James King

James King

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

As an engineering student, I had gotten a lot of theoretical knowledge at university. I wanted to appreciate how these concepts applied in practice to solve real world problems and challenges. I was also looking for experience in how engineering fits into a large company and how engineers practice their skills.

What is the name of the company you work for and what do they do?

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is a FTSE100 global healthcare company focused on the research, development and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer healthcare products. These products are used across the world to treat millions of people who are without access to basic healthcare and suffer from everyday ailments.

GSK has a broad portfolio of pharmaceutical drugs covering areas such as respiratory, HIV treatment and oncology. GSK creates vaccines that protect both children and adults in more than 160 countries and produces consumer healthcare products including Sensodyne, Voltaren, Panadol and Horlicks. GSK combines these three areas to reference their motto, which is to help people “do more, feel better, live longer”.

What is your role within the company?

As a placement student in the R&D Process Engineering group, I am a part of the team responsible for taking the lab-scale chemistry from drug discovery and developing it to an industrial scale. Currently, I work within the UK ‘flow team’. This is a team of Chemical Engineers and Process Chemists specialising in the design and development of continuous processing of pharmaceuticals – an emerging area in a field historically focused on batch processing.

Can you please give me an insight into a typical day?

Day-to-day work really does vary depending on the project and the current stage in the project’s timeline. When I first joined, I began my work in experimentation with a centrifugal continuous multistage liquid-liquid extraction system and its behaviours at different conditions. Currently, a typical day involves some combination of equipment design, experimentation in the lab, data analysis and system modelling. Outside of this, I summarise my investigations and findings into presentations which are given in team meetings, meetings with equipment suppliers and with pilot plant engineers over in Ireland.

While the project is team-orientated, I get a lot of opportunity for independent working and problem solving. However, if I’m having a particularly tricky time with one thing, everyone in the team is very accessible and it’s easy to sit down with an expert.

What do you enjoy the most?

My favourite part has been working on the continuous process of a drug called Danirixin – the first tablet pharmaceutical that is able to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). COPD refers to a range of respiratory diseases that makes it difficult to breathe, even when resting and affects more than 1.2 million people in the UK.

Danirixin production is currently transitioning from lab-scale chemistry to pilot plant engineering, which requires a considerable level of design, experimentation and safety considerations. At the end of my placement, the production from the pilot plant campaign will go towards large-scale clinical trials and global supply.

What I have enjoyed the most so far is the combination of theory and hands-on problem solving, as this is something that I haven’t experienced at university. Furthermore, the work I have done has had a visible impact. It is rewarding to have people from throughout the team come to me to ask questions, which is a pleasant reminder of the importance of the work and my value in the project.

Do you have any tips and advice for current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

Being enthusiastic will help you get the most out of whatever placement you do. Make sure you know what the placement will involve and picture yourself in that role. If they leave contact details on the application page, contacting them with questions you may have is a good way to learn more about the placement from the people who have planned it.

If you’re ready to apply, I’d recommend researching the company for what they’re doing, what they’re looking for and tailor your application/interview to focus on those areas. In an interview, it’s good to ask lots of questions to get a better understanding of the placement and what you will be doing.