Why a placement year and why Medical Statistics at GSK?
Initially I wasn’t planning on doing a placement until about halfway through my first year at University where I heard previous students telling me about how beneficial their placement years were. Intrigued by this, I attended several talks and fairs during first year and conducted my own research before finally switching over to the course involving a placement.
At the start of my second year, I applied to various placement companies in a variety of roles but one of my first applications was GSK. In the summer before second year, I did some research on GSK because I had a rough idea of what GSK did and the different company areas that they had (i.e pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer healthcare) but I wanted to find out more. Also I had heard very positive feedback from previous placement students on my course who completed their year at GSK, resulting in me applying to the company. This was a bit different to some other companies that I applied to but with GSK it was easier to see the positive impact that I would have with the work that I would complete.
During my time at school and University, one of my favourite areas of Maths was Statistics as it was something that I felt I was more naturally good at and I especially enjoyed analysing data and making inferences from the figures. This was something that I would do during my spare time as well! One of my other favourite subjects was Biology and taking an A-Level in this subject was something that I enjoyed and I learnt a lot of biological information. When I found out there was a Statistician role at GSK, this was something that I was very interested about, resulting in me applying to this role.
High level description of work undertaken on placement year
At GSK, I was a Clinical Statistician in the Respiratory therapeutic area specifically working on a drug to help treat asthma sufferers. One of my main roles/responsibilities was to help write code in SAS/R (The main statistical analysis software and programming languages used at GSK) which was then used to analyse statistical data to see whether our product met the various endpoints required. We would also compare the data to similar drugs from our competitors to see if there was a significant difference between the drugs. I would produce figures such as forest plots which were used to display the results, helping us to analyse the numbers. There was a fairly sizeable programming element to my role, something that I did not necessarily anticipate at the start of the year however it gave me a chance to improve my coding skills as I thought this was an area that I could improve on. I also had no prior knowledge of SAS as a result this was a fantastic opportunity to gain a fundamental understanding of another programming language.
Another area of work that I completed was conducting research into different statistical models/designs which could potentially be used for our current study, something that I had in mind before I started my placement. This was a task that I had a large chunk of responsibility in such as carrying out background research, comparing the model to our current design and creating a dummy dataset and applying the new model to it to see what sort of new information we could get from it. This was also a piece of work that I presented to my team which gave me an excellent chance to further my communication and presentation skills.
Non-project opportunities during placement
At GSK, there were numerous opportunities to get involved in non-project work. An example of this is a STEM Insight Event held three times per school year where selected A-Level and GCSE students are invited to attend and partake in various workshops and talks from different areas at GSK including Statistics, where I also presented at. This was an amazing event where hopefully we helped to inspire the next generation of STEM students. GSK also has a large partnership with Save the Children where in December 2019, a group of placement students took part in a Christmas jumper collection, where the aim was to raise as much money for charity as possible at various London train stations.
Linked to this is the opportunity to complete the Tough Mudder obstacle course, also with the aim of raising money for Save the Children and is a hugely popular option amongst placement students. Other volunteering opportunities which were sadly cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 include the Big Bang Fair (The largest science fair in Europe) and the Over the Wall camp (A fantastic camp for young people with health challenges and their families to experience a wide range of activities).
In terms of social events, there are several placement and Biostatistics events such as the Biostatistics Christmas Meal (Where I was part of the organising committee) and the Winter Ball/Summer Boat Party. This gives you a chance to relax in an informal setting and generally interact with other members in a non-work environment.
Would I recommend a placement year and why?
I would definitely recommend doing a placement year mainly for the experience you gain and the skills you develop, that your course does not really teach you. An example of this is I have presented numerous times to various team members on pieces of work I have done and this is something that would not happen during my course. How often does a University student get the chance to present in front of Statisticians with numerous years of experience and expertise? Completing a placement year gives you an exposure into what it is like to work for a large multinational company such as GSK and teaches you about the work environment and how to present and interact with others professionally. It also gives you an idea into the sort of work that you enjoy because you may go into the role having no clue about what the work that you are doing or what it involves. But at the end, you have a much better understanding and whether this is something that you would want to go into after graduation.