James King

James King

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 the manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer healthcare products. These products go across the world to treat millions of people who currently are without access to basic healthcare and suffer from everyday ailments.
 
GSK has a broad portfolio of pharmaceutical drugs covering a range of areas such as; respiratory, HIV treatment and oncology. GSK produces vaccines that protect both children and adults in over 160 countries and consumer healthcare products such as; 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. Using targeted experimentation, process modelling and industrialisation, scale up and designing of unit operations and in turn the process for large scale production of the drug.
 
Currently I work within the UK ‘flow team’ which are a team of Chemical Engineers and Process Chemists specialised 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. Whilst 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 who’s happy to work out with you a challenging analytical technique, as one example.


What do you enjoy the most and do you get involved in any interesting projects?

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 effects over 1.2 million people in the UK.

Danirixin production is currently is transitioning from lab-scale chemistry to the 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 and it is rewarding to have people across the team and from the pilot plant come to me to ask questions, for advice and for recommendations, which is a pleasant reminder of the importance of the work and my value in the project and in a multidisciplinary team.


Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

As an engineering student, I had gotten a lot of theoretical knowledge at University and I was wanted to appreciate how these concepts apply in practice to solve real world problems and challenges. I also was looking for experience in how engineering fits in to a large company and how engineers practice their skills and experiences.
What do you think you have got out of this experience so far? 
 
I’ve had lots of exposure to hard skills such as problem solving, independent working and being team focused. The benefit of working on a project at this scale has given me a lot of exposure to presenting to different audiences, communications skills and when things don’t go as predicted – critical thinking (and often perseverance!).


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

I think being enthusiastic will help in getting the most out of whatever placement you do, so I’d say make sure you know what it is 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 these areas. In an interview, it’s worth it to ask lots of questions to get a better understanding of the placement and what you will be doing.