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Life Sciences Sector Expert Q&A

Mark Gallagher, Careers and Work Placement Consultant in Queen’s School of Biological Sciences offers an insight into graduate opportunities the Life Sciences Sector offers.

What is the Life Sciences sector?

The Life Sciences in the broadest sense can encompass study and work related to all living organisms and so can have a very broad definition which can range from agriculture to zoology (A-Z). The Life Sciences sector spans a huge variety of career areas, including, but not limited to, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, environmental management, food and nutrition and scientific research. Companies may be involved in areas including research and development, drug discovery, diagnostics, analytical testing and can range from small research intensive companies, with a small number of employees, right through to large multinationals employing thousands of people.

What kinds of careers options do Life Sciences students have?

Career areas are very broad in the life sciences – and at various levels, straight from a BSc qualification to roles that may require additional levels of qualification and up to PhD. Here are a few of the main areas of employment: 

Research & development – The focus of research and development (R&D) is mainly on creating products, processes or commercial applications using innovative multidisciplinary approaches. R and D takes place in Universities but also in industry within smaller medical biotech companies or parts of companies tasked with process and product improvements. To work in R and D typically you are encouraged to further your level of qualification to at least MSc if not PhD level.

Quality assurance and product Manufacturing – Quality Assurance (QA) or Quality Control (QC) involves ensuring that products are manufactured in accordance with recommended standards, and requires analysing raw materials used initially through to finished products. Companies in the sector are highly regulated so Quality is key at all stages of production with a variety of repeat analytical tests being undertaken to ensure products are safe to use. Careers can also involve monitoring environmental factors like water and air quality for contaminants which could potentially impact on process or product quality. 

Science Business roles – Opportunities for regulatory affairs officers are commonplace in the sector as are roles to develop new markets and business for products, or providing expertise and consultancy to support products – roles which don’t involve lab work but the understanding you gain from a science degree is essential to carry out the role effectively. Regulatory affairs officers ensure the appropriate licensing, marketing and legal compliance of products, and work with documentation and medicine approval authorities throughout the world. Products developed as a result of research and development will need to find markets in which to be sold – and that creates opportunities for science graduates to help develop those markets, by approaching health authorities and companies to explain the features and benefits of products developed – so if you are a science graduate who is keen to use your communication and persuasion skills this could be the route for you. 

Clinical trials – All medicines must undergo clinical trials before they are granted licences. Scientists are involved in setting up trials to ensure that new products are safe for use. You could be involved in a variety of roles ranging from lab-based research, through to using data analysis programmes to analyse and interpret results, or managing and monitoring trials by visiting hospital sites and liaising with nurses and physicians to ensure the trials are running appropriately.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in building a career in this sector

Be open to new things – at University your Careers Service will offer a host of opportunities which present an opportunity to try something new. This could be applying for periods of experience abroad, events that seek to attract students from all disciplines, career development programmes and classes that are optional to attend but specific to your degree. Get involved and set time aside outside your studies to develop skills and knowledge of options and the labour market – it’s never time wasted. 

Focus on what you can control – you can’t control the unexpected such as COVID and the wider economic impacts. You can though control how you present yourself to employers and ensuring that your applications are at a high standard – giving yourself every opportunity to gain an entry level position. Use the expertise that exists in your Careers service to help with this.

Be smart and organised in your job search – you now have access to thousands of vacancies at your fingertips, but making online job applications can be tough. It’s better to make a small number of high quality applications rather than make multiple applications. Start to analyse job specifications thoroughly, look at the essential and desirable criteria for jobs of interest. For more experienced roles that grab your attention work out how you can address any skill and experience shortfalls. Speaking to people is also something I really encourage (don’t just email!) – whether that is people working in similar roles to those you are interested in, making enquiries directly to companies or attending career and networking events, these types of interactions can all help boost your confidence and also gain insights into what employers actually value in prospective employees – this in turn can help inform future job applications. 

Attitude and approach are key – focus on developing your reputation for high quality work, reliability, integrity and being a good colleague to work and collaborate with. The skills and knowledge you take with you from University will be invaluable in understanding the areas you work in – but always continue to develop your skill set, the way we work is changing quickly – many employers value your attitude and willingness to learn equally as they do your knowledge and skills.

About the blogger:

I’m Mark Gallagher from Queen’s School of Biological Sciences. I work with three key groups of people – students, employers and academics. The key focus of my own role is the development of student employability from first year right through to Master’s level students. If you are a student looking to explore a career in the Life Sciences sector, don’t miss my blog featuring a Q&A of everything you have ever wanted to know about the sector.

