Aidan Johnson

Aiden spent 3 months at Domainex, a contract research company in the Cambridge area. This is a growing company of around 100 people across both chemistry and biology sites, largely conducting early-stage drug discovery for their clients. 

What did you do?

I was involved in an internal research project, rather than a client funded project. This is something the company has limited resources to do usually, with income largely coming from client projects. As the primary day-to-day synthetic chemist on the project, I synthesised >20 molecules for the library the company was building. This involved synthesis, purification, and characterisation of these products, as well as reporting results, issues, and resolutions to the team fortnightly. 

In addition to this, I both saw and was involved in procedures I had not experienced before, such as direct-to-biology assays and physicochemical assays. These were interesting both to broaden my horizons and see the work (other than just synthesis) that goes into a medicinal chemistry project.

I also made use of industry-standard computational software for property prediction and compared this to experimental data I generated myself.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I am a chemist at heart, and knowing I wanted to stay in science, I thought it would be valuable experience to spend some time in industry – previously I had only worked in academic labs. I also wanted to see the more applied side of the sometimes quite basic research I am involved in.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I sent out a lot of cold emails to both contract research and small pharma companies, the vast majority of which were ignored. At a conference I approached Phillip, who was manning the Domainex stand, and asked if they they had previously taken a PIPS student, or would be willing to. Although they hadn’t had a PIPS student specifically before, they do regularly host students e.g. undergraduate industrial placement students.

It was then fairly straightforward to arrange a timing that suited us both and for me to find accommodation in Cambridge.

Aidan with the football team he joined in Cambridge.
Aidan with the football team he joined in Cambridge.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have gained insight into how (a part) of the chemistry industry operates – both the similarities and differences to academia. This has helped me focus ideas about my own career path, as well as contextualising my PhD work.

I have made friends, both within and outside of work, started playing football, and expanded my network of contacts.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

An enjoyable 3-month change of scene from the PhD.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

People running stalls at conferences are usually very happy to talk to someone!

If you are considering working in industry, a PIPS is a good way to test the waters and get your foot in the door.

Don’t be afraid to ask about money, as awkward as it feels.

Jessica Edge – Labcorp

Labcorp logo

For her PIPS, Jessica worked with Labcorp at the Harrogate location Labcorp is a life sciences and healthcare company that works in drug development as well as a range of other areas.

The featured image is the Labcorp logo

Where did you go and what did you do?

I completed my PIPS at Labcorp in Harrogate. The majority of my time was spent working alongside a post-doc in the Immunology and Immunotoxicology department. We were developing a project working on designing a vessel on a chip model which could be used to test cancer treatments on human vessel models before they would be used on actual humans. I also had the opportunity to experience day to day work in an industrial drug development company including areas in Flow Cytometry, Cell Based Assays and Immunoassays.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

Labcorp is a company that I have been interested in applying to work at after my PhD so I thought it would be good to get some experience of what it is like to work there, how they operate and work out whether it would be something I would like to do. It is also a totally different field to my PhD (Immunology, where my PhD is reproductive biology) so I wanted to branch out and learn about a wholly different area which has always interested me. 

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I got in contact with a member of staff at Leeds Uni who is involved in running a Masters course which arranges placements at Labcorp for the Masters students. He was able to put me in contact with someone at Labcorp who was able to take this further for me. I had to keep reminding and asking her and pushing to get it arranged, as they don’t usually take on students for placements as short as 3 months. 

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

The main thing I have gained is confidence in myself and my scientific abilities. Having only ever worked in one lab, I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome. Walking into another company with no expectations of me as they know I am not from an immunology background, yet my knowledge still being applicable and useful for them has been massively confidence boosting for me. I was able to be confident in myself and know that I can apply myself to different situations and make a difference.
I have also picked up some techniques I would like to incorporate into my own PhD. I have had an experience of working at this company which will help me decide if it is something I would like to do long term. Along with this, I have made contacts at Labcorp who have told me I am welcome to come back to work there after my PhD.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Overall it was a really positive experience, I think it was nice to have a break from my PhD and remove the stress and concentrate on something completely different for a while. I have been able to come back to my PhD with a totally fresh mind. It was great to have a sample of what working for that company in industry is like.
The issue with this placement is that because it is such a short placement of only 3 months, Labcorp are unable to complete training with me to be allowed to conduct study work. Therefore the only client study work interaction I got was to observe. I was only able to contribute hands on to the non-study developmental work. This meant at times it was a little boring and I would have not much to do. That said, it was useful to experience just how the company runs as a whole and how everything works in industry.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I think I had my PIPS at a good time, at the beginning of my third year (just before I think its all about to get really stressful). I think it was good that I got an experience of a company I am thinking about applying to after my PhD as I now have a lot of contacts and a taster of what it is like to work there. I would say write a really really detailed list of everything you have going on in your PhD before you go on PIPS, down to the simplest information as you would be surprised how much you forget and how out of touch you will feel when you get back.

Adam Parker – Enza Zaden

For his PIPS, Adam went to Enza Zaden in the Netherlands. Enza is an international vegetable breeding company and seed supplier.

The featured image is of tulip/hyacinth fields in spring

Adam in the greenhouse with his lettuce

What did you do?

At the company, I worked in the Phytopathology team, which is involved in all aspects related to plant immunity. They develop tools for diagnosis, and detection of crop diseases, as well as identifying resistance genes that can be used in breeding programmes. During my time, I worked primarily with lettuce, where I tested certain lines for their tolerance to drought and disease resistance to Downy mildew (Bremia lactucae).

What made you want to do that particular placement?

My PhD project is mostly fundamental science. I wanted an opportunity that demonstrated how similar work can be used for agriculture. Enza as a company invests a large sum of money into research as they appreciate the value this has in the development of new crop varieties. I also wanted to go somewhere abroad as I think being exposed to new work environments and cultures has benefits both in personal development and career outlook. Therefore, Enza Zaden was a perfect match for me.

The company grounds

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

Enza has previously worked with Uni of Sheffield and therefore my PhD supervisor was able to give me a contact in the phytopathology team. I reached out to them and asked if they would be willing to host me for 3 months. I was lucky enough that they said yes! I tried to plan my PIPS to land at the start of my 3rd year just after Christmas. For me, it was the best time to do it as it gave a nice midway break to the PhD.

Friday drinks at the docks

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

Working at a company gave me an insight into life outside of academia. While I am still not set on my career path, I was delighted to have enjoyed it so much. I would certainly consider and/or seek out a career in industry. Aside from the technical skills of working at a breeding company, I think I gained the most in terms of personal development. I was thrown into an unfamiliar situation in an unfamiliar country, which forced me to find my feet and socialise with new people. I think this has boosted my ability to form professional contacts and friends in a relatively short period of time. I have also come back to Sheffield with a fresh perspective on work/life balance. 

The view from Adam’s desk

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Excellent! I don’t think it could have worked out much better. I was in a friendly department in a company that matched my interests. I had accommodation and a small stipend which made moving out there super easy. Furthermore, the town had multiple large breeding companies which meant there was a welcoming and lively international community of similarly aged people. 

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

It’s critical to plan the timing of your PIPS placement well. Not necessarily in terms of a certain year of your PhD, but in a way that doesn’t disrupt your PhD work. I had a natural transition between experiments at the start of my third year, so I decided to do my PIPS then. This meant I could wrap up one aspect of my work before leaving, ready to start a new aspect when I came back. In doing so, I was not stressed and/or working on my PhD while I was away, which allowed me to make the most of the 3-month placement.

Kathryn Billane – National Trust

Where did you go and what did you do?

I worked for the National Trust as an Assistant Ranger in the High Peak. The role was very practical, and combined manual labour in a countryside context, practical conservation and relationship management with all the people who live, work and visit the land.

The work was incredibly varied and responsive. Many days were devoted to maintenance of borders either through fencing or drystone walling. Borders must be stock proof to keep farmer’s livestock in for their own safety and the safety of vehicles and trains. They also become damaged frequently by time, weather, falling trees, car accidents and indeed cows deciding to plough through them. There were conflicting interests at times in these cases, for example farmers being unhappy with a change in the gates along bridleways that conflicted with the Trust’s inclusivity policies to install more accessible gates. Another such instance occurred when a fence replacement was needed on a farm, but badgers had created a set along the fence line and badger protection states that the ground cannot be disturbed within 10 meters of a badger set. However, the border needs to be stock proof and cannot be moved further into the field as this would create loss of income for the farmer. Yet we needed to be responsible towards the badgers, so alternative fencing solutions had to be found.

A drystone wall and a fence like the ones Kathryn was maintaining

Much of the work involved conservation and preservation of the land. Kinder Scout has a massive peatland conservation project ongoing. I was able to see the progression of sites from 20 years back that had blocked water gullies and a variety of vegetation planted including sphagnum moss and cotton grass. This created good conditions for water retention, peat conservation and peat growth. Other conservation was aimed at reducing erosion from tourism, particularly important around Mam Tor. Not only is this an incredibly popular site, to the point that ‘desire lines’ that veer off the main paths cause scars on the landscape, but due to the geology the whole hillside is slipping. This is also what is currently happening to snake pass. My third example is caused by a combination of climate change and irresponsible tourism. We had severe drought most of the summer and record temperatures in July and August which meant the fire risk was extreme. Some of my time was spent on fire patrol, watching the land for signs of smoke so that any fire could be responded to quickly, responding to reports of BBQs which were banned during this time, and encouraging people to stay away from the moors in extreme heat. There were 3 fires this summer all caused by disposable BBQs. While none were technically on National Trust land, it is still devastating.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

Prior to this placement I spent a lot of time in the peak district. My main motivations were that I wanted to give back and help maintain the land and I wanted skills and contacts in a more practical field, to contrast the laboratory and analytical skills that I’ll gain from my PhD.

It’s important to keep doors open for alternative career paths, and I wanted to see whether my project management skills could fit into an organisation such as this.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

Charitable organisations such as the National Trust rely heavily on volunteer work. I went through the volunteering channels and asked to be put in contact with a group based in the peak district. From there I organised the placement with the area Ranger for the high peak directly.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I’ve gained many practical conservation and countryside skills I would never have otherwise had access to – for instance dry stone walling is a dying trade. I also learned a great deal that could be helpful as a scientist if I ever undertake field work in challenging environments – such as building shelters and storage with second hand or minimal materials and driving a vehicle off road. I learned a lot about managing groups of people who represent different interests and the challenges and conflicts this can produce. Resolving these issues involved problem solving, compromise and presenting information differently, appropriate to the audience that was receiving it.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

During my experience I found myself on the back foot for a while at the beginning as I came up the learning curve, but then grew to be an incredibly enjoyable job as you could see the difference your efforts made in the land. It was a joy to work outdoors for 3 months and I was part of an incredibly lovely team of people.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Choose something completely different to what you do as a researcher. It’ll open your eyes to how adaptable you can be and give you confidence in your transferable skills.

Carmen Apostol – LabLogic

For her PIPS, Carmen worked at a Sheffield-based international company called LabLogic who specialise in manufacturing and servicing instruments for nuclear radiation detection for medical, pharmaceutical and research applications.

The featured image is of the LabLogic logo.

What did you do?

