A Journey from Intern to Employee at Simple Pharma
Fourth year UCL Biochemical Engineering student Ghislain Peirs shares his experience of progressing from an intern to part-time employee at Simple Pharma
I was lucky enough to join Simple Pharma at the end of my third year of studies for a summer internship. At the end of my internship, the Founders gave me an offer to continue working with the company part-time in parallel with my studies — and I was delighted to accept!
How to land an internship
Like most students in their penultimate year of studies, I was looking ahead to my career after graduation and I wanted to gain some experience in my area of interest during the summer. For me, this is bioprocessing.
There is no defined path to land an internship, and routes can vary from joining official programs to leveraging your network. I applied to a number of companies throughout the year, and in the end I got lucky! My primary tip is to think carefully about why you want to intern at a particular company, and what you can bring to the position. Make sure you do your research on each company you apply to and do not send “one size fits all” applications. Here are some of the questions I asked myself when sending applications:
- What do I want to get out of the internship?
- What can I do to show my employer I could be an employee?
- How can I use the internship to learn as much as possible?
- How does the internship relate to what I learned at university?
- How can I bring value to what is happening around me?
If it’s your first time in a professional working environment, even the small things can seem confusing and can take some getting used to — should I pack lunch or buy lunch out? What time should I get there? What should I wear? And this is all before you have even sat down at your desk…
Never be afraid of asking questions, and remember that everything will click into place eventually (even when you forget how to use a feature that has been demonstrated to you three times already!). Ultimately, as an intern, you should be trying to learn as much as you can. Communication is key — even when your colleagues are busy, you can jump on the the 30-second opportunities that present themselves, for example when your colleague is grabbing a coffee.
Simple Pharma is a young company and there are many exciting projects to get involved in — with lots of learning opportunities. The small team structure and variety of work available felt very different to my previous internship (which I had undertaken at a large company).
I found that the program at Simple Pharma was flexible and I could shape my internship to my interests, which was both exciting and daunting at times, but from the get-go I felt well supported by the team. I had meetings on the first day with all the people with whom I would be working, and I had access to a lot of training to help me settle in.
Ultimately, if you are eager to learn and can be adaptable to new environments then this is the kind of company where you can thrive, and gradually you will understand the ways of working and how to produce the best work. But don’t be mistaken, it is very scary and often you will not be sure if what you are doing is right! If this is the case, you should not be afraid to ask.
Learning to work effectively
An internship over the summer will be different from working full time. For example, there might be less work in July and August as colleagues take time off and the deadlines may be unusual. You may be working on projects which are not as time-pressured, such as research-based tasks. Nonetheless, it’s important to show that you are dedicated and that you can deliver great work product. I came to learn that whatever the work may be, you can do it with enough time and support. Nothing is impossible.
Although new projects can be daunting when you first approach them, remember to take a step back and see whether you can break it down into manageable tasks. The first step is to get organised and understand what needs to be done and, most importantly, why and when by. Make sure that you know what the deadlines are, and what is expected from you.
Working culture — gaining experience beyond the day to day tasks
Remember that working is not your sole goal during an internship. The knowledge and experience you can gain from chatting to your colleagues can be invaluable, whether about the job or more widely about careers, as these conversations will help you to learn what you truly want to do. Beyond hard skills you learn in your internship, you will also be able to develop soft skills such as teamwork, prioritisation, and problem solving.
Any and all work experience is good and will help you to acclimate faster in your next job or internship.
Balancing work and studies
Unfortunately (or fortunately!) my fourth year of studies was waiting for me in September after my internship came to an end. Nonetheless, I wanted to carry on working at Simple Pharma and I started to explore the idea of part time work with the Founders. After seeking advice from my friends, family and professors, I concluded that working part time would be possible, but required a lot of rigour, organisation and for me to be more careful with my time.
I asked Simple Pharma, and they came back with a positive response! I have since been continuing to work at Simple Pharma while still prioritising university and getting my grades.
Top tips for success
Everyone’s journey is different and mine is only just starting. For anyone becoming an intern in the near future, here are my top tips:
- Getting an internship is not easy — look around for opportunities to build your network and start thinking about applications early on (you don’t want to get caught out by an unexpected deadline).
- When you join, it may be scary as there is a lot to learn very quickly. Be open and communicate to let your colleagues understand how you are progressing and where you could use more support.
- Understand that the work you do is unlikely to be the most important work in the company, but you are still adding value. Do it well and outperform if you can.
- Your attitude is what separates you from the others; be curious, polite, and humble.
- Use the opportunity to spend time with your colleagues to learn about their experience and about the industry!
I wish everyone a happy new year and good luck for all future interns!