I encourage students to develop themselves by undertaking work experience placements which form part of a degree programme, to get involved in some of the programmes that the Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills service run throughout the year as well as encouraging involvement in extra-curricular activities that help develop confidence and transferable skills (which are key for employers we work with). 

I also work with a large number of employers throughout the year, these are typically employers who are interested in recruiting placement and graduating students from the School. 

We run a very successful work placement programme within the School of Biological Sciences where each year our undergraduate students undertake a one-year placement as part their degree programme. Many of our students work in the Life Science sector locally and throughout the UK joining established employers big and small, as well as gaining experience with Biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies in ROI. In a typical year, 20% of students will move outside NI to gain experience, with many travelling internationally. All placements are quality assured to meet our course learning requirements and students and employers are visited during the course of a placement to ensure everything is progressing as anticipated. 

We have 8 undergraduate programmes in the School which are quite different so it’s important to ensure our labour market information is current and conveyed to students ensuring they know what their options are. Students can also book one to one appointments throughout the year, and in recent months these appointments have moved online.

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Advent Calendar advice Career planning Digital publications prospects Publications TargetJobs

Careers Advent Calendar: 5 Digital Careers Publications to Gift Yourself This Christmas

1 TARGETjobs Careers Survival Pack

A short intro for first years on how to boost your employability while enjoying university life.

View online

2 The UK 300 2020/21

Find out which companies are among the UK’s most popular graduate employers and get tips from leaders and rising stars in the industry.

View online

3 GradIreland Guide 2021

Careers advice and jobs for all sectors

View online

4 Prospects Student Career Guide 2020/2021

Apply graduate jobs and schemes, discover internship opportunities, industry insights and more.

5 Prospects: What do graduates do?

Insights and analysis from the UK’s largest higher education survey 

View online

For more useful publications, visit our website

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Advent Calendar advice Career planning consultants consultations

Careers Advent Calendar: How and When to Book a Career Consultation

Two types of consultations are available – 30 minutes to discuss any aspect of your career management or 15 minutes to receive feedback on your CV or LinkedIn profile.

The aim of these consultations is to support you so that you can successfully manage your own career. As a result, students and graduates are limited to no more than 5 appointments per academic year.  Most people use only 1 or 2 appointments in any year.

Book an appointment via MyFuture 

Careers Consultation FAQs

When should I start thinking about career management? 
It’s important to focus on your studies but the application processes for graduate schemes and taught postgraduate study start to open in the September/October of your final year. Many employers hire graduates that they already know through placements or internships, so it pays to start career planning sooner.

Am I on the wrong course? 
Many students have doubts about their subject choice at various times throughout their time at University. It’s important to be proactive in handling these doubts. Don’t just give up and stop attending! Targetjobs have some useful advice to help you understand the root of the issue and what to do next. Book an appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss career options related to different subject areas and speak to your Personal Tutor (if applicable) or Adviser of Studies if you are considering changing to a different course.

Where do I start? 
A good first step is to research career options:
– Read 10 tips for exploring your career options
– Looking for something related to your subject or a specific industry sector? – read Career Options and Information by School and Sector

To turn this into a shortlist of career options, it’s important to consider what’s important to you in a career e.g. your motivations, the skills you enjoy using and where in the world you want to live.

Gain further insight into different roles and companies by attending Careers events.

How do I stand out from the crowd?
– Get some international experience – read our Study / Work Abroad pages
    – Get some work/volunteering experience – see Careers Events  
    – Gain accreditation for engaging in employability-enhancing activities through DegreePlus

I want to start my own business
– QUBSU provides support to Queen’s entrepreneurial  students and recent graduates 
– Opportunities for developing entrepreneurial skills can be found on the DegreePlus website

For more advice on career planning, visit our website

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Advent Calendar advice Graduate recruitment Job alert Job Hunting job search on campus jobs

Careers Advent Calendar: 6 Steps to Finding the Perfect Job on MyFuture

  1. Log in using your Queen’s ID

  2. Select ‘Jobs’ and ‘Search MyFuture Jobs’ from left hand menu.
  3. From your home page of the jobs section, you can view:
    – Recommended jobs based on your previous views
    – Jobs people on your course are looking at.
    – The latest job listings and trending jobs.
  4. You can filter your job search by industry, job function, course, date posted or closing date. 
  5. Set up a job alert for a saved search and get daily or weekly results sent directly to your Queen’s email.  
  6. You can also favourite jobs or follow employers you are interested in so their new posting appear on your home screen.