My tasks were varied and I worked closely with the R&D team to test new prototypes for different nuclear radiation detectors. For instance, I tested several prototypes for detector probes that are used during breast cancer surgery to locate sentinel lymph nodes after the patients have been injected with Technetium-99. I also tested a new type of detector for an instrument used in pharmaceutical and research fields to analyse the purity of compounds labelled with radioactive isotopes. At times, I helped the production team qualify instruments before they were shipped off to customers around the world. For each of the projects that I was involved in, I wrote reports of my analyses and attended meetings where my data were discussed and used to inform the next steps in instrument design.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

Initially when I started searching for PIPS hosts, I was looking for local companies with ties to the medical or research fields. I saw on LabLogic’s website that they specialise in nuclear radiation detectors and that seemed very appealing to me as a large part of my PhD has involved work with radioisotopes. I also noticed on their website a “customer review” video featuring my secondary supervisor, Dr Dan Bose. Dan told me he had a good experience with LabLogic in the past and encouraged me to contact them.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I emailed the contact address on LabLogic’s website and the head of R&D, Tom, who eventually became my supervisor, got back to me and arranged an in-person meeting to visit the headquarters. While there, I was shown around all the instruments they manufacture and introduced to the team and afterward we discussed their ongoing projects and how I could contribute during a 3-month placement.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

The PIPS experience helped me get a better appreciation of what working in industry could be like and I feel more encouraged to pursue a non-academic career now. I have gained more confidence in my transferable skills, which I successfully applied during the placement when setting up experiments, analysing results or producing figures and reports to share my findings. This experience also provided me with a better understanding of the many steps necessary in taking a product from concept to market, especially in such a highly regulated environment such as nuclear medicine and pharmacology.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

I had a very good time during my PIPS, thanks in particular to the very friendly and welcoming team who made me feel at ease early on. It was interesting and refreshing to learn about a different field to my own and focus on other challenges than the ones I was used to encountering in the lab and I am grateful for the opportunity to do a PIPS.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Before you contact a company for the PIPS, ask others who have been involved with that company about their experience. Working with a friendly team is in my opinion just as important as the project, because it defines how welcomed you feel at the company and affects your overall experience a lot. 

Don’t be put off by the thought of taking 3 months away from your project, it will be useful to come back to the lab with fresh eyes and see your experiments in a new light.

Luke Fountain – Grobotic Systems

Luke undertook his PIPS placement with Grobotic Systems, a small Sheffield-based start-up that builds bespoke next-generation plant growth cabinets for research, with input from Jacob Torres, the founder of the Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge.

The featured image is of the Grobiotic Systems’ logo.

What did you do?

My placement was partly remote, partly run at Grobotic’s workshop and partly at the University of Sheffield. I carried out the placement part-time over the course of 12 months. 

During my placement we created the ‘SpaCEA project’ (Space Controlled Environment Agriculture), and I designed and constructed a series of plant growth cabinets that replicate NASA’s advanced Plant Habitat (APH), for use both in ground-based space plant research and as tools for outreach, illustrating the similarities between plant growth technology used in space and that being developed on Earth to improve food security. 

Images showing cabinet assembly (above) and testing (below)

I had the opportunity to apply for a pump-priming grant from The University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food which I was successfully awarded and was awarded additional funding by the institute to produce a podcast and short animated film highlighting the similarities between crop growth in space and on Earth.

Luke at the Pop-Up University outreach event September 2021

I also had the opportunity to work closely with the University of Sheffield’s public engagement team and have exhibited the cabinets and film at their Pop-Up University event in Sheffield city centre, and most recently at the Institute’s ‘Feeding the world without costing the Earth’ launch event at The Royal Society in London. 

Polyurethane foam testing

The cabinets are now being used to test the performance of a polyurethane foam developed in Sheffield as a growth substrate compared to NASA’s current growth substrate, and I was intimately involved with the design and setup of this experiment, which will also test the potential of the cabinets for this type of research.

We have also created an outreach challenge called the Space Foam Crop Growth Challenge as a spin-off of the PIPS and this experiment, which we hope will run over the next year.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I have long been interested in plant growth in space and would like to work in the field after completing my PhD. Because it is a relatively small field, I wanted to use my PIPS as an opportunity to gain experience in the area. I am an aspiring astronaut and recently applied for the latest ESA call for astronauts, and I hoped that this placement would enhance my application and any future applications that I make.

Prior to securing this placement, I had originally been in contact with NASA about carrying out a placement at Kennedy Space Center, but unfortunately COVID made this impossible and I was forced to look for alternatives.

Mission patches: SpaCEA (left) and Space Foam Crop Growth Challenge (right)

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

The placement came about after discussions with Jacob online through the Space Chile Challenge and through connecting with Alexis at Grobotic Systems via colleagues in my PhD lab. Between us we came up with a placement that would be spread across remote working and using the facilities available in Sheffield, while also exposing me to a different work environment at Grobotic Systems where possible. We agreed a flexible, part-time placement would be most suitable in case COVID changed plans and to best fit in with my PhD work, where I was about to run a large-scale experiment that was time sensitive.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I thoroughly enjoyed my PIPS and it gave me the opportunity to communicate and network with scientists and engineers working in space plant biology, which is key to my career aspirations. I had the opportunity to learn about and actively engage in space plant biology, in addition to learning a host of new and useful skills including how to design hardware, how to program Raspberry Pi-based systems, and how to wire up electronic components. 

I was able to write a small grant application and liaise with the Institute for Sustainable Food and the public engagement team to create the necessary material and organise the setup of our exhibitions for various events, which requires a lot more work than I had expected! 

I was able to experience first-hand the challenges and rewards of working at a small start-up and having numerous opportunities to engage both the public and other researchers in the work that we were doing gave me new ideas to apply to increasing visibility of my PhD work.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

My PIPS was an unforgettable experience. To contribute even in a small way to a field I am very passionate about was a dream come true, and I had the chance to work with many different people and in many different areas that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to as part of my PhD.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Think outside the box. My PIPS was unconventional in almost every sense – adapting a PIPS during COVID was not easy but eventually allowed me to do a fantastic placement. Doing the placement part time not only helped me better accommodate the PIPS around my PhD, but also gave me more opportunities during my placement in the long run.

If there is a particular field/type of placement you would like to do, the best thing to do is find and contact those in the field/organisation – while some placements are advertised, many have not taken on PIPS placements before, but you will be surprised how many are willing to take you on.

Megan Clarke – The Royal Society

The Royal Society logo

For Megan‘s PIPS, she joined the Science Policy department at The Royal Society, working with the Living Landscapes team on the upcoming ‘Multifunctional Landscapes’ policy Report which explores the evidence for how the land can be utilised to deliver multiple outputs.

The featured image is of The Royal Society logo.

What did you do?

I was tasked with gathering evidence, writing sections of the report, making figures, editing, and proof reading.

The Multifunctional Landscapes Report is due to be published in November 2022 and I attended meetings to discuss launch plans with expert Steering Group members. The Living Landscapes team were keen to invite ministers to the launch event so I also wrote and sent invites to the Secretaries of State from Defra (George Eustice) and DLUHC (Michael Gove, at the time).

Megan volunteering at the Summer Science Exhibition

Using the evidence outlined in the Report, I also prepared a response to a House of Lords inquiry on Land Use in England on behalf of The Royal Society. This gave me the opportunity to write for a policy audience and improved my communication skills in this area.

My time at The Royal Society coincided with their annual Summer Science Exhibition which is the Society’s flagship public engagement event. Throughout the week, I volunteered as a Let’s Talk Careers Session Facilitator which provided A-Level students with an insight into a wide variety of research careers within science. 

What made you want to do this particular placement?

I wanted to gain an insight into potential career options in science communication and science policy and the UKRI Policy Internship gave me the opportunity to do this. I chose The Royal Society as it is the UK’s National Academy of Science and has a strong influence on government policymaking. I felt that a placement here would allow me to work on some of the most pressing policy issues.  

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I applied to the UKRI Science Policy internship scheme online. This involved answering questions about why I had chosen my particular host partner, and why I wanted to do the internship. I also had to write a 2-page POST Note style policy briefing on an issue of my choice. 

After submitting my application, I was contacted by my chosen host partners and invited to interviews via Teams. When I was offered a place, I was put in touch with my future line manager at The Royal Society to discuss the logistics of my internship.  

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have gained a lot of valuable skills that I will bring back to my PhD and that I can use in my future career. I am more confident in my own abilities and know that if I wanted a career in science policy in the future, I would be well-equipped to succeed in one.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

I really enjoyed my time at The Royal Society and learnt a lot about science policy, which was an area I previously knew very little about. I appreciated my time away from the lab and valued the opportunity to gain insight into careers outside of academia.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Don’t worry if you’re not too sure what you want to do after your PhD – and don’t let that influence where you apply to do your PIPS. Anywhere you go will provide you with great transferrable skills and give you an awareness of what careers are on offer outside of academia. Even if, at the end, you don’t see yourself working in the field you chose for your PIPS, at least you’ve learned that!


If you are interested in applying to the UKRI policy internship scheme, you can find more details here!

Freddy Weaver – Wild Trout Trust

A photograph of Freddy Weaver working on a large tree laid across a river

For his PIPS, Freddy worked for the Wild Trout Trust: a conservation charity working across the UK and Ireland.

The featured image is of Freddy working for WTT.

What did you do?

During my PIPS I worked for the Wild Trout Trust which involved travelling to numerous sites across North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire to becks and rivers in: Aire, Swale, Nidd, Wharfe, Calder and Ribble catchments. The placement involved both fieldwork and office work. The fieldwork element was incredibly varied and was fantastic. Fieldwork comprised of two main elements habitat monitoring or habitat improvement works. 

Habitat monitoring work involved electrofishing on becks, in this work an electric current was passed through the water to temporarily stun the fish. Fish were then collected with species diversity, population and population age makeup measured. This would give an insight into condition of watercourse and potential issues such as relating to fish spawning for example. Other issues such as over grazing and sediment ingress or presence of weirs that are blockers to fish passage were noted during electrofishing or walkovers of new stretches and reported on. 

Habitat improvement works involved a variety of both in and out of stream approaches with an overarching goal of increasing biodiversity, fish population size and spawning habitat. Examples of such work were installation of flow defectors, removal or notching of weirs, selective felling and laying of trees into watercourses and removal of culverts.

Office work involved writing reports detailing habitat on becks, blog posts for interaction with wider community and attending meetings with a wide variety of partners to discuss issues, challenges and funding for future and past projects. 

Check out Freddy’s blog posts here:

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I am a keen fisherman and have a passion for the outdoors particularly relating to the aquatic environments. The Wild Trout Trust’s approach of using native brown trout as a keystone species for evaluating overall habitat health results in large benefit across a wide variety of urban and rural habitats both in the water and out. So, the opportunity to give my help and time to this wonderful goal was a real appeal. Furthermore, it was the opportunity to try something completely different from my day-to-day lab work and learn so much about an environment I cherish and have enjoyed since childhood. Finally a summer outdoors in the wonderful Yorkshire countryside I felt would be a lovely break and recharge from my academic studies.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I decided that working with environmental charities that specialise in the aquatic environment was my choice for PIPS. I then proceeded to email local and national charities that do this work with my CV, an explanation of who I was, what PIPS involved, and why I wanted to apply to them. Unfortunately, a number failed to respond or communication broke down on their end. However, on contacting the WTT I had a response and was put in touch with Yorkshire Research & Conservation officer Professor Jonathan Grey and after a phone call interview he decided to go ahead with me and the PIPs programme.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

It has given an insight into not only the challenges facing our waterways, but a more holistic understanding of the working environment that is our countryside. Furthermore, it has given me an introduction to the wider world of ecology and habitat improvement. In addition, it has improved my communication skills in both written and oral form. In particular communication of ideas to both a technical and non-technical audience such as outreach at country shows.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

A summer that I will treasure for a long time. That succinctly encapsulates my feelings toward the last three months working with the Trust. A brilliant time that taught me so much about the natural world and how we can work to rectify the damage that we have done to it. Just fantastic.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

It is my belief that PIPS is a fantastic opportunity to broaden horizons to what work is available beyond your own academic speciality. In particular if you have a passion, try to find a PIPS that in some way works in that field and follow your heart rather than doing the expected norm within your area. 

Make it as enjoyable as you can and cherish this opportunity to try something new. A PhD is hard so why not use the 3-months to discover something new and have fun!

Katie Gelder – Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC)

Katie Gelder, a 4th-year PhD student at the University of Sheffield, completed her PIPS at the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), based at Alderley Park in Cheshire.

