Safia Ballout

Safia Ballout

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

Having industry experience is so valuable to future employers. My year in industry has greatly improved my knowledge of career options in my field and allowed me to network with people in the industry. I have developed so many transferable skills that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

What is the name of the company you work for?

I work for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is an international pharmaceuticals company. I specifically work in their research and development (R&D) sector, based in Stevenage, where scientists develop new medicines, vaccines and consumer healthcare products. The R&D sector is focused on four therapy areas: respiratory, HIV/infectious diseases, oncology and immuno-inflammation.

What is your role within the company?

I’m based within the Immuno-Inflammation Therapeutic Area Unit in the Clinical Imaging department, which is made up of 12 individuals. We work largely with external collaborators – such as academics, teaching hospitals and other industries – to run preclinical and clinical trials in imaging immuno-inflammation (for example, rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease). I support all the team members across a wide variety of projects.

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

Our day-to-day work at GSK is quite varied and flexible. Meetings are mostly conducted virtually because everyone spends a lot of time working with external collaborators, attending meetings or working from home – and some team members are based at GSK Upper Providence (USA).

On Mondays, I have a meeting with my manager to report back on my work, discuss any queries and talk about ideas for future projects. On Wednesdays, we alternate between a formal team meeting one week and a casual coffee and catch-up the next.

Day-to-day, I work on several different projects at once including my own research and projects I’m assisting with, as well as undertaking admin tasks, hosting visitors and even attending lectures.

Do you get involved in any interesting projects?

I’ve been involved in several really interesting projects. At the moment, I’ve just finished writing a literature review on a relatively new imaging modality called photoacoustic imaging to evaluate whether it has potential for future clinical trials to diagnose and monitor progression of immuno-inflammation diseases. I’m attending a conference in Nottingham this week on optical and photoacoustic imaging and will present my findings to the team at the next meeting.

What do you think you have got out of this experience so far?

I have developed a great deal of transferable skills. For example, I have developed my organisational skills by leading external engagement with international core labs to organise meetings that have taken place intercontinentally. I have developed confidence in contributing to large conference calls with various professionals. Most importantly, I have started networking with people in the industry as well as academic collaborators who have given me some valuable information and guidance for the future.

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

Make the first move and contact industries that interest you – even if they are not advertising internships – because you have nothing to lose. Companies appreciate enthusiastic people reaching out to them to ask if there are any work experience opportunities and in my case even created an industrial placement for me!