Get started now: Log in to MyFuture

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Advent Calendar advice Interviews TargetJobs

Careers Advent Calendar: Five Tricky Job Interview Questions

Our friends over at TARGETjobs have collated this list of tricky interview questions with tips on how to answer them. Read the full article here.

‘What is your most significant achievement?’

This question is designed to assess your values and attitude as much as your achievements, and employers often want you to talk about your activities outside education. You’re more likely to come across well if you choose to discuss something you’re genuinely proud of, which could be because it involved leading others, overcoming obstacles or persisting in the face of the odds. 

‘What motivates you?’

You are particularly likely to be asked about your motivation in a strengths-based interview, which focuses on what you enjoy doing and what you do well. This is an approach that graduate recruiters are increasingly using alongside or instead of competency-based questions.

Your answer should draw on an example from your extracurricular activities, work experience or studies that suggests you would be strongly motivated by the job you are applying for.

‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.’

If an interviewer asks you to describe a situation in which you showed initiative, avoid giving an example of an idea you had but never put into action. It’s much better to talk about a time when you not only came up with a solution to a problem but also acted on it. 

‘What is your biggest weakness?’

The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer to as to give it a positive spin.

Strengths and weaknesses can be different sides of the same coin, so another way to approach this question is to think about how you overcome the potential downside of your greatest strength. For example, if you’re a natural teamworker, is it difficult for you to cope with conflict or assume leadership abilities? How do you cope with this?

‘Are you innovative?’

Graduates are sometime asked to give an example of when they were innovative, ‘thought outside the box’ or used creative thinking to solve a problem. Many graduates are concerned that their examples are just not innovative enough, but the interviewer won’t expect you to have given the prime minister tips on handling Brexit! Instead, talk about times when an idea from you had a positive impact: for example, if you came up with a fundraising idea for charity or found a way to save time on an assignment.

For more resources to help you build your business and organisational skills, visit our website

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Advent Calendar advice Commercial Awareness personal skills Skills

Careers Advent Calendar: Understanding Commercial Awareness

Employers often look for commercial awareness in candidates. Here are three things we learned from the Open University’s free Commercial Awareness course:

1. How to understand an organisation and how it creates value

When researching an organisation, you shouldn’t just look at what an organisation does, but how it does it; explore the activities and processes within an organisation. From the outside, two organisations may appear to be delivering equivalent services or products in the same way. They may have broadly similar suppliers and workforce sizes, their location and other large-scale features may even be comparable. Yet the costs incurred by processes inside these two apparently similar ‘black boxes’ may be vastly different. So, although what goes into each organisation and what comes out may seem pretty much the same, the ways in which they create value could be radically distinct.

2. How to understand an organisation’s value

An organisation is a machine for adding value. In its simplest form this means it takes an input at one value and, if successful, converts it to an output at a higher value.

The concept is seen most clearly in manufacturing, where raw materials are worked on to produce finished goods that customers value and are prepared to pay a premium for. Whilst the raw materials or components already had worth, the process of manufacturing added more value.

Commercial awareness means being aware of how change to one aspect of an organisation’s system can have disproportionate, far- and wide-ranging impacts on many other components.

3. Where you fit in in the value chain

The course mentions three components in the value chain: 

  • creativity: coming up with a new product or process
  • manufacturing: churning out the product (this is the tangible part of the chain but it adds less value than you might think)
  • marketing, branding and advertising.

When it comes to applying for a position within an organisation, ask yourself

  • Does your role fit neatly and exclusively into one of these three stages?
  • In terms of a value chain are you closest to the ‘inputs’ or the ‘outputs’ of your organisation? (Roles close to the input end might be procurement, enquiries, goods received, etc., those nearer to the output end might be invoicing, delivery, after-sales services, etc.).
  • We talk of a value ‘chain’ – but to what extent does a linear chain (receiving work and passing it on, with added value) represent your work situation? 

Reflecting on the above will help you demonstrate your commercial awareness to a potential employer. 

Access more useful resources to build your commercial awareness on our website

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Advent Calendar advice Global Opportunities Go Global Language skills

Careers Advent Calendar: 5 Benefits of learning a new language

If you haven’t heard already, all Queen’s students are being given the opportunity to take a course at Queen’s Language Centre for free in Semester 2 – all the details including how to apply can be found here. There are so many benefits to learning a new language. Here are just seven of them.