Where did you go and what did you go?

I did my PIPS at the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC). A non-profit organisation of ~ 140 people, which aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry, generating a wealth of knowledge and contacts to further drug discovery. MDC is mainly funded by Innovate UK but also has an assortment of assays that are available at a fee for service. This enables smaller companies and groups, that don’t have the equipment or expertise, to progress in the drug discovery pipeline, reducing the time it takes to get medicines to patients. 

My project was to develop an ex vivo assay to study mouse brains and tumours to determine the effects of drugs on specific cell types, such as neuronal networks in the brain or vasculature in tumours following an in vivo project. This will allow us to determine more specifically the mechanism of action of the drug of interest. This project was a collaboration between the pre-clinical imaging team and the microscopy team, providing me with the opportunity to perform tissue fixation, immunofluorescence and several different microscopy techniques while learning how to analyse 3D datasets.

Katie Gelder (left) spent three months at the MDC performing tissue fixation, immunofluorescence and other microscopy techniques (pictured).

What made you want to do that particular placement?

This placement stood out to me for several reasons. Firstly, I was extremely interested in experiencing this middle ground between industry and academia. I know that I want to stay in science and so I wanted to gain experience in an industry that I had not yet considered. The cross-functional nature of this project between the pre-clinical imaging team and the microscopy team was also appealing, by having the chance to work with different people I had more of an opportunity to learn. I have also never done in vivo work before or worked with tissues – this project was the perfect crash course into another area of science that I have not yet had the opportunity to experience. Overall, this placement ticked a lot of boxes for me.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I learned about this placement through a job advert circulated through the Science Graduate School at the University of Sheffield. These placements were competitive and not specifically directed at White Rose BBSRC PhD Students. The project which I applied for was well defined, and after sending through my application and interviewing I was delighted to have got the offer to undertake a 4-month placement at MDC. 

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have learned a lot during my PIPS placement, not necessarily all scientific based. It is true that I have gained experience working with tissues including fixing and tissue clearing along with the challenges that are posed when looking at whole mouse organs and analysing large datasets. I have also gained a greater knowledge of Scientific drug discovery outside of larger pharmaceutical companies, and how rewarding it can be to work with smaller enterprises. This experience has also increased my appreciation for collaboration – working within MDC has taught me that so much can be achieved just by sending an email. At MDC I have not only gained industry experience but skills that I will continue to use throughout my career.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Overall, I have really enjoyed working for the MDC, the environment which is cultivated there is one of innovation and collaboration, a group of lovely individuals working towards the same goal. I have gained so much experience that was outside the scope of my PhD and managed to make a lot of progress in such a short amount of time. This placement has opened my eyes to the different options available post-PhD either in an organisation like the MDC or in drug discovery in smaller companies.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Choose a PIPS placement that allows you to gain the newest experience in a field/industry that you are interested in. It’s the perfect opportunity to try something new and learn something that you otherwise would not have the opportunity to do.

Ruth Thomas – The Oxford Trust

Ruth, undertaking her PhD at the University of Sheffield, has completed her PIPS placement at The Oxford Trust, which is a charitable organisation encouraging the pursuit of science. She worked within their Education and Outreach branch known as Science Oxford.

The featured image is of the Oxford Trust logo

What did you do?

A large part of Science Oxford is their Science Oxford Centre, a hands on indoor-outdoor outreach centre full of activities and woodland to explore. They encourage the children (and adults!) that visit to try out experiments with very little instruction, aiming to make them think ‘like a scientist’.

I had several projects during my time here including the development of a ‘Live Lab’. This additional activity ran as a pop-up event alongside the centre’s Family Days and School visits. My PhD is in genetics, and so I based my Live Lab on the instructions for life (DNA) and how we can extract DNA from strawberries using things you can find in your kitchen! Although unsure at first, the look of amazement on the faces of the children when they realised what they had managed to do was fantastic!

Ruth leading a Live Lab activity where they extracted DNA from strawberries

What made you want to do that particular placement?

During my PhD I had been involved in outreach events with primary schools (Bateson Centre Aquarium), secondary schools (STEM for girls, The Brilliant Club) and also teaching undergraduate students in the lab. In all cases, the students were enthusiastic about experiencing science outside their normal learning environment. I enjoyed running the outreach activities but had little idea of the organisation and planning that went into such events. Thinking that this was potentially an area I would like to work in post-PhD, I searched for an opportunity that would allow me to continue delivering science outside a classroom but also experience the ‘behind-the-scenes’ running of such a company.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I asked for advice from friends, family and my supervisor, to see if they had worked with or had any memorable experiences with science outreach events/companies. I wanted to take the opportunity to work in a different part of the country and, as I grew up near Oxford it seemed a logical place to start. It also had the added bonus of making accommodation easy. A little research into outreach companies in Oxfordshire led me to Science Oxford. They had never taken a PIPS student before so I sent my CV along with an accompanying cover letter to a contact address I found on their website. We met online so I could explain further about the benefits of PIPS to themselves as a host company and they agreed to take me on!

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

Although I had some experience of outreach during my PhD, they tended to be events that were organised ahead of time, and I was just a volunteer. Working with Science Oxford has given me an understanding of the work that goes into the design and delivery of successful outreach events, workshops and family days. They have enhanced my communication skills, teaching me that encouraging people to think and talk about questions is far more effective than trying to get them to the ‘right’ answer. I have taken my analysis of experiments and turned it towards evaluating workshops, measuring the impact and critically assessing the successes and failures.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Inspiring, rewarding and confidence building!

The opportunity to pursue an interest and gain insight into a job role that I am potentially interested in holding in the future was invaluable. It also highlighted the fact that I had developed skills during my PhD that didn’t require a lab coat, and that these are sought after by employers.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Find an area you are currently interested in and go with it, this does not have to define your career path for the rest of your life! Don’t be afraid to send out your CV to several companies at once, it is likely that some won’t reply and others will say no but you will get there in the end! Be sure to include a detailed description of what a PIPS placement is, particularly if they have never hosted a student before, it can be a confusing concept!

Due to Covid, I ended up doing my PIPS placement 10 months before I was due to finish. Although I enjoyed every second, I would definitely recommend aiming to do it in your second or third year!

Useful links to find out more

Science Oxford wrote a blog about having Ruth as a placement student: Catapulting careers in STEM – meet our placement student (

Victoria Hill – EMBL-EBI

The logo for the European Molecular Biology Laboratory

For her PIPS, Victoria worked within the training team at EMBL-EBI (European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute) based in Cambridge. EMBL-EBI is an international organisation that handles big biological data for scientific discoveries. 

The featured image is of the EMBL-EBI logo

What did you do?

I worked with the EU projects team who are one of the managing partners for large centres of excellences and projects such as BioExcel, PerMedCoE, and RITrainPlus. My role during this time was to provide learning and career development support to professionals in computational biomolecular research. As somebody working in this field, it was an invaluable opportunity.

I was lucky enough to be involved with a number of exciting projects, from writing career profiles and a learning pathway for EBI’s new Competency Hub, to organising and hosting virtual courses and webinars, and writing content for social media. I was responsible for a couple of courses and webinars myself for which I had to create all of the course materials and facilitate discussions during the course itself; and I also worked with a small team of organisers for larger courses where, along with creating course materials, I was also involved in the selection of participants and organising social sessions. During the courses, I was an ‘expert’, which meant that I wrote-up notes from the open discussion sessions for the participants to refer to later, and also was on a panel of early career researchers for a discussion on careers in computational biomolecular research. Organising these courses and being present during them mean that I also learnt a lot regarding the software and methods that I use during my own research. I was also a useful inclusion for EMBL-EBI to their Training Team, as I was able to offer insight and opinions as one of their main target audiences for their courses.

Victoria hosting a PerMed webinar

My placement coincided with a project that is nearing its end of funding. This allowed me to be part of larger discussions regarding funding and I was also responsible for report-writing for project deliverables. Overall, it gave me a unique insight into how large project grants are managed in such an institution. I was also able to network with many researchers in my field that work on these projects from course trainers to software developers and internationally recognised researchers.

How did you find this placement?

I have been to a course organised by EMBL-EBI during the first year of my PhD and during that course, the participants were asked if they would like to get involved in testing a new learning pathway for their training website, which I did. When I started thinking about what to do for my PIPs, I then decided to contact the organiser of that course myself, who I had been in contact with already thanks to my testing of the training materials. She was happy to take me within the team as an intern and we then went on to discuss what activities I would like to do.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

Firstly, because I approached the host organisation myself, I was able to decide myself, to a certain extent, what I would like to do on my placement. Also, as my research is mostly computational based, working within bioinformatics would definitely provide me with valuable experience for my future career. When I was thinking about what to do for my PIPS, I thought about the areas that I would like to improve in, mainly communication as well as some actual research skills. This was therefore the perfect place to work on both of these.

What did you gain from your PIPS placement?

Working on the Competency Hub has taught me what competencies are and, importantly, how they can be used at my career stage. Mapping competencies to career profiles has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my own training needs and I will be sure to use the competency model to aid my own professional development going forward. The Competency Hub project is highly collaborative and involves a number of different teams within EMBL-EBI and externally. From this, I have gained perspective on different ways of managing a project, which can be directly applied to my research. I would say that my biggest improvement during my placement was surrounding communication and social media, which was an area that I wanted to work on when I started planning my PIPS. I have gained insight into how to communicate recent news in my field to different audiences as well as how to promote research and learning opportunities through social media. Owing to this, I now feel more confident in the wider area of science communication. Before my project, I was nervous about public speaking and hated giving presentations. Now, although I may not enjoy them, due to how much I had to present to my team and external partners and course participants, I feel much more capable which helps my confidence. Working in a more hybrid academia/industry setting gave me the opportunity to see new ways of working and the differences and similarities between the two. I now understand much better how I work best and how to translate that to managing my PhD project.

How would you sum up your PIPS placement?

I think my PIPS placement was especially useful for my professional development. It has not only allowed me to identify areas that I need to work on going forward but has also given me the tools that I need to do so. Having the opportunity to talk to so many researchers in my field, from PIs to Post Docs and PhD students, has given me many opportunities to think about my future career and I now feel more certain about what I want to do following my PhD.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Don’t be tempted to work on your PhD throughout your placement! As my placement was virtual and my research is mainly computational based, this would have been very easy for me, and it was something that I had planned to do. However, I actually was too busy to look at my research for the whole three months and I found it to be a very refreshing break. I am probably now more excited and ready to get back to my research than if I had continued working.

Want to find out more? Victoria has posted numerous blog posts about her experience on this PIPS placement. See links below. 

In Focus with Victoria Hill: International Day of Women and Girls in Science

What’s new in GROMACS 2022?

Science Outreach Servers: Computers for Low-Income Nations

Jess Davis – Roundabout

For her PIPS, Jess chose to do something slightly different. She volunteered for Roundabout: South Yorkshire’s biggest youth homelessness charity which supports over 300 16-25 year olds every day. Roundabout provide a range of support from emergency accommodation, to bespoke career advice and tenancy support.

The featured image is of the roundabout logo

What did you do?

I worked for a charity called Roundabout, which is South Yorkshire’s biggest youth homelessness charity, supporting over 300 16-25 year olds, every day. They provide a range of support from emergency accommodation, to bespoke career advice and tenancy support. Because Roundabout is a relatively small, local, charity I got the opportunity to work across multiple different departments, and therefore got a great feeling of the charity overall, and how charities are managed and operate.

Two days a week I worked in ‘Central services’. This is the administrative and financial side of the charity. Here I helped with housing benefit applications, balancing books and working out why some client accounts were in arrears. I also helped in the maintenance of the client database, and learnt about the legislation surrounding trustees.  

