A LIFE(399) Outside The Lab

Posted on: 19 August 2020 by Tracey, final year Biochemistry student at the University of Liverpool in Graduate stories

In summer 2019, as Y2 Biochemistry undergraduate, I did an 8-week summer placement as part of the LIFE399 Work Placement module. Traditionally, biochemistry students would find a placement at a lab, but I chose to do my placement at Tai Pawb, a membership organisation that promotes equality and diversity in the housing sector.

Tai Pawb is staffed by a small team; less than ten members of staff support the housing sector across the whole of Wales. As a result, there was no possibility of being hidden off in a corner all day – everything I did was visible to every member of staff, including the senior staff and director, so I had a real chance to show what I could do. This enabled me to evidence highly transferable soft skills like teamwork, flexibility and problem solving.  Unexpectedly, I was also able to develop skills relevant to a research career and gained insight into career paths I hadn’t previously considered, such as policy.

My placement began with a high-profile policy launch event at the iconic Pierhead building at the Welsh Government in Cardiff. I was really nervous, especially as it was the first time of meeting some of the team! I needn’t have been, though – everyone was lovely and extremely professional. Observing my colleagues deploying networking skills expertly made me appreciate why employers value such skills, and Dr Simon Hoffman’s presentation of the Housing as a Human Right report was a masterclass in how to communicate technical language to a non-technical audience. I have no background in international human rights law whatsoever, but the presentation was clear and engaging without being superficial.

Back at the office, my main task was a piece of desktop research into support available for landlords who have tenancy issues caused by a tenant's poor mental health. I designed and conducted a telephone survey, where my experiment design skills and statistical training came in useful, and wrote a summary document of my findings. This was used as part of a grant application for funding, giving me exposure to grant application processes. Knowing that my contributions were valued enough to be included in such an important piece of work was incredibly rewarding.

The placement ended all too soon, and I loved every minute of it, even the difficult ones! But the absolute highlight came in the final week when Cardiff hosted the Homeless World Cup football tournament. The team spent an afternoon there, soaking up the atmosphere, supporting homeless initiatives, spotting actor Michael Sheen (the host) and cheering on our home countries! The experience surpassed all my expectations in a placement. I learned valuable skills, made an incredible bunch of new friends and have two incredibly generously worded recommendations on my LinkedIn profile.

I would strongly encourage anyone studying Life Sciences to take the opportunity to do the LIFE399 module, whether you opt for a lab placement or not.

Keywords: Case studies.