  1. It Boosts Your CV

Having another language is seen as a major plus by employers, particularly in today’s global job market.

2. It’s Good for the Brain

The cognitive thinking and problem-solving skills required to learn a new language rivals Sudoku when it comes to giving your brain a workout.

3. It develops a global mindset

Learning a new language gives you a greater global understanding of the world and how it works.

4 It allows you to experience other cultures

Learning a new language exposes you to new cultures. You will have the chance to see new things from a different perspective and be able to connect with people across the world. You get to learn what’s fashionable within a culture, including music, style, history and literature. This, in turn, will help you grow as a person and appreciate things that you wouldn’t have noticed before.

5 It helps you multitask

Switching between languages outs extra demands on your brain – those that can manage it are better at multitasking and managing stress. 

For more resources on boosting your language skills, visit our website.

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Advent Calendar advice Employer Engagement Linkedin Networking Social Networks

Careers Advent Calendar: Managing Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is like marmite. Some people love it. Some people loathe it. I confess to being nearer to the second category myself. But here’s the catch – it is a useful and influential platform for kickstarting your career.

Why? 3 reasons…

  1. Networking – LinkedIn isn’t like other social media platforms. It has a career focused USP, meaning you can cultivate a specific professional network. You can follow what other people in your industry are talking about, share opportunities and ideas and, yes, even steal a few too!
  2. Career Path – One of LinkedIn most notable features is that users upload their career and educational history to their profile. This means you can check out what career path your professional role models took when you’re planning your own professional journey 
  3. Jobs – LinkedIn is no silver bullet to your unemployment woes. But it does boast an impressive jobs feature, allowing you keep track of who’s hiring in your area, what skills and experience they’re looking for and more details on how you might apply. 

Convinced yet? Well, let’s pretend you are.

So how can you make the most of your new LinkedIn account? Here 10 short, sharp, tip-top tips:

  1. Profile Picture – Something vaguely professional please, no snaps from ‘Malouf 2k18 Lads Holiday’
  2. Background Picture – Always more tricky I know, but popping in something, even just your top landscape shot, adds some personalization to your profile.
  3. Make Your Summary Sing – This is your first chance to show off, so pretend it’s a job interview and sell your unique story! 
  4. Specific Skills – Don’t sell yourself short. Have a think about what you can offer to an employer, and try not to lie! 
  5. Job History – Take a few minutes and do this right. Make sure you get your employment and educational history correct, you’d be surprised how many people will see it.
  6. Describe Your Work – Job titles aren’t enough, tell us what you did in the role.
  7. Network Building – Be careful here, you don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry spamming your timeline. Remember LinkedIn is career focused, so only connect with folks who are professionally relevant. Colleagues, role models and career influencers? Perfect! That Ex you never got over? Avoid!
  8. Endorsements – Not one of my favourite features but useful nonetheless. Give your connections some endorsements for their skills and, who knows, they might return the favour!
  9. Contact Information – The internet is a weird place, so don’t overshare, but a professional email address allows those interested in your work to drop you a line.
  10. Kill The Buzzwords – I know it’s tempting to fill your profile with all the latest, and still meaningless, industry jargon. But it makes for painful reading so cut the ‘synergies’, ‘passionate’ and ‘results-driven’ lines. When it comes to who you are – show, don’t tell!

Now you’re all set! 

One thing’s for sure, LinkedIn isn’t as fun as other social media platforms. So, don’t forget about it as the notifications pile up. LinkedIn is a platform that’s on the rise, make sure you make the most of its ascendency. 

Good Luck!

About the author: 

Thomas Copeland is a second year Politics, Philosophy and Economics student. He is Founder & Editor of Challenges NI and is the Head of News at Queen’s Radio.

WATCH: Using LinkedIn Effectively

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Advent Calendar advice Career planning Covid-19 Erasmus graduation lockdown Mental Health Pandemic

Careers Advent Calendar: Surviving final year in a global pandemic

Maeve in Madrid

In the summer of last year, I was adjusting to life in a new city having just started an Erasmus work placement in Madrid. I was enjoying my new independence, tapas, and post-work sunbathing. By March of 2020, a global pandemic had well and truly made itself known throughout Spain, and my international experience, like so many other things, came to an abrupt end.