Once a week I worked at ‘Homeless prevention services’. This is a drop in service in Sheffield city centre, where young people who are homeless, or need housing advice can come, and get free, unbiased support. The best part about this service is that no young person is ever turned away, the Roundabout staff always find a safe place for them to stay. Here, I shadowed and learnt how to interview young people who presented at the service and learnt about the different streams of support available to homeless young people, either from the council or local charities. I also helped in writing their 2021 National Lottery Annual Report, and the final Children in Need report for Roundabout’s five-year funding cycle. I interpreted data collected by the drop in service and made graphs to best display the charities output and contribution towards preventing youth homelessness in South Yorkshire.  

Twice a week I worked at the Roundabout hostel. Here I improved some of their documentation for recording client information, making it more stream lined and user friendly. I also spent a lot of time getting to know the young people, and supported them in day-to-day tasks. I also independently ran ‘life skill’ sessions where I baked and cooked with the residents, and organised their Christmas party.

Cooking for the Roundabout hostel Christmas party

In addition to this, I also did some work with the fundraising team. I assisted in the organisation and running of multiple events including the ‘South Yorkshire chocolate festival’, which was attended by 2000 people, a ‘Sleep out’ event, and I also ran a stall at the Sheffield Christmas market educating the public about youth homelessness and the work of Roundabout. Finally, I also got the opportunity to work with the Grants team. I successfully wrote an application to a community grant sponsored by Vodaphone, which was awarded. I also researched and wrote a letter to City Fibre enquiring about obtaining free Wi-Fi for all residents, and applied to a community grant with the South Yorkshire Community Foundation (SYCF), both of which we are yet to hear the outcome of. 

Jess running the Roundbout ‘Sleep Out’ stall at the Sheffield Christmas market

 What made you want to do that particular placement?

I wanted to take this PIPS opportunity to experience something outside of science, and to hopefully make a positive impact on my local community. I also wanted to gain experience and skills that are more easily recognised by companies outside of science and academia, for example in finance, management and teamwork.  

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?  

I had already heard of the amazing work being done by Roundabout in South Yorkshire, so I sent them a message on the ‘Contact us’ portion of their website, describing who I am, the skills I have, and explaining what a PIPS placement entails.

I wasn’t expecting to hear back from them, but they emailed me back almost straight away! I then arranged to meet with them in person and discuss what I could potentially do during my internship. Before this meeting I had made a fresh CV and made a list of things I would like to do during the placement, which really helped steer the meeting and plan what I could be involved in. I then started 2 months later and had the best time!

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

The biggest thing that I gained from my PIPS was confidence in my abilities. Working in an environment where there were no expectations put on me meant that I really thrived. I have learnt that it’s always best to just give something a go even if you’re not 100 % sure on what you’re doing, it’s better to just try than to not do anything at all!

I gained more confidence in my ability to back myself and confidently put forward ideas. Working with a wide range of people at Roundabout has made me realise that as PhD students we have strong problem-solving skills and often come up with good ideas. It was really nice to be surrounded by other positive, enthusiastic members of staff. I also learnt so much about business and people management. Being an intern and working in so many different teams meant that I saw a lot of different working and management styles. I learnt so much about the general organisation of the charity, the hiring process, and how everyone’s roles fit into the overall running of Roundabout. Very interesting! 

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

My PIPS has been an amazing time and has made me realise that as PhD students we have a lot more skills than we think we do! I think I have grown a lot as a person. I am so grateful to my PIPS supervisor Geoff for taking me on, and to everyone at Roundabout for making it such a lovely time. Every day was so varied and I genuinely looked forward to going in every day!

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

PIPS seem like a really daunting and stressful thing to organise, but in truth they are not, I promise! If you are interested in working in the charity sector I would definitely recommend reaching out to a smaller, local charity rather than a ‘big name’ charity (i.e. CRUK, the NSPCC, Age UK etc). Smaller charities have less infrastructure and are therefore more flexible and more likely to be able to take on a PIPS. Additionally, because they generally don’t take on PhD interns you can really shape what you spend your time doing and you are special because you are the first/only one!

Maria Nikolova – Oxford University Innovation

Oxford University Innovation new logo

Maria Nikolova, a 4th-year student at the University of Leeds, completed her PIPS at Oxford University Innovation (OUI), which is the technology transfer company of the University of Oxford. She worked within the ‘A Team’, which encompasses interns and Assistant Licensing & Ventures Managers.

What did you do?

As part of the ‘A Team’, I assisted Licensing & Ventures Managers with their commercialisation projects. I received training and participated in all aspects of the commercialisation of science.

Mainly, I was involved in assessing the new disclosures that came in from academics within the university for inventions they thought to be of commercial value. This entailed:

  • patentability searches, so looking for patents, journal articles or other documents in the public domain that related to the invention to understand the broader context of the invention and which parts of it were novel (this does not apply to inventions which benefit from other forms of intellectual property protection, e.g. know-how, copyright for software, etc.);
  • marketing searches, so understanding how big the market is, what the current trends are, what deals had been made in this area (that we could benchmark against) and which companies and products are leading in the space.

I also helped write marketing profiles for technologies where the patent had been granted and the project was ready to be actively marketed. For projects which were already in the process of being actively marketed, I sought and approached relevant contacts within industry to broach the potential of a licensing agreement. Additionally, I helped to secure letters of support from industry for a translational funding grant.

There were a couple of projects that I was involved with on an ongoing basis for the duration of my internship, providing support with paperwork, customer management and marketing strategies. I was able to follow the progress of these projects and the strategies employed to make them successful.

There were also work shadowing opportunities to sit in on disclosure meetings with academics, discussions with patent attorneys, observe spinout investment negotiations and learn about ongoing licence agreements and negotiations.

I also helped with onboarding the new cohort of participants in the start-up incubator and attended some of the training events. The incubator was for students or alumni of the university whose ideas were not directly related to their university research. The team at OUI helped the participants refine their ideas and come up with a pitch for investors.

Throughout the internship I directly interacted with and managed the relationships between different stakeholders in the projects, such as the Licensing & Ventures Managers, the academics, patent attorneys and contacts in industry. I also organised for someone from the translational research office to speak to the A Team as a guest in one of our meetings, introduce the resources we can access and facilitate better collaboration between us.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I am interested in pursuing a career as a patent attorney and had spoken to a couple of people who worked in that area who recommended a placement in a university technology transfer office (TTO) as the most relevant work experience I could get during my PIPS. I also took part in the YES competition earlier that year, which had broadly introduced me to commercialisation, and really enjoyed that experience, so I thought this placement would be a great opportunity to advance my knowledge and skills in the area. OUI also played a big part in commercialising the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and is one of the most exciting TTOs in the UK, so I thought I’d have the opportunity to see a variety of different technologies and business strategies there.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I looked at some tables and rankings on the technology transfer offices of universities in the UK to see which ones were most active and where would be best to go. As I already mentioned, OUI stood out for its excellence and, additionally, they were already advertising for an internship position. After the pandemic happened, I thought it may be best to go for a TTO which was already well-prepared to host an intern. The positive experiences of other students on the DTP who did their PIPS at OUI (conversations with Jack Wright from my lab and the Case Study from Maia Harvey) solidified my choice.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have learned so much about what the day-to-day job in a technology transfer office entails and the considerations that need to be taken when you want to commercialise an invention, the main one being – there has to be a market for it! I was always involved in a breadth of different projects across life and physical sciences so I even learned about some new science! There was no formal training on this, but I do feel like I have absorbed some project management skills just by being part of the organisation and processes. I also felt like a really valued member of the company, I was given responsibilities from the start and my skills and opinions were sought after, which has been a great confidence boost. I think it’s very easy to feel incompetent during your PhD, especially when you are stuck on an experiment which is not working, so it was good to be in a workplace where I could see how my skills and experience can be applied in a professional setting and bring value.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience for me (and I only wish I had more time to be able to see projects through to success as the timelines are so long for most!). I believe the experience I gained will be invaluable in my future career as I was exposed to the different parts of commercialisation and was able to find out which ones I enjoy and which I don’t. Patents are still my favourite!  It has been so refreshing to focus my mind on something different, especially after the draining months of doing a PhD in a pandemic. It has broadened my horizons on where my skills and knowledge can be useful by interacting with the commercial side of science.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

PIPS has been an incredible opportunity to learn about an area outside of academic science that I am interested in as a potential career so I would encourage others to seek opportunities that they feel could help them expand their work experience in a relevant field. Or just follow your curiosity if you haven’t quite figured out what you want to go into yet! Outside of this, it has also been refreshing to see that my skills can be very useful in a professional setting and it has made me feel more confident about my place in the job market.

Robert Brench – ADAS

Robert is a 3rd-year PhD student at the University of Sheffield who completed his PIPS placement at ADAS, the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, policy advice and research and development. He was able to connect to ADAS with the help of LinkedIn, which has proven to be a vital networking tool. The WRDTP has its own LinkedIn group and page for our students to join and follow which we hope will enable more connections such as Robert’s in the future.

The featured image is of the logo for ADAS.

What did you do?

I worked with crop physiology and agronomy consultants at ADAS.

My first task was to review existing methods of analysing data gathered on farms and similar data sets and examine different methods to analyse the data collected over the last 7 years. I delivered the results of this as a presentation to the crop physiology group within ADAS.

The next part of my placement involved working with various consultants with trial carried out with various industrial partners using new products and techniques. This largely involved data preparation and analysis.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I have long had an interest in the agricultural sector understanding how it works, the improvements that can be made and the changes necessary to move towards a more sustainable future. As a group who work closely with UK growers and the larger companies that support these growers, ADAS was centrally placed to provide insight into these interests.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I reached out to a previous researcher at the university of Sheffield via LinkedIn and they helped me to arrange a placement.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have gained a larger appreciation of agricultural consulting. The skills that are required and the expertise and knowledge necessary. I have a greater appreciation for a range of statistical tools required in this field, some of which are transferable to my PhD work.

Secondly, the requirement to work to strict deadlines with multiple projects running in tandem has allowed the development of my organisation and time keeping skills. As well as a greater appreciation of my own abilities keeping to deadlines and the importance of reasonable expectations, particularly workload.

Finally, I have developed a network of contacts within an industry I am interested in working in after my PhD.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Overall, my PIPS placement was a very positive experience, allowing me to work in an engaging environment and providing me with first-hand experience in an industry that greatly interests me. Not only will the skills I have been able to develop, but the contacts I have made, will undoubtedly provide new potential opportunities after finishing my PhD.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I would strongly suggest investing time in researching potential roles and industries that might interest you. Linked in is a very powerful tool for reaching out to companies, with will mostly be more than happy to receive enthusiastic and skilled individuals such as those completing a PhD. Even if a role is not advertised, just contacting potential companies is a great way to potentially craft a more bespoke placement that suits what you are trying to get out of the experience.

Jake Leese – Oxitec

Jake is a PhD student at the University of Leeds who completed his PIPS placement at at Oxitec’s UK facility in Milton Park, Oxfordshire. Oxitec are a company that have been leading the way in the use of genetically modified insects as a tool for targeted pest control in areas of global health and agriculture. The most advanced of their projects is with the mosquito Aedes aegypti that transmits several viral diseases including Dengue, Zika and yellow fever. Oxitec’s FriendlyTM Aedes aegypti have been through field trials in Brazil, Panama, Cayman Islands and Florida, and are even now commercially available direct to consumers in Brazil.

The featured image is of the Molecular Building at Oxitec.

What did you do?

My placement was split into three rotations that gave me a broad overview of the work that is required to develop and maintain Oxitec’s transgenic insects. The first of these rotations was within the molecular lab, where transgene constructs are designed and transgenic individuals are genotyped to assess the viability and safety of candidate strains. The molecular team also support field trials by genotyping trap samples to monitor the spread of the transgene in wild populations. My work primarily involved DNA extractions and a variety of PCR reactions to support these tasks across several projects.

