Helene is an Associate Senior Scientist at Pfizer Global R&D. She graduated with an MSc in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Orléans in 2005.
I studied applied chemistry for three years before I chose a specialisation in analytical chemistry, firstly because of a real interest in the subject, but also bearing in mind that this area of science offered the possibility of a career in different areas, including the pharmaceutical industry, food industry, cosmetics and the environment. The University of Orléans was one of the three universities in France offering the opportunity to specialise in this area and I also received positive feedback from people who had studied there.
I had the chance to do two six-month placements in industry as part of my degree. I spent the first of these in the paper industry for Stora Enso in Finland, working on the control of pollution and gas emission. The second placement was in the pharmaceutical industry, working as an analytical chemist for AstraZeneca in Sweden. I learned a lot on these two placements, as they gave me the chance to work in different fields and to work abroad. I think they were essential to my CV and enhanced my chances of finding a job after graduation.
Having really enjoyed the work I did during my placement in the pharmaceutical industry, I started to apply for graduate jobs in this area. I registered on all the pharmaceutical websites and submitted my CV online in response to job adverts. Pfizer was the first company to call me for an interview. The recruitment process involved a one-hour HR interview followed by two technical interviews.
I’m currently working as associate senior scientist in the Inhalation and Devices Centre of Emphasis in Pfizer Global R&D, so I would say that my degree was closely related to my actual position. However, I did not have any specific knowledge or experience with inhalation products when I started. Pfizer recruits from a wide variety of scientific degrees and backgrounds.
When I joined the company, I worked on a project to develop a new inhalation product. This involved testing the formulation for potency and homogeneity, and then testing drug delivery from the inhaler device.
On a typical day, I usually start by processing the results of experiments that were running overnight. Based on the results I get, I decide what the next step is and design a small experimental plan for the day or over a longer period if necessary. Then, I usually go into the lab and prepare and analyse samples as per plan. At the end of the day, I record everything I’ve done in the laboratory notebook.
Working at Pfizer has provided me with the opportunity to participate in lots of training in various fields. So far, I have undergone training related to inhalation testing, analytical techniques, design of experiments, statistical analysis and GMP (good manufacturing practices). I have also attended conferences on Drug Delivery to the Lung, The Changing Face of Inhalation and the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
So far, I would say I’ve been lucky as I had the chance to work on different projects. Every year since I arrived I’ve changed teams. This has given me the opportunity to learn new things and has been a good way to broaden and consolidate my experience and acquire new skills.
To be successful in this role, you need to demonstrate autonomy, motivation, scientific curiosity and good organisational skills. My tip for graduates would be to gain as much work experience, placements and training as possible.
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