Suddenly, I was back living at home, completing my final year online and coming to terms with the pending post-graduation panic. It was all a far cry from the pre-pandemic blissful ignorance I was enjoying this time last year. 

Final year is stressful at the best of times, with countless deadlines, exams, job applications and big decisions. Combine that with a switch to online classes and a global pandemic looming large in the backdrop, and it’s a recipe for final year fear.

Learning to adjust

The switch to online learning was something I, like many others, found very daunting.  Microsoft Teams classes and breakout rooms were not how I had imagined my final year of university to be, but I am learning to embrace the positives. For starters, I love avoiding early winter morning commutes to 9am classes. Moreover, I’m recognising that the skills I’ve gained by being thrown into the deep end of online working will be highly valued amongst future employers. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, the need for virtual work skills is no longer limited to telecommuters and global teams; it now extends to most office work. The virtual skills I’ve developed through being immersed into the world of online learning are truly indispensable and highly valuable to employers, so I’ll remember to show them off in my next interview. 

Maeve in Madrid

Looking to the future

And as I begin to look at interviews and how my post-university career path will begin to take shape, I’m aware that my comfortable student bubble is about to burst and real adulthood and responsibilities are looming. 

‘What are your plans after university?’ is a question that rings throughout final year, and while some have a five-year career plan up their sleeve, I count myself among the many who haven’t figured out what I’m doing at the weekend, never mind next year. 

If you’re in a similar situation, and are finding your future really daunting, fear not. Here are some tips that have helped me: 

  1. Don’t get caught up on what your friends are doing. It’s easy to feel that just because everyone you know is applying for Big 4 grad schemes, you should too. It’s important to think about what’s best for you, and understand what you really want. Queen’s Careers Service is on hand to help support you in deciding what to do next. You can book a 1-1 appointment with a Careers Consultant to discuss any aspect of your career management or even receive feedback on your CV/LinkedIn profile. 

Book an appointment in MyFuture

  1. Explore your options! Research, research, research. Graduate jobs are not the only option. Think about postgraduate study – maybe a Master’s programme will be the next step for you? Or, with vaccine hope on the horizon and a slow shift back to normality looking increasingly promising, why not think about working, studying or volunteering abroad? Queen’s Global Opportunities Team can advise you about programmes available. You can arrange a virtual appointment with one of the team to chat about the travel options available to you through MyFuture.

Search Global Opportunities

  1. Leverage the new skills you’ve developed. Although this year has not been the most ideal in terms of academic experience, think about the skills you have developed through its challenges. Not only will employers love those new virtual working skills, but also the adaptability gained by facing a having to suddenly adapt to online classes, resilience gained by facing and persevering through your studies during a very difficult period, and undoubtedly problem-solving in overcoming various issues and problems brought about by the challenges of this year. Think about how to showcase this new skillset, considering how this relates to your ‘selling points’ for your next interview. Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills website has some great interview tips and advice to help you think about this.  
  2. Find comfort in the unknown. Be at ease with the fact that 2020 has been completely unprecedented. It is completely normal to feel anxious and unsure about what your next step is. It’s important to remember that your future isn’t a race or a competition, take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your classmates or lecturers. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, there is support available in the form of Queen’s Wellbeing who are on hand to help those struggling through these very strange times.

Contact Queen’s Wellbeing Service

If you are unsure about your next step after graduation, there are lots of tools and resources available to you on our website. 

Explore your options by School or Sector.

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Advent Calendar advice Applications competencies Interviews STAR

Careers Advent Calendar: Demonstrate your problem-solving skills

Employers want to know how you would tackle problems. Can you use logic and imagination to find solutions? Better still, can you anticipate problems and find ways to prevent them?

Good problem-solvers possess the following skills:

  • analytical skills
  • innovative and creative thinking
  • a lateral mindset
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • level-headedness
  • initiative
  • resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
  • teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
  • influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).

How can you prove your problem-solving skills?

You might be asked in an interview to talk about a time you solved a problem, or you could be given a hypothetical situation and asked how you would respond to it e.g.

Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?

OR

How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?

In both these cases, you should refer to the above list of skills and how you demonstrated each when giving your answer. 

Developing your problem-solving techniques 

The following situations are all good examples of using problem-solving skills:

  • Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
  • Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
  • Carrying out DIY.
  • Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
  • Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
  • Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
  • Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
  • Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
  • Course assignments that involve problem solving

Articulating your skills

You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Follow the STAR technique outlined on our website. If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well – bonus!

For more advice on developing your problem-solving technique, visit the Target website