My second month was spent with the mass rearing team whose job it is to scale up insect production for future field release. I was brought into the team during a proof of concept experiment to produce 20,000 soy bean looper adults a week. This is a species of moth whose larval stage represents a serious agricultural pest in the Americas. Much of the day to day work revolved around preparing the diet and plastic housing for the larvae, and harvesting the pupae for adult cages before their eclosion. We also had to contend with consistent drawbacks from mould and viral outbreaks. We ran experiments alongside to try and establish the most efficient conditions for producing the best insect yield.

Mosquito Larva Screening

My final month was with the mosquito strain development team. Here I was performing micro-injections on Anopholes mosquito eggs, attempting to generate transgenic lines. I supported the team in maintaining and penetrance testing new lines, as well as screening the offspring larvae of injected mosquitos for first generation transgenics. The transgene includes a DsRed fluorescent marker so that the transgenic insects can easily be distinguished from their wild type counterparts.

Transgenic Larva

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I wanted to get a taste for R&D work within an industry setting and Oxitec is one of the few companies I came across that could offer this whilst combining two areas of biology that I am particularly interested in, insect biology and genetics.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

For a while I was scanning through the directory of biotech companies listed in I had reached out to several companies with no luck and then I happened upon a BBC article about Oxitec’s Aedes aegypti field trial in Florida and was immediately drawn to the company’s science and objectives.

After I saw this, I found out that an old post-doc from a partner lab at Leeds was now working there. I reached out to her and she helped bring it all together and became my key host contact throughout. This was very fortunate and reinforced the importance of having good connections.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

My time at Oxitec gave me a great insight into an industry R&D setting. Having worked in three different areas of the company and across several different projects at differing stages of development, I gained a clear overview of how the company operates. I was also lucky enough to attend two presentations by the CEO of the company whilst I was there which gave me a great perspective of how the technology was being field tested and rolled out abroad.

As well as an appreciation for the inner workings of the company, I developed a wide range of new research skills. My experience moving between labs also gave me a deeper appreciation for the subtle differences that team dynamics and communication can make in research.

Mosquito Blood Plates

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

My time working at Oxitec showed me first-hand how my skills can be applied directly to tackling real world problems. The rotations gave me a good variety of experience across several different scientific disciplines and meant I was consistently being challenged over the course of the internship. The PIPS has provided me with a refreshing break from the PhD and I’m now going back to my own project with a new perspective and enthusiasm.

What advice would you give other PGRs about PIPS?

When you are looking, think about where you may have contacts already as this will help you get your foot in the door. That being said, there’s no harm in contacting places regardless of whether you know anyone there. Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to keep asking questions throughout your internship… The better understanding you have of what you are doing, the more you will get out of the experience.

Savvas Ioannou – University of York Technology Facility

University of York logo

Savvas Ioannou is a final-year PhD student based at the University of York. For his PIPS, Savvas decided to stay on campus and spent three months working within the Technology Facility at his university. He received specialist training to oversee projects from outside his usual field of expertise.

What did you do?

I completed my PIPS at the University of York and I was part of the Technology Facility (TF). I received training from the TF staff members regarding light microscopy, and holotomography. I was trained on sample preparation (mammalian and yeast cells) and imaging techniques using confocal microscopes/airyscan and holotomography/refractive index (Tomocube). I had the pleasure of working with specialists from the Tomocube company to ensure that the sample imaging was following the right specifications. I also had the opportunity to start working on the preparation of samples from mammalian cells for expansion microscopy, a new technique that will be used later on from the TF staff for various projects. Attending the meetings of the team also helped me to gain an understanding on how a core facility like this one is running.

“I wanted to do a hands-on PIPS and due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions, I decided to do my PIPS somewhere local in York.”

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I wanted to do an internship that will give me the opportunity to be involved in various projects. Undertaking a placement with the technology facility at the University of York gave me the chance to be trained under the supervision of experts in the field. I was aware that the TF in York receives samples from all over the country for processing and that intrigued my curiosity to learn how a facility with so many collaborations works.  It was a great opportunity for me to be involved in various projects that were assigned to us from various labs or companies.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I wanted to do a hands-on PIPS and due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions, I decided to do my PIPS somewhere local in York. I received an email that the Technology Facility at the University offered PIPS placements. I then contacted Dr Pete O’Toole and arranged a zoom meeting to further discuss these placements. I was really excited to be working closely with Pete and his team, and luckily I was accepted from the beginning and a great placement happened!

“Starting an unfamiliar project gave me confidence to be open to the idea of trying new career paths.”

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I truly enjoyed my PIPS. I had the opportunity to work with a great team and I was trained on new techniques that I would not have had the chance to learn during my PhD. Working with the TF staff and Tomocube specialists allowed me taking the lead role on driving the placement’s tasks while discussing the progress of the projects I was working on. This placement made me realise that most of the skills I have gained so far during my PhD are transferrable. Teamwork, organisation and time management skills were a few of the skills I developed further during this placement. It was an eye opening experience for me, starting an unfamiliar project like the Tomocube project gave me confidence to be open in the idea of trying new career paths.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

My PIPS experience was great. I learned a lot and got the chance to work on projects of a complex structure. The team of experts I was working with taught me well and opened me up to a type of work I wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

When looking for your PIPS, take your time exploring your options. Do not worry if you do not have expertise in that field. The skills you gain in your PhD are transferable in several jobs. Undertaking a PIPS placement is a great opportunity to try a new path of career development.

Catherine Russell – Babraham Institute

Babraham Institute logo
Catherine Russell, a fourth-year student at the University of York, spent ten weeks working remotely for the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. The Babraham Institute is a world-leading research institution that carries out research into how our bodies work, with a key focus on how they change as we age and during disease.
The featured images is of the Babraham Institute logo.
What did you do?
I was an intern with the Knowledge Exchange & Commercialisation (KEC) Team, in which I was involved in a wide range of projects and gained training in technology transfer. The KEC Team are responsible for translating scientific research and discoveries made at the Institute into benefits for external organisations. This is done through commercialisation and interaction with these other organisations. During my placement, I had the opportunity to gain experience in many different KEC activities, including licensing, patenting, policy making, database management, start-ups, and even book publishing. I also had the opportunity to write two blog posts, one about a policy workshop I attended and one on my internship as a whole.
What made you want to do that particular placement?
I was keen to do a placement that would give me experience in aspects of science research that I hadn’t had the chance to get involved with as part of my PhD. Specifically, I wanted to know more about the commercialisation side of research and gain new skills in areas distinct from those I have acquired throughout my PhD that would broaden my scientific knowledge overall. I was also really interested in the work done at the Babraham Institute, and particularly wanted a placement here because I was intrigued in their research into epigenetics, signalling and immunology.
How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?
I was lucky enough to find a PIPS placement advertised through the White Rose DTP website that was just what I’d been looking for. I applied for this position and then had a meeting with two members of the KEC Team in which we discussed the placement and what aspects of technology transfer I’d like to get involved in. I was very pleased to later find out I’d been accepted for the internship and we organised my start date for later in the year.
What have you gained from doing your PIPS?
Through my PIPS, I gained a much deeper appreciation of the commercialisation side of scientific research and how complex this is. I learned a great deal about a wide range of areas of KEC, including licensing, patenting, IP, policy, and even had some experience in the book publishing process. I also got to learn a lot about the Babraham Institute, and the work the KEC team does in connection to the research being done.
How would you sum up your PIPS experience?
Overall, I really enjoyed my PIPS placement and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to work at the Babraham Institute. The whole KEC team for made me feel so welcome, and I have gained useful new skills and a much deeper understanding of technology transfer.
What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?
I would highly recommend looking for a placement that will give you the chance to gain skills and experience that you wouldn’t otherwise get from your PhD. For me, this was knowledge around the commercialisation side of science research, and this not only gave me a greater understanding of science research as a whole, but also provided me with new and useful transferable skills.

Ashley Hayes – Random42

Ashley Hayes is a fourth-year PhD student at the University of Sheffield who spent 3 months working remotely for Random42 Scientific Communication, a company that specialises in 3D medical animations and scientific storytelling.

The featured image displays the logo for Random42 Scientific Communication

What did you do?

I did my PIPS remotely with Random42 Scientific Communication. This company create 3D medical animations, in addition to virtual reality, augmented reality, and interactive experiences for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

During my PIPS, I was a member of the science team, whose role is to ensure that medical animations are detailed, scientifically accurate and tailored towards the target audience. I had a wide range of responsibilities during my placement. This included conducting background research for projects, writing and referencing scripts for the animations, and putting together storyboards for the in-house animation team to use. I also sat in virtual meetings with the production team and the clients, which I really enjoyed.

I was involved with several projects, which were mostly based on the molecular processes underlying disease, and the mechanism of action of drugs. Several projects were on the go at once, and were completely different to each other, which kept things interesting for sure. No two days were ever the same! I got to see projects from the initial concept meeting with the client, right through to the final animation that was produced, which was very rewarding.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

A talk run by the BBSRC initially interested me in this placement. The talk was based on PIPS at Random42 and was given by the medical director of the company, Elly. She discussed in detail what a placement with the company would involve and also gave insight into the different types of careers within medical communications. This really inspired me, as did a blog post written by Sarah Gratton, who previously did her PIPS with this company.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I contacted Random42 via the email address that Elly gave during her BBSRC talk, letting her know that I was interested in doing my PIPS there. Elly replied to my email, setting up a meeting shortly after to discuss a potential placement. During the meeting, we discussed in more detail what the placement could involve and discussed potential start dates. It was all straightforward, Random42 were very flexible on when I could start and planned it around what was best for my PhD, which I really appreciated!

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

From my PIPS, I’m now a lot more certain that I want a career in medical writing. I’m also more confident that I’ve developed the skills and experience required to start a career in this field. I also feel like I’ve gained skills which will help with the final year of my PhD, such as thesis writing and presenting my work – which is always a bonus!

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

I really enjoyed my PIPS experience. I found my role within the company to be varied and interesting and I got to learn so much in such a short amount of time. I’m appreciative of the science team at Random42 for giving me this opportunity.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Don’t put off your placement! There may never be a perfect time to go, and it is well worth taking this time away from your research to develop skills and experience that will benefit your career. I had a really good placement and I know the company are looking for more interns to start soon as their busy period is coming up. I couldn’t recommend it more, lovely host organisation!

Editor’s Note: You can find information on how to apply to do your PIPS with Random42 here.

Joanna Greenman – CN-Bio Innovations

CN-BIO logo

Joanna went to CN-Bio Innovations in Cambridge for her PIPS placement, a bioengineering company that specialises in developing single and multi-organ microphysiological systems and innovative lab technologies. They interact with many different pharma and biotech companies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of preclinical drug testing with clinically translatable systems.

The featured image is the logo of CN-Bio Innovations.

What did you do?

I worked with the research and development team to try and introduce and integrate immune cells into their established organ on chip systems. A couple of previous preliminary experiments had been done, but my main role was to get this project up and running and generate a core dataset to understand how it can be introduced into other systems. I also participated in team meetings, journal clubs, Toastmaster and wrote a research proposal for the CEO to outline the plan for the project and future applications of my findings.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I was keen to explore what research outside of academia looked like and see first-hand how a relatively small biotech company worked.  The research that they are doing was also very different from anything I had done before and offered me the opportunity to apply my immunology background in a very different scenario – with a more application-based outlook.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I did quite a lot of searching for biotech companies around areas where I had friends and family so I could have a chance to live in a different location for 3 months.  Through family and friends links I heard about CN-Bio and emailed them to introduce myself.  I then had quite an informal phone conversation/interview to find out more about the company and talk about what a placement might look like.  It kind of just went from there with just a few more emails to finalise details and agree dates (~6months from the initial phone call).

