Student Placement - UCB

Violet Barton - UCB


What motivated you to pursue a placement year, specifically in your chosen role and in the pharmaceutical industry?

I had never had a proper job before university, so I was aware that I would otherwise be leaving university to go into an office job with no idea of what that was like. I also had no idea of what I actually wanted to do outside of ‘just maths’, so a placement year was a great opportunity to give myself experience in one industry and to figure out whether I could do it every day for the foreseeable future. As a Mathematics student I thought of finance and statistics as my main options, and stats appealed a lot more to me than finance, so those are the sort of roles I looked for. I chose the pharmaceutical industry because it has a true impact on the community and can change people’s lives for the better. I knew that in some way my work could contribute to getting safe and efficacious drugs onto the market.

[UCB] Violet Barton_headshot

How did your placement year contribute to your personal and professional growth?

During my placement I have been to two PSI conferences which I only learned about through my company, where I have been able to network with other placement students and more senior people in the pharmaceutical industry. I have learned to program in SAS on placement, and I have had the opportunity to do many exciting things I might not even be able to as an actual biostatistician such as coordinating a device pilot and presenting to cross-functional teams. I may also be able to visit UCB’s HQ in Belgium which I organised with my fellow placement students.
Doing a placement year has also made me far more confident. I can present in front of audiences and explain my findings to colleagues with far more experience than me, much better than I could in my first years at university. I am more aware of workplace culture and interact with my colleagues as an employee rather than a student. The year has prepared me for a 9-to-5 job and has improved my time management and how I handle pressure.

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

The time of the workday is relatively flexible: I tend to do my 9:00-5:30 instead between 8:30 and 5. A typical day would centre around programming in SAS (developing or validating tables and listings) and R (visualising and analysing data). I have also worked on multiple device pilots: throughout these I have tested devices, created presentations to educate people on the pilots and of course analysed and visualised the data. Programming usually involves discussing with a small group of people on the team for a particular study; this group may include statisticians, programmers and sometimes scientists. My work on pilots has mostly been with a team based in Belgium with expertise in medical devices and biosensor analytics. I also have a UK-based supervisor working in preclinical statistics; with his team I get to see data from the early stages of a compound’s story and work on innovative R Shiny apps.

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

Before placement I had no idea what I wanted to do once I finished my undergraduate degree. After a few months working, I already knew that I wanted to follow this role into a career. I have explored options such as studying a Medical Statistics Master’s degree, joining a CRO (Contract Research Organisation) as a programmer straight away after finishing my degree or trying to find a part-time apprenticeship. I have a much better idea of what I want to do next thanks to my placement. I have networked with people not only from UCB but other pharma companies so I also have an idea of companies I can apply for once I have the relevant qualifications.

Do you have any tips for students thinking of doing a placement year?

Honestly, go for it. Applying for placements can take up a lot of time in second year, but don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the first one or two you apply for. There are so many out there and the number of places is increasing each year… and if I hadn’t been turned down by the first couple of placements I applied to, I never would have got the role that I’ve loved this past year. Get involved in anything you can to meet employees you don’t work with: I joined the board games group and got to meet many colleagues across different areas of the company. Treat placement as a year of the real job and make the most out of it; seek out opportunities to connect with colleagues and learn new skills.


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