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Gaffney Kapito, UCD, industry placement at SK biotek Ireland
March 23, 2022

My name is Gaffney Kapito and I am a final year PhD student in University College Dublin under the supervision of Dr Eoghan McGarrigle. My research is in the field of carbohydrate chemistry and the development of methodology for easing access to the monosaccharide building blocks of carbohydrates. My work incorporates the use of a purification tag which we hope will improve purification of monosaccharides which is often laborious and constitutes most of the effort in making monosaccharides. This is important as carbohydrates as a whole are integral to many biological processes (immune systems, cellular communication) and are also used in medicine and vaccines.

I was placed in the R&D department in SK biotek Ireland in July 2021, reporting to Eoin Power during my placement. As a CDMO (Contract Development and Manufacturing Organisation), it serves the pharmaceutical industry and provides clients with comprehensive services from drug development through manufacture. This means that it facilitates learning both practical lab skills on top of how to support client projects. During my placement, I was placed on a client project on the site, which dealt with a new product. The lab work I carried out were investigations into how to fix some problems which had been encountered during the initial run of the product on site. The investigations included carrying out filtration studies, decolourisation techniques and use testing of various chemical sources. The most important aspect of the placement was how many new skills I learned including using new equipment and analytical techniques. I was also able to learn practical skills in how to do reactions on larger scales than I was accustomed to and the safety and regulations requirements in industry. These new skills will definitely serve me in future career prospects.

I was also able to attend weekly departmental meetings, which were great opportunities for knowledge transfer among the department. They also allowed for brainstorming and consultation in order to solve problems, which contributed to a collaborative environment. Due to the client facing nature of the project, I was also able attend client update meetings. These meetings were vital to gain an understanding into the considerations that clients have and how we could incorporate those requirements in planning lab work.

The placement was very different from the work I do in my PhD. The main differences being the group effort in projects and the top-down support from managers and senior colleagues. This allowed for better distribution of workloads and strategic planning which progresses projects more efficiently. Meeting deadlines was also a more prominent priority in industry than I’m used to in the PhD but this helped to spawn more creative ways to solve any encountered problems. However, due to the experience and knowledge I’ve gained I now have an insight and appreciation into industry and working as part of a large scale API manufacturing facility. This placement was most importantly a valuable experience for my own career development and strengthened my desire to work in industry after my PhD.

Overall, an industry placement is invaluable for a PhD/Post-doc researcher. It allows you to try out a role that you’re interested in pursuing without any long term commitments. You can also build relationships and gain opportunities for networking. Having these company connections and practical experience is a great boon when looking for jobs and can set you apart from other candidates.

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