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have really appreciated being able to talk to so many of the different employees from different areas of the company (CEO and management, engineers, marketing, production and R&D) to learn about all the different roles and how they have come to be working for CN-Bio. I have gained confidence in my communication skills, presenting to different audiences and collaborating with many different people. It has also been good, but quite challenging, to be starting a new project from almost nothing and doing a lot of the initial proof of concept work, set-up, background research and problem solving.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

It has been a really good chance to try a very different area of research with very different end goals and targets compared with my PhD. I have learnt a lot about the workings of a company and really appreciated the healthy work life balance they encouraged.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Start looking early and be willing to try something out of your comfort zone/completely new. Use any connections that you may have from friends and family to help you find your placements. Talk to as many people as you can wherever you are and find out about their career path/what they do.

Egle Beigaite – CasZyme

Egle Beigaite is a 4th year PhD student at the University of York who completed her PIPS placement at CasZyme, a biotech company based in Vilnius, Lithuania. CasZyme are an organisation whose research focuses on revolutionising the field of CRISPR-based Molecular Tools.

The featured image is of Egle with her PIPS colleagues.

What did you do?

My project focused on the characterisation of Cas proteins which could be used in genome editing. The techniques that I was exposed to included: colony PCR, protein purification using AKTA system (Ni and Heparin columns for affinity purification), bacterial cell transformation, cloning, RNA, DNA and plasmid purification using minipreps and midi preps. One of the main aims of my project was to determine the optimal growth and expression conditions for bacterial cells, which were then used to purify Cas proteins. I was also introduced to RNA synthesis (in vitro transcription), Cas protein and gRNA complex assembly as well as Cas activity assays.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

While relatively recent, CRISPR genome editing technology is becoming the main workhorse for genome editing in both academia and industry. Dr Gasiunas, who established the company, has previously worked in Prof. Siksnys’s lab and published several key papers in CRISPR research (Gasiunas et al 2012; Karvelis et al 2015; Gasiunas et al 2020). Prof. Siksnys, together with Prof Charpentier and Prof Doudna have received a prestigious Kavli prize for his independent development of CRISPR. I believed that it was the best accessible location for me to deepen my understanding in CRISPR technology and learn new protein characterisation techniques. In addition, this is a start-up company with only 10 employees. I thought that, by starting in such a small company, it would be easier for me to adapt and would also allow me to learn more things.

Egle working at CasZyme

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

Initially, I picked two countries I believed I could easily find an internship: the Netherlands and Lithuania (I am originally Lithuanian and started search way before COVID began), and researched biotech companies in both countries. After the interviews, I received two offers from Centre for Human Drug Research (CHDR, Netherlands) and CasZyme (Lithuania). Eventually, I chose to go to work for CasZyme as I really wanted to broaden my understanding of CRISPR technology.

Regarding CHDR, my project there would have focused on neurological conditions, which is what my PhD project is about, so I found it less interesting (although it seemed like an amazing place to learn new things).

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have become more confident with working with large number of samples and have also learnt how to prioritise the experiments and to perform them as efficiently as possible. In addition, I have learnt how to use AKTA protein purification system and performing CRISPR complex assembly and Cas protein activity assays (which are performed in RNAase-free box).

I also gained invaluable experience in working as part of a small biotech company and learnt first-hand the importance of collaboration and teamwork. To ensure that projects were finished according to the deadlines, experiments were efficiently redesigned and redistributed to several staff members. I learned that great communication and flexibility with your team members is extremely important, as these people also teach you new techniques and can also help you to troubleshoot.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Of course, pandemic has made it a bit more difficult to travel, but I am glad I did my PIPS in CasZyme as it was great experience. I have learnt a lot of new techniques and developed friendly relationship with my colleagues. My primary laboratory manager planned the project in such a way that allowed me to learn as much as possible during my placement and made the internship comfortable during these difficult post-pandemic times. I really enjoyed being part of research team and part of CasZyme community.  Most of the staff were of my age, some also doing industrial PhDs. It was great to share the experience and support each other.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

Don’t be afraid to explore options outside your project (and comfort zone)! PIPS are aimed to help you learn new things, and add extra skills on your CV. I would personally recommend testing yourself in industry to see if you could work in a team with other people. The experience is also beneficial to see how industrial projects are managed and how things are generally organised (it might be quite different from your lab). I would recommend starting in a relatively small industrial company, as usually these biotechs are highly collaborative with academia and thus the working environment is slightly closer to the PhD in academia. Also, it means that you will be able to meet most of the staff during the placement and learn from them as much as possible.

Tom Emrich-Mills – Phase BioLabs

View from inside the Biodiversity building at The University of Nottingham

Where did you go and what did you do?

Phase BioLabs at The University of Nottingham – working in the Biodiscovery Institute in Prof Nigel Minton’s large and extremely well-equipped synthetic biology lab. My PIPS supervisor and boss was David Ortega, an ex-PhD student of Nigel’s and the founder of a recent start-up called Phase BioLabs –

The featured photo at the top of this article is the view from the Biodiscovery Building at The University of Nottingham.

David wants to produce solvents, plastic precursors and other high-value commodities from anaerobic bacteria using waste CO2 and renewable hydrogen as the only two feedstock gases. If performed at scale, this technology could be carbon neutral and make use of vast quantities of waste CO2 from the fermentation industry.

I undertook a mixture of lab work and online research. The lab work was split between proof-of-concept work regarding the gas fermentation technology used by Phase Biolabs and engineering new systems into the organism to enhance the range of products the company could manufacture. The online work was mainly market research and research into lifecycle assessments and emissions data for new chemical products, as well as searching for EU funding calls for the company.

Approaching Nottingham Castle

What made you want to do that particular placement?

David was the first to respond from five or so renewable or climate change-focused companies to which I enquired. His website was impressive, and his mission statement and his enthusiasm were encouraging, so I was happy to organise a meeting with him over Zoom. He introduced me to the field of anaerobic bacterial research and suggested some papers to read. The project sounded really interesting and there happened to be plenty of non-lab work to go alongside, enabling me to work remotely for the beginning and end of the placement.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

Keen to find a non-academic enterprise working in climate change or sustainability science, I spent three hours or so gathering information for companies in the UK that had an impressive mission statement. All it took then was several emails explaining my background and offering my help.

Once David was on board, the PIP was delayed due to the ongoing lockdowns. David and I were in frequent communication so finding a suitable three-month period was not too tricky. 

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

My time at Phase Biolabs was brilliant. I experienced a fleeting but illuminating insight into the world of anaerobic bacteria research and the synthetic biology involved in engineering metabolism, especially towards engineering the production of chemicals from microbes.

I now have a much better understanding of market research as a concept and a practice. Finding out about the market you are aiming to disrupt is far more difficult than I envisioned, with many summaries and reports behind steep paywalls, key figures and references hidden in gigantic reports and relevant organisations unwilling to talk freely over the phone.

From a peek into the world of commercial funding, I now also have a sliver of understanding about work that goes into sourcing money for a start-up like Phase Biolabs.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

A welcome break from my research field. Hard work, but rewarding, interesting and mentally refreshing.

Alina Capatina – Random42

Screenshot of Alice Capatina with her PIPS colleagues

Alina Capatina, a third-year student at the University of York, completed her 3-month placement at Random42, a medical communications company situated in central London, specialised in producing 3D medical animations, documentary films, augmented and virtual reality as well as interactive experiences.  The placement was completed remotely due to the COVID lockdown.

The featured image is a screenshot of Alina with her PIPS colleagues in an online team meeting.   

What did you do?

During my placement I worked as part of the science team at Random42. I was sitting on client calls and taking notes regarding the scientific background of their desired animation, recording their visual and design preferences, as well as keeping track of their timeline and key deadlines. I was also in charge of doing the scientific research for several different projects and putting together scripts, which included both the narration of the animation and the scene directions.

Once the scripts were approved by the client, I would be in charge of designing a storyboard that would visually represent the content of the script, allowing the production team to understand the dynamics of the animation. This was particularly challenging, as scientific accuracy regarding not only the crystal structure of the proteins involved, but also their correct topology (e.g. for membrane proteins), was required.

Additionally, I also had the opportunity to record several voice-overs that would be added to the videos, until the animation was finalised, to help the production team synchronise the text and the visuals.

Overall, the placement allowed me to experiment with a variety of activities, each of them involving a different set of skills. I was thus able to become more flexible and self-confident and I learned to adapt very quickly, not only to different research topics, but also to different tasks, in order to complete my work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

My current PhD project is entirely lab-based and during my undergraduate degree I completed several lab-based summer internships, in an academic context, as well as a 12-month industrial lab-based placement. Therefore, I do have experience with experimental work, and I love being in the lab, which is why I thought that I should take advantage of the PIPS opportunity in order to experience something that is still related to science but that is completely different from what I have been doing so far. I am also a relatively quiet, introverted, and creative person that does not enjoy the spotlight that much, but prefers working behind the scenes. So, I thought I would look for a placement that would allow me to employ and develop my non-lab related skills.

When I discovered Random42, I instantly knew it was the right opportunity for me, it was a chance for me to be creative, play with images and put together stories, while learning more about different scientific topics. I saw a chance to use my scientific background to make information more accessible to the general public in a fun way. The work I have been doing at Random42 taught me to always question (‘What is the final purpose of my research?’, ‘How is it going to impact people?’), as well as reminding me that I should not get caught up in little details, but always try to detach myself and see the bigger picture. It was an extremely valuable experience both on a personal and a professional level.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

For me, the process of finding my placement was very short and straightforward. I started by looking at the list of places where other WR DTP students have completed their PIPs in previous years, and that is where I found Random42. I spent a few good hours reading about their work on their website, had a look at some of their videos, I even watched a documentary that they contributed to, and I really liked their work. So, I sent an email to them with my CV, expressing my interest in their company. On the same day I got a reply saying that they would be very happy to have me. Just before completing all the paperwork, I also got in touch with the student who completed her PIPS with this company the year before, and she had very good feedback about the work and the people working there. That gave me a lot of confidence about the company, so I decided to go through with the paperwork and in the end it all turned out very well.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I really enjoyed my PIPS, mostly for the fact that it allowed me to experiment with a variety of activities that are very different from my daily lab work. I think one of the most important things that I gained from this placement was more self-confidence. In this placement I was put in a completely new environment with completely new tasks and I had to learn and adapt very quickly, and complete all my work according to specific deadlines, which would often change throughout the day. It was a type of work that required a lot of flexibility and plasticity as well as teamwork and good communication with supervisors and co-workers. The fact that I managed to face this challenge in a way that made my supervisors very happy, and the fact that I felt valued and appreciated for my work, gave me great confidence in my skills and knowledge, and I became more open-minded and braver in terms of my aspirations regarding future career choices.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

One known fact about our memory is that we tend to forget actions and facts, but we always remember how something, or someone, made us feel. Therefore, if I was to sum up my placement experience in a way that is meaningful to me, I would say: exciting, creative, empowering, and eye-opening.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I think it is very important to make the most out of every opportunity we have. I m very happy working in the lab right now, but that might change in the future, and I wanted to use this PIPS opportunity to research what else it is out there that I could happily do. I think the best advice would be to try and use the PIPS as a chance to learn more about yourselves, see what else you like, get out of your comfort zone, and just try something different. It is an amazing opportunity to experience because you have nothing to lose, but you might just gain a lot more than you think.

Editor’s Note: You can find information on how to apply to do your PIPS with Random42 here.

Amy Stonadge (nee Brown) – LAMP Labs

Amy Stonadge (nee Brown) is a PhD student at the University of York who took part in a 3-month placement in the new COVID-19 LAMP Labs at the University of York. The LAMP Labs are a new collaboration between the University, Capita and the NHS and are working to establish a COVID-19 testing laboratory for frontline NHS staff. Read on to find out more about Amy’s PIPS experience!

Read moreAmy Stonadge (nee Brown) – LAMP Labs

Lewis Hancock – Certara Simcyp

Certara Simcyp logo

Lewis Hancock is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield who undertook a 3-month PIPS within the Simcyp division of Certara. Certara develops biosimulation and technology-enabled services to transform drug discovery and development, working across all therapeutic areas, including immuno-oncology, rare disease, CNS, respiratory disease, gene therapy, and global health, providing translational solutions from discovery to patient access. To find out more about Lewis’ PIPS experience check out our latest PIPS case study.

