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 – https://www.phasebiolabs.com/

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

New Phytologist logo

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

https://acmedsci.ac.uk/more/case-studies/internship-programme/andy-stone

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:

https://greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/learning/learning-student-engagement

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