Student Placement - GSK

Zoe Guy - GSK

Educational background

I am a Mathematics with Statistics student at the University of Southampton. As part of the university's year in employment scheme, I am doing a one-year industrial placement at GSK as a clinical statistician.

Why did you want to do a placement year?

Before applying to university, I knew I wanted to do a placement year, so I chose universities that offered this opportunity. I knew it would help me to decide a career and I would gain invaluable experience to boost my employability in future.


Statistics has been an interest of mine since A Levels, but I never considered it as a career until I reached university. While I had intended to find a statistics related placement, I ended up applying to a lot of finance positions as a back-up - so I was thrilled when I got accepted by GSK because the job description fit exactly what I was looking for.

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

I work in clinical statistics, which involves analysing clinical trial data to determine the efficacy and safety of medicines. I have been involved in projects from multiple therapeutic areas; worked with people from various backgrounds (programmers, data managers, clinicians, medical writers etc) and learned about the roles for statisticians at different stages of the pipeline. I discovered early on that I enjoy programming graphs, so I have had a lot of project work involving this. For example, I analysed questionnaires and presented the results graphically to a study team, and created graphs on patient haemoglobin levels which will be presented in a regulatory meeting in the near future! I have had other tasks outside of project work, including working on the monthly departmental newsletter, supporting training sessions and posting on the internal social media.

With COVID-19 restrictions phasing out, I was able to go onto site and experience the social atmosphere of working at a science park. There were events held on site throughout the year, such as a Christmas market, and I also got to experience the excitement as GSK split into two companies! 

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

GSK provided plenty of development opportunities over the year through trainings and webinars - learning new statistical methods such as Bayesian Dynamic Borrowing. I was also set independent research projects, which I then presented to colleagues - this gave me a chance to improve on my independent learning and presentation skills, as well as introducing me to topics that I will cover when I return to university. At the start of the year, I was familiar with R, but I can now say I am confident in programming in R, and have also learnt other statistical software, SAS and PASS. I have also grown more confident talking to colleagues, even those in more senior positions.

Over the year, I became a STEM Ambassador and applied for the Industrial Cadets Platinum Leader Award, which encouraged me to volunteer in the local community and improve soft skills such as communication, problem solving, organisation and teamwork. 

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

I fully recommend taking a placement year. It is very beneficial in providing hands-on experience and contextualising your degree. Don't get disheartened at rejection in the application process, keep applying because any placement is a great opportunity to expand on skills and test whether a career suits you.

While on placement, learn as much as you can to develop skills (try new software, get introductions to other departments etc.) and set up meetings to discuss careers with colleagues - it is worthwhile getting to know the different pathways into the career. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues - everyone wants to see you excel and is happy to help, and it’s a great chance to network in the industry and with other placement students.

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

This placement has been beneficial in confirming that I want to be a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry. I am excited to return to university because the majority of my modules will be statistical, and I have had a taster of some of the topics over my placement year (such as survival models). I also have a better understanding of statistical methods now that I have experienced them in the workplace and contextualised my degree. After my undergraduate degree, I will proceed on to a master's in medical statistics. My plan will then be to return to the pharmaceutical industry as a statistician - and it would be great if GSK would rehire me in the future!

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