Read moreLewis Hancock – Certara Simcyp

Roz Latham – UKRI policy intern at The Royal Society

Roz Latham is a PhD student at the University of Leeds who did a 3-month remote placement with The Royal Society (RS), who are based in London. The RS is the UK’s National Academy of Science and has diverse functions, from funding and publishing scientific research, to public and educational engagement, to policy advice, among others. Read Roz’s case study below to find out what she got involved in and how she decided to pursue this placement!

What did you do?

I worked in The Royal Society’s Policy function – ‘Policy’ is the principles or course of action that an organisation (often the Government) sets to direct their actions in a particular area. For example, the Government’s science policy will dictate how much money the Government will invest in R&D or how to regulate different scientific technologies, to name a few. The Royal Society acts as one of many policy-advice bodies. This means they conduct research to understand the policy landscape and then write policy briefings/proposals for the Government to help them decide what policy to adopt. Such research includes desk-based research (reading news articles, other organisations’ reports, academic papers) and convening key stakeholders (academic experts, government departments, etc.) to discuss the issues at hand and collaboratively shape the policy for that area. My work was in the Genetic Technologies policy team. This team had two key streams of work and I was actively involved in both.

The majority of my work supported the RS’s policy proposal for how the UK should regulate the products of gene editing and genetic modification post-Brexit, as a follow up to their response to Defra’s consultation on the matter in 2021. I worked closely with my manager to map the policy landscape (i.e. what the UK and other countries currently do), and challenges to implementing the RS’s desired outcome (to regulate GE/GM based on the product not the process used to produce it). I attended meetings with key stakeholders (Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor Gideon Henderson, leading plant science researchers and others) to listen to the highest-level discussions on the regulatory reforms – it was amazing to get exposure to such senior people across the public and academic sectors and listen to world experts discuss real regulatory challenges and opportunities. I also participated in smaller meetings with academics from Rothampsted Research to get their expert insights into the plant breeding process, and I was encouraged to lead the conversations which was a great opportunity. Alongside this broader work my key deliverables were to write an extended policy report on how the UK could incorporate non-safety considerations (ethics, sustainability, economics etc) into the new GE/GM regulations that will be created post-Brexit. My meetings with stakeholders as well as plenty of desk-based research fed into this, as did continuous feedback and guidance from my manager. I then turned this extended report into a 4 page ‘PostNote’ style policy briefing, intended as an executive summary to make the information accessible to a wider audience who don’t have the time or need to read the whole report (this is a common exercise in the policy world). I also initiated and led a workstream to develop the Royal Society’s support for employees with hidden disabilities, and wrote a briefing on how this could be done. To come away with concrete deliverables was really rewarding and gave focus and direction to my placement.

The other aspect of my work with the gene-tech team was to help organise the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing. I sat in on the monthly summit-planning committee meetings, whose members included multiple Nobel Laureates and other world experts in gene-editing technologies, law, bioethics, clinical medicine and regulations. This gave me incredible exposure to the most high-level discussions from world experts on how to shape the International Summit. My work included minute taking and metrics gathering and analysis.

Overall, my work was diverse, interesting and very rewarding. I can’t recommend a policy placement with the RS more.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I became aware of Policy as a potential career route from my sister who is a policy advisor in the Civil Service, and after learning more about it from her I thought it could match my skill set and interests well. I saw the UKRI policy internship scheme advertised and I chose The Royal Society as my first-choice host organisation (more details below). I chose the RS because they had a Genetic Technologies team and as I work in gene-editing for my PhD and am very interested in how to regulate gene-tech to maximise societal benefit and minimise harm, this was the perfect fit for me. Also, the RS has a historic and international reputation as one of the world-leading authorities on science policy, and has access to the most important and influential science and policy stakeholders so I knew I would get a lot of exposure and great insights working with them.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

Having identified Policy as an area I wanted to experience I kept an eye on the WR newsletter for PIPs opportunities.  I saw the UKRI policy internship scheme advertised and went through their application process – most Policy internships available to PGRs are provided through this UKRI policy internship scheme. There are ~30 ‘host organisations’ that you choose from (selecting your first and second choice) and adapt your application to your chosen host organisation, but using the centralised UKRI application portal and deadlines.

Having gone through the application process (CV, answers to questions such as ‘why this host organisation, why policy, describe your PhD in 250 words to a non-science audience’, and writing a 2 page policy briefing on a topic of my choice), I was selected for interview via Zoom. When I was offered the place I was in touch with a member of the RS directly to arrange my start date and delivery of my IT equipment as I worked from home due to the pandemic. Overall, it was a very easy process.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I’ve gained a great taste for policy research (although I recognise policy research at a Learned Society is very different to that working for the Government).  It’s given me a lot of motivation to pursue this as a career, which is what I’d hoped to get out of my PIPs. I’ve had great exposure to influential people, seen first-hand a glimpse how regulations are formed, gained confidence in my abilities outside of anything I’ve ever tried before, developed policy-writing skills and just overall had a really fun time!

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

I had a really great time on my PIPs. The team at the RS were so friendly, fun, supportive and interesting. I had great mentorship from my manager and had monthly catch-ups with the Chief Science Policy Officer along with other interns, so interns at the RS are really respected and valued. Despite working from home I actually ‘met’ lots of people (as an intern you’re encouraged to network outside of your team and learn what other people at the RS do) so I have come away with some great relationships. I had to be proactive to set myself challenging targets, but because I did I had such a rewarding, stimulating and stretching experience that has given me skills, experience and confidence to take back to my PhD and for the future job hunt.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I think with every PIPS you get out what you put in. I had to be proactive and push for objectives, set myself stretching targets with the guidance of my manager, and take the initiative to develop workstreams in areas I was passionate about. But the RS is the perfect place to do that as I was given the autonomy and support to do so. If after some research you think you’d be genuinely interested in science policy and want a place that gives you creative freedom to explore different areas, skills and situations then I’d really recommend the RS’s Policy placement.

Other advice is to be proactive at looking for these opportunities: the UKRI policy internship scheme only opens for applications once a year. And the application process is pretty intense (it took me a whole week as I had to write a policy briefing from scratch + other application questions) so check out what the deadlines are and what you need to do before them. Also do your research on the organisation, whether you are inspired by their work and think you’d like to work for them after your PhD. Try and use your network to see if you can get in contact with anyone who’s done a placement with that organisation before (very useful for interview prep).

Overall, be proactive and also be excited at the opportunity to try something new for 3 months and think about whether that could inspire a future career.

Note from the DTP Co-ordinator:

Think you might be interested in a UKRI policy internship? 

The annual application portal for the UKRI policy internships has recently opened for placements to take place in 2022.  The closing date for applications is 4th October 2021.  For more information on the scheme and how to apply, see the PIPS advert on this website – note the information about expenses – and follow the link from there: 

UKRI policy internships for 2022.

James Henderson – Green Room (Fukuoka, Japan)

James Henderson is a PhD student at the University of Leeds who went to Fukuoka, Japan for his PIPS to teach English to Japanese students in a company called Green Room. The students ranged from 15 to 70 years old, and from beginner to advanced levels. Read on to find out more about Jamie’s experience and see the photos that illustrate it!

What did you do?
From the outset of the placement I was a teaching assistant; helping the full-time teachers and having private lessons with more capable students. As my time progressed I was responsible for my own classrooms, up to six students at a time, either following textbooks, or creating my own schedules. I was also responsible for the conversational café that would require me balancing the outspoken students with the more anxious individuals, ensuring everyone was able to practice their English. I would often interact with at least 15 people during these sessions.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

For several years I have considered a career in Japan, but was fully aware that getting a job there is quite difficult without any previous experience of the country and its customs. PIPS gave me the opportunity to live and work in Japan, which I otherwise would not have been able to do. I have also previously considered a career in education as I have enjoyed my short experiences of teaching. This placement allowed me to experience both of my potential future aspirations. Initially I was unsure if teaching English would be a waste of time and if I should do something more science-related. Eventually I decided that the benefits of working abroad, practicing a career I enjoyed and going out of my comfort zone outweighed doing a science internship.  

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

As I had no contacts in Japan, it was initially very difficult to obtain a placement there. I had to use the help of a company that specialised in finding internships for non-Japanese citizens, Meiji Internships. Through them I was able to apply to several different fields such as education, agriculture and so on. Once they found a company interested in working with me, they gave me their contact details so that we could plan my internship and responsibilities. Without Meiji Internships I don’t think I would have been able to find a placement so easily, so I am very grateful to them. 

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

The biggest personal gain I got from my PIPS was an improvement in my confidence. I had to interact with students of all ages and maintain interesting discussions on a daily basis, which forced me to come out of my comfort zone. Many Japanese students were very shy, so I had to encourage them to talk by asking them questions and keeping them engaged. The language barrier also helped improve my explanation of complex ideas, such as my PhD project, as I had to describe the concepts in a very simple manner. Something I wasn’t expecting was the level of enjoyment I obtained from teaching. Previously I thought teaching might be a good career path, but now it is a genuine career I may pursue. 

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

My PIPS experience was excellent. In first year I thought it would be a pain and assumed I would do some dull job in or near Leeds for ease. Halfway through second year I started seriously considering what I could do and when I realised it was (almost) anything I wanted, I jumped at the opportunity to work in Japan. It has helped improve some of my weaker characteristics, such as my shy persona and fear of trying new things. I was able to live in a new country, adapt to a completely different culture, see things I would never see in the UK, meet new people and form some strong contacts. It reinforced future career paths that I may follow and, as a plus, was a nice break from the lab. PIPS has evolved from something I was dreading to my favourite part of my PhD so far.    

What advice would you give to other students about PIPS?

I would suggest to other students that they go abroad if they haven’t been before and have the opportunity to do so. My placement was the first time I have ever been out of the UK for anything longer than two weeks, and has changed my views about working abroad. Previously I had only truly considered working in either the UK or USA (and a desire to work in Japan), but my placement has now made me more than happy to try working in other non-English speaking countries. Also don’t worry if your placement isn’t completely science-related, which was a fear of mine. I assumed I would have to do science as it was what others were doing and I thought it was expected of most students; but you really can do what you want to do.

Stella Christou – COVID-19 Genomics UK

Stella Christou became involved with the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium for her PIPS placement. She joined a lab at the University of Sheffield where they sequenced SARS-CoV-2 from positive patients around South Yorkshire. Read more to find out how PIPS can further your transferrable skills.

Read moreStella Christou – COVID-19 Genomics UK

Maia Harvey – Oxford University Innovation

Oxford University Innovation new logo

Maia Harvey is a final year student at the University of Leeds who did her PIPS with Oxford University Innovation (OUI) – Oxford University’s technology transfer office. OUI helps academics if they want to form a spinout company, protect a technology with intellectual property, form licensing agreements and market technologies to potential investors or licensees. Read Maia’s PIPS case study to find out what a placement in technology transfer entails!

Where did you go and what did you do?

I spent 3 months at Oxford University Innovation. I was working with the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Digital Health departments – which meant I worked on projects ranging from sustainable energy to drug delivery!

When I arrived I trained alongside a new Assistant Licensing and Ventures Manager. We were trained on patents and other intellectual property, so that I could work with an inventor to decide whether the technology they had invented was novel or not (if it’s not novel or useful, it won’t have commercial value!). This involved meeting with University professors and listening to ‘pitches’ of their inventions before going away and researching if something similar had been done before and how they might patent their idea. I enjoyed this as it felt like detective work, and looking at science from a different point of view was really interesting.

Once an invention has intellectual property protection, it can be licensed to companies that want to use the technology. Part of my role was to market these inventions, finding companies that might be interested in licensing the technology. I also wrote profiles of the technology to ‘advertise’ what the invention was.

