On a very sunny day, late July a group of 18 students and postdocs from across the different institutes (ICM, ICaMB, IAH, NICR) within the Faculty of Medical Sciences set out to visit Hogwarts! Yes, yes… we know you must be surprised but as scientists Covance (Alnwick) is to us like Hogwarts is to Harry Potter!
Now getting down to facts…Covance is a Contract Research Organization (CRO) and is now a market leader in toxicology, central laboratory and discovery services. Covance has been working with the top 50 pharma and biotech companies across the globe and has also been involved at some stage of the discovery and development of about one-third of all the prescription medicine in the market. So the next time you take that tiny tablet remember Covance! The company has around 12,000 employees across 60 countries in the world and their bases in the UK are in Alnwick, Harrogate, Leeds and Maidenhead. The Alnwick site that we visited was the former site of Sanofi and was only acquired by Covance in 2010. The history of the site dates back to 1982 when it was built by Sterling. The Alnwick site provides non-clinical services to its clients.
So why did we visit Covance ? Well we all believe that professional development forms an integral part of our doctoral or research training programme. Importantly for almost every postgraduate student, the key difference is to know and therefore understand the career options that they may have after the completion of their training. Whether to stay in academia or route into industry forms one of the major choices. Same queries also hold true for postdocs! While reading about and learning from others experiences may help, what makes it more personal and perhaps helps in making an informed decision is by experiencing it hands-on. So this was the aim of our day trip to Covance Research Laboratories in Alnwick.
Our day began with light refreshments, a definite exciting and energetic start! We were then given a brief about the history of the company as well as the site at which it stands. This included a chronological outline to the company’s achievements and involvement in different products and of course the teams that make it all happen.
Considering the large number in our group, we were split into two sub-groups for better communication. The trip constituted of visiting the different departments within this CRO; Animal facility, Isotype Chemistry and Metabolite Synthesis, Metabolism-Pharmacokinetics-Bioanalysis, and finally Production. The head of each unit briefed us about what each team is responsible for, how the team fits in and at what stage of the drug manufacturing process they come into play. This helped understand two key aspects: primarily the different skill sets which form each team and more importantly how they all cross-talk to form the entire organisation.
Our day at Covance concluded with a brief discussion on what we experienced and a question and answer session for further information. This particularly helped since every question discussed was unique and brought in a key piece of information about working in an industrial research laboratory.
In terms of work environment in a CRO, employees at Covance also benefit from ‘flexible’ working hours depending on their projects, which otherwise only academia boasts about. Additionally, regular social gatherings and events are organized within each department as well as among all the employees on site. Interestingly, Covance also supports a charity on an annual basis and this year it is the Air Ambulance.
The best way to describe this successful day trip would be to quote some of the participants who took some time out of their busy schedules to discover for themselves what it is like working at a CRO;
‘I got more out of one afternoon at Covance than the numerous careers fairs I have attended over the past couple of years!’
‘It also helped me realise how much I want to be a part of drugs and its different aspects in pharmaceutical industry.’
‘I feel like I have a better understanding of jobs available in the field…’
‘I was always set on staying in academia, perhaps because I wasn’t sure what working somewhere else would entail, but the trip has made me reconsider working in industry’
‘It was also useful to see how the working environment is quite different in industry, also that there are a wide variety of roles and these develop over time. The visit introduced me to some different jobs that I might be qualified for, which previously I hadn’t considered.’
Finally…our last wise words…we hope it has helped at least some of us to start early on and think about the career track we would like to take on after our degrees! There is always a place and reason to research even at the end of your present project!