UCD Chemistry graduate Niamh McKeever explains why she took a year out to complete an internship at APC Ltd

Deciding to do an internship

The choice to take a year out of your degree requires a lot of consideration so weighing up the pros and cons is a good first step. For example:

Pros:

  • Gain experience in an area relevant to your degree.
  • Learn skills such as team work as well as specialised skills (in my case, lab based).
  • Earn money (depending on your internship type).
  • Have 1 year relevant work experience on your CV.

Cons:

  • Leaving a year group you know and returning to a new one.
  • Starting work in an area that’s completely new to you.
  • Not knowing how difficult it would be to readjust into studying when returning to complete my final year.

In third year I knew I wanted a pharmaceutical industry placement and, for me, the pros completely outweighed the cons. What appealed to me was the opportunity to experience working in the field of chemistry and getting exposed to industry labs, knowing that my final year of my degree would allow me to experience academic research labs and have something to compare them to. I applied for 3-month long summer internships as well as a year-long internship offered by APC.

 

How the process worked

Before applying to any jobs, I prepared my CV and cover letters and I got them checked by a lecturer. It’s so important to have someone else look at your CV and cover letter and give you tips and changes you should make, whether it’s your lecturer, a friend or family member. Another useful thing is to research the company and the role you are applying for. This allows you to tailor your application to what they are looking for, specific skills in the lab, team work etc.

After the application process, I was invited for an interview. Again, researching the company is key. It allows you to find out why you want to work in the company and this enthusiasm will come across in the interview. I was excited to join APC because it was a young company based in UCD in the pharmaceutical R&D sector. After receiving a call to say I had got the position I was delighted. The process of applying for a year out is made easy by the science programme office. Once you go into them they’ll give you a form to fill out and process your application. Then you’re good to go and content that when you come back a year later you’ll have a place in final year.

 

Typical day in APC

Firstly, to explain what APC does. It is a consulting company that provides process development for pharmaceutical companies. This means that my internship would involve working in the lab, running and analysing experiments in order to improve a particular process that produces an API (active pharmaceutical ingredient). For working in a lab-based environment no two days are going to be the same as each project gives rise to different challenges and problems to overcome.

Typically, my role involved assisting the scientists and engineers on my team by analysing samples from their processes and determine various properties of the materials such as purity, water content and thermal characteristics. Apart from project work other things in the lab needed to be carried out like safety checks, calibration and maintenance of various instruments and checklists to complete to ensure the team has everything needed to carry out processes.

An example of the facilities at APC

Outside of work there was a Sports and Social club that organised events like comedy nights, days at the races and dinners out. A year in a company is of course completely different to a year in college. The benefits you don’t think of are that your evenings and weekends are free and don’t have to be filled with studying (or the guilt of not!). Of course of the other side, in work there’s no month off for Christmas and other long college holidays but that’s something we all have to get used to eventually!

 

What I learned

My 14 months as an intern in APC gave me an understanding of the pharmaceutical industry and an experience of what a lab based job entails day to day. Luckily for me, it is something I enjoyed and an area that I knew I would want to work in again. As well as the experience I learned many fundamental skills for future jobs including operating different pieces of lab equipment, working as part of a team and using various types of software.

Regardless of whether I wanted to carry on in chemistry or take a different route after my degree the skills I learned are transferable to many jobs and would impress any potential employers in future job applications and interviews. It’s something I’m very glad I did and would recommend it to anyone who is eager to experience what working life is like.

Niamh has now graduated with a BSc Chemistry and is working as an Assistant Scientist (Small Molecule) at APC Ltd 

 

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