Developing Skills with Science Apprenticeships

Rebecca Burford shares her apprenticeship journey, from Level 5 Technician Apprentice to Level 6 Laboratory Scientist.

Rebecca in graduation cap and gown

AstraZeneca apprentice, Rebecca Burford started her apprenticeship journey as a Level 5 Technician Scientist and have now progressed to being a Level 6 Laboratory Scientist. Rebecca tells us how she decided on apprenticeship and what it is like to undertake full-time work alongside degree level study.

Like most students finishing school, I had to choose between applying for an apprenticeship or university, and decided on a higher apprenticeship. In both instances I would have obtained a degree, however a higher apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to learn in a practical setting alongside industry professionals whilst being paid.

My apprenticeship has been with AstraZeneca, a global pharmaceutical company. A typical day in the Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism and Elimination (ADME) team within AstraZeneca Oncology R&D involves a mixture of laboratory and office based work. The morning is usually spent in the lab performing bioanalysis or in-vitro assays. This  supports the determination of dosing regimens for compounds and the likelihood of drug-drug interactions in the clinic. The afternoon is usually spent doing data analysis, presenting data and attending meetings.

I’ve found that an apprenticeship requires a lot of self-motivation, discipline and organisation. The university work is completed independently on a study day, using an online tool called Moodle. It requires you to keep up to date on deadlines for assignments and exams. Combining this with a 4-day work week is a challenge, as the workplace has its own pressures and deadlines; but when the balance between work and study is right, it is very rewarding as you are developing a lot of key personal skills.

For my apprenticeship, study is allocated to one day per week and the remaining 4 days is spent working. The time spent working is just the right amount, as you spend enough time learning without it being information overload. The university work usually fits within the study day. However, if you are aiming for a high grade, further reading in your free time is a must! The university work provides fundamental knowledge on scientific theory and techniques, which can be applied on a day-to-day basis within the workplace. For instance, I completed a module on analytical chemistry which had direct applications to my daily use of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.

The apprenticeship has exceeded my expectations! It has been a wonderful process, I have learnt so much and developed a lot as a person. Highlights of my apprenticeship include becoming a Student Voice Representative, presenting my university project at the DMDG Early Careers Meeting and also supporting the transition of an Oncology project through the drug discovery and development process. Completing a higher apprenticeship has not only provided me with scientific knowledge, but also key skills such as verbal and written communication, teamwork, personal responsibility and organisation. I will complete the apprenticeship with a bachelor’s degree as well as 5 years’ experience, which gives me a massive head start in my career.

In the future, I hope to continue my studies by completing an MSc or PhD, by apprenticeship if possible! I would like to stay learning and working within the ADME team, and hopefully progress enough to become a mentor to other apprentices joining the group. If you are considering a higher of degree apprenticeship, I would definitely recommend it. It requires a lot of hard work, but this makes it so rewarding! It provides you with educational knowledge and industry experience; the perfect set up to your career!