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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  

Lucy Drudge - Business Administration Apprenticeship (2018 - 2021)

Lucy at a stand with a colleagueWhy did you choose to do an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute?

Whilst studying at college I started to think about what I wanted to do when I left. I had an interest in photography and was studying A Level Business but wasn’t sure if university would be for me when I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I started to look at other opportunities and apprenticeships. 

After looking at a few different apprenticeships, there was a career day at college where Pirbright staff attended and shared the opportunities that were available. After speaking to the staff and completing a bit more research, I decided to apply. 

The reason I chose to do my apprenticeship here is because everyone I spoke to at the careers events was so enthusiastic about the work that Pirbright do and mentioned that no two days were the same, which I loved the thought of. 

When the scheme was advertised, it was also very clear that Pirbright offer lots of support to apprentices and that the apprenticeship scheme was something they wanted to grow so I thought it would be a good opportunity. 

What did your average day look like?

As an apprentice no two days were the same as I was lucky enough to work with many different people across the institute to learn what their role involved and how an administrator could fit in or help them.

Most days would start by checking my emails and actioning anything that had come in, I used to oversee the Centre for Collaborative learning (CCL) – a set of meeting/training rooms so I would be accepting any bookings people had made. 

I would then check to see if there was a training course or meeting running and ensure the room was set up and the refreshments were ready for the start of the event. 

Once I had looked at my emails set up the CCL for the day, I would look at what tasks I had to do, a few examples were updating pages on our internal intranet page as well as our external website, contacting people about external training courses, getting those booked in and helping organise PhD student interviews.

What did you enjoy the most?

One of things I enjoyed most about my time as an apprentice was the amount of different people I got to interact and work with both within the institute and externally when attending study days at college. 

I found that interacting with different people across the Institute has allowed me to have a better understanding of people’s roles and the work that takes place. 

I also enjoyed, that no two days were the same and there was always a new task to learn and complete.

How did your apprenticeship support your career progression?

My apprenticeship is the reason I have the career I do now! It has allowed me to build on skills I already had as well as learn lots of new ones. Being an apprentice means I got to learn on the job and put these skills into practice straight away rather than waiting for an opportunity to use them in the future. 

It has also allowed me to build working relationships with people and understand how different people work. 

Lastly, I have gained confidence in the workplace and am not afraid of asking anyone questions about their role or how they work. Without my apprenticeship, it would have taken me a lot longer to be able to do this. 

Would you recommend an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute?

I would 100% recommend doing an apprenticeship at The Pirbright institute! I have met some amazing people, been involved in some great work and learnt a lot along the way!

Do you have any advice for future apprentices?

My main piece of advice I would give to any apprentice (no matter what your apprenticeship is focused on) is to ask the people around you as many questions as you can whether it is about their role, how they got there or what skills they have. This will help you to understand the people you work with, and the workplace as a whole.

And finally - enjoy your apprenticeship - it’s all about you! Your learning and your skills will allow you to develop in the future. 

Zak Croucher - Finance Apprenticeship (2017 - 2019)

Zak CroucherWhy did you choose to do an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute?

I have always been good with numbers, and I had never liked the idea of going to university. So, I started looking for apprenticeships within finance. Which I thought was a great way of learning while getting job experience.

The Pirbright Institute was a good place to start for a finance apprentice. I was able to get involved in all parts of the financial system, as everything is done in-house. Being able to go from financial accounts into procurement and then management and grant accounts would be invaluable for actual job experience.

I jumped in and applied for the finance apprenticeship being comfortable with what Pirbright was offering.

What did your average day look like?

My average day was fairly variable, and the further I went through my apprenticeship the more varied it became. It started out by processing invoices and helping with accounts payable as a day-to-day task. And following up with people within the Institute to make sure that purchase orders were receipted for the invoices.

Then I moved into management/grant accounts where most days were different. From creating budgets for new projects, to forecasting for them and reporting. I also picked up some monthly tasks that needs to be completed for month end.

What did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed forecasting and reporting the most. This was because it was a step back from the process of financial accounts. I needed to find out what happened previously and get the background of the grant I was working on to make sure that all the figures totalled what we had reported. Once I had all the previous reports matching, I could comfortably work out the new report knowing I wasn’t double counting anything.

How did your apprenticeship support your career progression?

It helped me get a base understanding of finance to be able to take it further. I have now been working in finance for over 7 years and I feel like every day is a learning day. Once you know the basics take it further and grow your career.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship at The Pirbright Institute?

I would highly recommend an apprenticeship through Pirbright, the enthusiasm that people have at the Institute is amazing, and people are always willing to help. 

Do you have any advice for future apprentices?

Don’t feel like an apprenticeship locks you into that career, its all experience. You will learn a lot and even if you move into another area, the experience will always be with you. This will help kick start and grow your career.

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