Student Placement - Roche

Amaya Opalka - Roche

Educational background

I really enjoyed Biology both at GCSEs and A-level, and so I decided to pursue it as an MSci degree at the University of Birmingham. I’m in my third year of studying out of 4, while also on a Data Science placement at Roche.

I was offered my placement in my second year of university, just after I’d finished my exams and I was over the moon!

Company, job title, length of placement

Currently, I’m at Roche, working in Data Strategy and Delivery (a department in Data Science)- specifically in Data Privacy & Sharing (DPS). I was initially on a year-long placement but my manager offered me the chance to extend and I’ll be staying 3 more months! I’ve also had the chance to work in other departments such as data curation & integration as part of the placement.


Why did you want to do a placement year? Specifically, why data science and pharmaceutical?

I knew quite early on at University that I really liked the idea of gaining experience in the pharma industry before finishing university- I thought it would help me approach the big wide world after university with a better idea of what I’d want to do- turns out it has!

Although I had a great passion for Biology, labs were never really my thing so I searched for a placement that would look at another aspect of applied Biology. I’d been curious for a while about where collected lab data goes, so I really liked the sound of Data Science. The fact that this placement would also allow me to develop my coding skills also appealed to me as I had previously struggled a bit with coding and I admired (and still do!) anyone who can code.

What was your typical day like on placement: what tasks did you perform, who did you work with?

One of the largest overarching aims of my placement, while in Data Privacy and Sharing, has been to get studies listed on a platform called Vivli. Vivli is a website accessed by universities where they can request Roche data, but before a study can be shared it has to meet a wide range of criteria to protect patient identity and confidentiality. This includes: how many patients were in the study (if too few the risk of identifying a patient within the study may be quite high!), how long has the study been about for (to ensure the company have had time to analyse results), anonymisation and other bits and pieces. This mostly involves using ExCel and other internal software where study documents can be found. I then present this information to Therapeutic Area leads to double-check everything is correct and then this information gets sent to Vivli!

I’ve also used R while in DPS to code apps, synthetic datasets and simulate my own anonymisations for my university project!

How have your soft/technical skills developed throughout your placement? 

I wouldn’t say that my coding skills are amazing, however, I have learned so much! If someone told me a year ago that I would have been able to code a synthetic dataset (with help!) I’d never have believed them!

As a result, my confidence in myself has really improved too, as I never thought I’d be able to code anything, let alone my university project and useful apps for Roche. I’m also now far more comfortable asking for help as I’ve seen how willing others, with alot more coding ability, are to help.

Would you recommend a placement year, and do you have any tips for students thinking of doing one?

YES! I’d recommend it to everyone. The most important thing I found was to apply in advance as sometimes vacancies close early and the application processes can be rather long- but its worth it.

How has your placement experience shaped your future? What are your plans after completing your undergraduate degree?

I would really like to return to Roche! I’ve learnt so much and been so happy doing a job I’d never really seriously considered before placement. This placement has consolidated that I would love to work in the pharmaceutical industry after graduating, I’d be delighted to return to Roche within DPS but I think I would also like to explore other areas in the data science and the company too.

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