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Apprenticeship case studies

Discover the experiences of our apprentices, past and present.

Chris Chiu - Laboratory Assistant Apprenticeship (2018 - 2020)

Apprentice Chris in white lab coat with arms foldedWhy did you choose to do an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute?

Biology has always been my favourite science and I believe that stemmed from my love of the natural world.

I left College having studied Biology, Geography and Economics. Like many, I did not know what to do and the thought of student debt was heavy on my mind, so instead of dealing with my issues, I took a year out and went traveling around South East Asia. When I returned, I had made up my mind that I did not want to study for another three years without experiencing the industry first…and so the search for a job in science began.

Not having any experience in a lab hindered this search greatly which is when I came across the apprenticeship route. The possibility of learning on the job while also being paid was perfect for my situation and is ultimately what lead me to apply for the Pirbright Apprenticeship program. 

What did your average day look like?

One of my favourite memories from the apprenticeship was that my days were never the same. There were of course things that would be routine in the week but Monday – Friday were always different. Monday I was making media, Tuesdays and Thursdays were for cell culture and the location of this switched from the restricted area and normal labs, Friday was processing primary cells and Wednesday was given to me so that I could work on side projects.

A few of the side projects I completed during the two years included running a heamadsorption assay on a Rift Valley Fever Vaccine, checking all secondary cell lines for mycoplasma using the confocal microscope and learning how to maintain Flow Cytometry Instruments. 

What did you enjoy the most?

The aspect that I enjoyed most were the number of opportunities made available to me from my Manager Miriam Windsor and Mentor Srijana Rai. Within the first three months, I was given a teeny tiny cell culture lab which allowed me to hone my cell culture and lab management skills. I looked after my own cells, ordered my own reagents and managed the log books. Once I was assessed as competent, I progressed onto providing cells for researchers. When I had learned how to work effectively in cell culture, I was moved into confocal microscopy and then onto flow cytometry, there was always something to learn.

How did your apprenticeship support your career progression?

My apprenticeship (to put it lightly…) has been the foundation on which I have built my career in science. It was an amazing stepping stone which allowed me to move into a Flow Cytometry Technician Assistant role.

I developed my skills under Flow Cytometry Manager Katy Moffat who taught me basically everything I know about Flow Cytometry and what Katy did not teach me, I learnt from the conferences she sent me on! Two years later I was promoted to Flow Cytometry Technician. I continued to stay under Katy's wing for another year until I fled the nest which had been The Pirbright Institute, to become Flow Cytometry Manager and Assistant Lab Manager at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

Would you recommend an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute?

I would absolutely recommend an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute. Something that I will always remember is when Mother Chiu (Mum) mentioned that I never complained about work, I always came home happy. This stemmed from enjoying my job and most importantly the people that I worked with. My colleagues and the staff at Pirbright were always so kind and supportive to me. 

Do you have any advice for future apprentices?

I have a lot of advice to give to future apprentices but to keep it short. Make sure you commit yourself to the job and get the basics right such as, being on time. Do not be scared when you know absolutely nothing, there is no shame in feeling the dumbest in the room, it just means you will learn the most. 

P.S I cannot stress the part about feeling out of my depth, being introduced to immunology…Yikes  

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