My experience on the GSK future leaders graduate programme

During his first few months on the GSK future leaders graduate programme, David wrote an algorithm that has saved his team hours of work. Next up, he is off to a summit at The Hague: find out about his graduate career so far.
I will represent GSK at the One Young World Summit at The Hague, where Justin Trudeau, Kofi Annan and Emma Watson will speak.

Biomedical engineering is a relatively young discipline in Spain and I knew that if I wanted to continue developing after my undergraduate degree I’d need to study abroad. I gained a place at Imperial College and it was here that I heard of GSK. Company representatives came to university to talk to us and it sounded like a good place to join. Many masters students in a STEM discipline suffer the dilemma of whether to pursue a PhD or go into industry. What really encouraged me to go into industry was the opportunity to apply my technical skills to real life problems, in a company with values such as transparency, integrity, patient focus and respect for people.

When I read about GSK’s values I thought they might just be marketing propaganda, so I did some further investigation. I saw that the company ran initiatives that I agreed with, such as fighting malaria and reducing the cost of medicine in developing countries. At the assessment centre, I asked some graduates from previous years who are now working at GSK whether the values were really just propaganda and they gave me examples of how they were put into practice: for example, in prioritising patient safety over commercial deadlines.

Becoming an attractive job candidate for GSK

I think it was a combination of my good academic performance and the range of experience on my CV that helped me to stand out as a candidate. Completing internships in the lab was very beneficial: it showed that I had a passion for the topic. What I only really appreciated after joining GSK, however, is how much importance recruiters place on hiring people who can work in a team, communicate well and negotiate their way to an agreement.

Volunteering experience is very helpful for developing these interpersonal skills, which your degree course alone won’t necessarily teach you. In Spain, I joined a voluntary group to help children from a disadvantaged background who weren’t doing well in school and I helped them with their homework and exam revision. When I was in the US on an exchange programme, I also spent time providing aid to socially excluded groups in San Diego and building houses in Tijuana.

Testing times: how to succeed at online tests

When applying for graduate jobs, you will find that most large employers use aptitude tests to filter high volumes of applicants. You need to practise aptitude tests repeatedly beforehand because you need to pass these to have your application seen by a real person. There are lots of free ones available – I didn’t pay for practice tests.

A job with impact

I am on the future leaders programme, specialising in research and development. It comprises three rotations lasting 16 months, 12 months and 8 months. I’m on my first placement in the device engineering team within product development and supply. We take care of the medical devices into which drugs are placed, for example inhalers and autoinjectors (such as Epipens).

I have been given responsibility for an autoinjector, checking that it is mechanically robust, is user friendly and complies with regulations. I am investigating ways to increase efficiency, which entails a lot of modelling to understand what affects the functioning of the device. This is done working with our testing teams and our teams in the US, and I manage those conversations.

I really like the work: there is a real-world application and a sense of responsibility to make sure that everything is safe and works. The projects in pharmaceuticals are understandably huge and sometimes you are aware of how small your contribution is – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. I’m most proud of a contribution I’ve made to the way the team works. A number of the testing procedures we have are manual, but for one procedure I programmed an algorithm that takes a video of the injection process and analyses it, doing in ten minutes the checks that previously took two hours.

100% development: training and development at GSK

I’d recommend GSK as an employer because it encourages the mindset of self-development. GSK follows the 70–20–10 model of development, where 70% of your time is spent learning through doing, 20% through informal learning and 10% through formal frameworks. It is an approach that requires you to be proactive, but it works for me.

My team gives me detailed feedback on my work; I have a mentor who is tremendously helpful; I have shadowed teams in eight different departments to find out more about what they do; and, among my formal training sessions, I attend conferences. One was the GapSummit 2018 conference at the University of Cambridge, which provided an overview of current and future biotechnology trends. I have also been selected to represent GSK at the One Young World Summit at The Hague, where Justin Trudeau, Kofi Annan and Emma Watson will speak.

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