I also attended Oxford University’s spinout training at their ‘incubator’ for new potential start-ups. As someone with a business mindset, I relished this opportunity and learnt lots about what you have to consider when developing your own business model – where to look for investment, how to market a product effectively, and how to master the perfect ‘elevator pitch’ to use at networking events.

During my time at OUI I also worked with OxReach – Oxford University’s crowdfunding platform. This year they were raising funds to digitise plant samples so they could be used worldwide in food security research.  I helped manage the social media campaign, creating posts for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I also secured a radio interview with a local radio station to help spread the word!

What made you want to do that particular placement?

Throughout my undergraduate degree and PhD, I’ve always been interested in the commercial potential of scientific inventions. Working in a drug discovery lab, I was interested in how the research conducted in academic labs can be translated to create businesses and products to be used in industry. I really wanted to find an internship that combined my passions for science and business.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

It was a very straightforward process. I saw an advert posted on the BBSRC website and sent my CV and a cover letter. I then had a chat on the phone to the head of Licensing and Ventures at the company and arranged a start date.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

Where to start! Firstly, this internship confirmed to me that I’d like a career working at some stage of the science commercialisation process. I feel like I left OUI with a solid knowledge base including specific skills in patents, marketing and business development.

As PhD students, we are working on one main project for 3-4 years, so suddenly working on several projects in a week made me quickly learn how to juggle my time and prioritise.

Completing my internship in Spring 2020 meant that a national lockdown started halfway through my 3 months – so I quickly had to adapt to working from home and becoming a Microsoft Teams expert! It was really interesting to see how a company can adapt so quickly to 100% WFH while maintaining revenue in completely new circumstances.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

A fast-paced science commercialisation internship with good office company! Thank you, OUI!

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I found it useful to complete an internship in a career area I was considering. Through conversations with colleagues about their own career journeys, I was introduced to roles and careers I didn’t know existed before! Completing my PIPS really helped me narrow down what I want to do after my PhD.

The Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge: your chance to contribute to growing plants in space!

Space chile logo

My name is Luke and I’m about to undertake my PIPS placement with the Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge. This is a citizen science project designed and run by Jacob Torres, a contracted engineering plant scientist at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (although this placement is not affiliated with NASA!). While the placement will be based in Sheffield due to COVID restrictions, it’s sure to be an ‘out of this world’ experience!

Read moreThe Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge: your chance to contribute to growing plants in space!

Remote PIPS placements with Catriona Walker

Catriona Walker is a third year PhD student at the University of Leeds with Tom Bennett. Her research focuses on the roles of phytohormones in the control of carpic dominance and the end of flowering. Carpic dominance is the process whereby developing seeds exhibit dominance over newer seeds, with results varying from mild (a decrease in fruit size) to severe (total inhibition of fruit development). This process acts as a significant limit on yield, as it occurs in situations even where resources are not limiting. Similarly, the end of flowering signifies the final point at which seed and fruits can develop and as such is also a large limiting factor to yield.

She carried out her PIPs placement remotely, during the first lockdown of 2020, with the plant science journal, New Phytologist.

Read moreRemote PIPS placements with Catriona Walker

Ioannis Tsagakis – FEBS Press

Ioannis Tsagakis immersed himself into the life of a scientific editor by undertaking an editorial internship at FEBS Press in his third year of PhD. The timing coincided with COVID-19 lockdown hence the internship was completed ‘virtually’ from Leeds, instead of the Cambridge office.

Read moreIoannis Tsagakis – FEBS Press

Lizzy Parker – Hope for the Future

Lizzy Parker at Hope for the Future webinar

Lizzy Parker is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield who spent 6 months working part-time at ​Hope for the Future​. ​Hope for the Future is a national climate communication charity which works to equip communities, groups and individuals across the country to help communicate the urgency of climate change with their local politicians. Keep reading to find out more about what Lizzy’s role involved and why she chose to do this particular placement!

Read moreLizzy Parker – Hope for the Future

Sport, psychology, and animal video clips with PIPS

BBSRC DTP PhD student Matthew Chadwick undertook a PIPS with the Human Performance Service in the Sport and Exercise Sciences Department of the University of Leeds, providing technical consultation and training to research teams. In case you wanted additional reasons to watch those cat videos on the internet, keep reading.

Read moreSport, psychology, and animal video clips with PIPS

Marcus Holt – FindAUniversity

Marcus Holt at PIPS

Marcus Holt is a final year PhD student at the University of Leeds, who did his PIPS with the internet-based company FindAUniversity. The company is geared towards students looking for a postgraduate course. He told us what was involved in his role within the Content team (part of which was carried out remotely due to COVID-19) and gave us some great insight into what he took away from his PIPS experience!


Read moreMarcus Holt – FindAUniversity

Dani Pierce – MRC Research Unit The Gambia

Sunset from Dani Pierce's PIPS placement

Dani Pierce is a third year PhD student at the University of Leeds who undertook her PIPS placement at the MRC Research Unit The Gambia. Read her full PIPS case study to find out what scientific work was involved in the two clinical trials she was part of and what it was like spending 3 months in The Gambia (complete with more pictures that capture her experience)! Dani also shared her tips and advice on looking for a PIPS placement.

Read moreDani Pierce – MRC Research Unit The Gambia

Lukas Jasaitis – Singer Instruments

Best PIPS Talk

Lukas Jasaitis won the prize for Best PIPS Talk – “Algae, Robots, The Great Unkown” –  at the DTP Student Symposium held on 13th December 2019.  He undertook his PIPS in the field of Laboratory Robotics manufacturing at Singer Instruments in Somerset… which was a very long way to go!  But totally worth it!

Whilst at Singer, Lukas’ main duties were:

  • Quality assurance on a number of high value products within demanding time frames
  • Work on designing methods to assess and track reliability
  • Pioneering the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii research project within the Singer lab

Lukas particularly enjoyed these aspects of his PIPS:

“I really enjoyed defined working hours, that demanded that I learn to structure my work so that I accomplish all of the tasks that were assigned to me (or that I have planned for myself), or if I realized that I was at maximum capacity to communicate this to my co-workers. During my first weeks, I found the fact that I am now indeed working as a part of a small focused team surprising and very rewarding. The pay-off for doing good quality, well-documented work was immediately accessible.”

There was a commercial outcome to the role:

“Validating the robot’s capability of manipulating this organism (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) opens up a large new sector that this robot can be marketed and sold to.”

A key benefit of the placement for Lukas was:

“I have learned better ways to organise and communicate vital information, I now use these skills in my day to day work and I am passing them on to the people I work with.”

Talk slides

Luke has kindly agreed to share his talk slides – They provide lots of useful information about making the most of your PIPS e.g. a Timeline to Start, as well as some beautiful photographs of the Somerset landscape!

Lukas Jasaitis PIP slides – Click here to download


Andy Stone – The Academy of Medical Sciences

Andy Stone wrote a case study for his host organisation at the Academy of Medical Sciences.  Click the link below to find out Andy’s answers to questions such as,

Tell us about your PhD and what stage you were in when you did your internship

What did you work on during your internship?

Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking of applying for the internship?

… and many more

Alex Wright – Swift Analytical

Alex Wright undertook his Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) as a third year in 2019.  Here’s what he had to say about his experience:

Where did you go and what did you do?

I worked for a life sciences technology commercialisation company called Swift Analytical. Swift is a consultancy and sales company, which specialises in the product development and subsequent marketing of novel life science technologies around the world. Swift generally specialises helping late-stage start-ups establish a targeted distribution network, and fine tune their product specification for market. Swift also works with established technology companies to set up global distribution networks for new products.

I worked primarily on the launch of the new iWashTM slide cleaning system. In my role I extensively tested the system and wrote its user manual, and provided face-to-face technical feedback to the manufacturer.

I also wrote two technical articles for publication extolling the systems virtues, and wrote several press releases announcing its global sales launch and growing distribution network.

I also worked on lead generation for the Regemat 3D bioprinting system, which directly led to two Skype calls with clients interested in purchasing the system.

What made you want to do that particular placement?
Firstly, it was conveniently situated in York which allowed me to stay living in Leeds, as the reclamation model for PIPS expenses made it impossible for me to live away from home for 3 months. I was interested in the industry surrounding the transfer of research technologies to the industrial marketplace. This placement offered the opportunity to be a member of a small team, and to be intimately involved with the final-stage pre-launch testing and marketing of new technology for the scientific industry.
How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?
Swift Analytical were listed as previous employers for PIPS. I therefore emailed them with my CV and a covering letter. They got in contact by phone to organise a meeting. This was successful and we settled on a start date.
What have you gained from doing your PIPS?
I have gained a better understanding of the processes required to bring a product to market. This includes knowledge of the legal and economic requirements for a product to be successful. I have also gained experience of active sales processes, and methods to gain visibility for a product.
How would you sum up your PIPS experience?
Interesting change in perspective, as it allowed me to see different mindset required from the earliest stages of design in order to develop and successfully market new technology. Also it was a useful breather to recover from the stress of PhD research, allowing me to return refreshed and re-energised.
What advice would you give to other students about PIPS?
Do it earlier than your 3rd year. Even if you’re doing something boring, try hard and you might learn something interesting. Don’t do whatever you’re told or you’ll be made to do pointless grunt work beneath your level; stand up for yourself if you’re not getting to do what you were promised.

Michaela Agapiou – The Story Collider

Michaela Agapiou was based in New York City for her internship with The Story Collider as part of her PhD programme , having approached them after spending many, many hours listening to podcasts while dissecting fruit fly testes. This is her first job outside of a lab, as she fell in love with science and research at a young age.  She undertook her internship during 2019, whilst she was in her third year.

In Michaela’s own words…

I carried out my PIPS with The Story Collider, a non-profit organisation that produces true, personal stories about science. They have 60-70 live shows a year across the USA, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, as well as a weekly podcast that has been downloaded more than 9 million times. 

After having spent many hours in the lab listening to, and being incredibly moved by, these stories, I approached The Story Collider after a live show I attended, to ask whether they would take me on as an intern. Fortunately, they said ‘Yes’ and a year later I moved to New York City for three months. Without the funding from BBSRC for this internship – through the White Rose BBSRC  Doctoral Training Partnership, The Story Collider would not have been able to host me, as they are a small organisation with only three full-time staff.

From March-June 2019, I worked mostly with Erin Barker (Artistic Director) and Nisse Greenberg (Deputy Director). My main project was to review and categorise their back catalogue, which spans many years, and to help create new pages on their website to make these stories more discoverable and shareable based on their themes. I used new software and websites to complete this project and developed my organisational skills. I also kept up to date with the current stories being produced to help contribute to the podcast planning discussions.

I also developed and performed a story of my own for one of the shows. This was an incredible experience where I learnt about communicating science to a broader audience than I have in the past and in a very different style. It was great for my personal growth too, as my confidence in public speaking has improved. Through working on my own story with one of The Story Collider ’s senior producers, and in helping the production of other shows, I learnt about the process of developing a story from an initial written draft to it being told on stage. I got to see this process with six of The Story Collider’s producers and learn about their different styles of working with storytellers. 

Through my main project and the live shows I attended (not just The Story Collider ’s but many other storytelling shows accessible to me whilST living in New York) I was really immersed in the storytelling world and further exposed to the art of it and how powerful personal narratives can be. I feel really passionate about the mission of The Story Collider to humanise science, and show that science belongs to us all and is part of everyone’s lives through these personal stories. It was an honour to work with them, learn from them and contribute to this mission for three months and I hope to work with them again in the future.

Amy Tooke – The Great North Museum

Amy Tooke undertook her Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) during 2019 (whilst she was in her second year) at The Great North Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Amy said,

“I really did enjoy my PIPS and think it was such a lucky and useful experience for me to be able to have.”

Amy wrote a testimonial for the museum’s website:

There are 2 Amy’s on the list but it is obvious which one is ‘our Amy’!