical papers and then creating materials or slides to help the sales team during their calls with customers.
There is a lot to get involved with and even though I am part of the marketing team, this doesn’t mean I’m restricted to marketing roles. There are also opportunities where I can increase my skills helping out in different areas of the business.
What have been the highlights of this experience?
The whole process of gaining a placement was an interesting journey which I enjoyed even though it was a struggle at times. The application process was something very new to me and getting through all the different stages was something I learnt a lot from.
The real highlight is the placement itself which has been amazing. Recently, I went to a conference where leading healthcare professionals from across the country gave talks on improving patient care in hospitals. Here I had the opportunity to speak to various healthcare professionals to gain further knowledge. It helped me understand the relationship between pharmaceutical companies, healthcare professionals and my role as a marketer as I designed the banners inviting healthcare professionals to attend a lead Ipsen symposium.
Going on a field visit to a hospital with the sales team was another highlight. I gained insight into the significance of a particular drug and how it changes patient care for the better, allowing me to appreciate the impact a pharmaceutical company can have on patients.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and how have you overcome them?
One of the challenges in securing a placement was becoming comfortable with doing video interviews. However over time I improved with practice and finally I overcame that difficulty and gained confidence in this area.
A big challenge that I faced while on my placement was getting used to working in the pharmaceutical industry, as the real world can be very different to what you learn at university. Getting used to specific acronyms, understanding the different drug types, different roles within the business, the people associated with the roles, compliance and how you communiciate with people from different sides of the business. It was a huge learning curve and helped me to consistently discover new things by posing questions and speaking to people in different roles.
How has the PDC helped your professional development?
Gaining a mentor through the Professional Mentoring scheme really helped me to get a placement. But activities and workshops held by the PDC were also really beneficial. For example, I attended a workshop where we gave a presentation to a panel of three interviewers. They were each from different professional backgrounds and gave me useful feedback from their different perspectives. This meant that when I faced an interview panel in real life, I was well-prepared and was able to get through to the next stage.
What advice would you give to students looking for a placement role?
One piece of advice I would give to everyone is to be yourself when you go for an interview. It’s not as bad as you may think, as they expect you to be human and not a robot who has drilled their interview answers a million times. If you are yourself, you know that if you get the job it will be a good fit for you and there will be no need to pretend to be somebody you’re not when you start work.
Secondly, make sure you have researched the role you are applying for to decide if it is suitable for you and if you will enjoy it. I was offered the role of trainer at a different pharmaceutical company which did not appeal to me, and so I declined the offer. If I had not done so I would not be enjoying my placement year as much as I currently am.
My last piece of advice is to talk to the people around you. If you’re interested in what they do but have no clue what their job involves, don’t be shy about asking. There are many people out there who couldn't imagine anything better than to talk about what they do and to clarify their jobs. Getting a Linked In account will likewise assist you with picking up valuable knowledge about the jobs you want to apply for.