Working as an apprentice at AstraZeneca- Cora O’Callaghan

Hi, I’m Cora O’Callaghan and I am currently in my second year of an apprenticeship at AstraZeneca. I am currently studying a level 5 degree apprenticeship with the university of Kent in applied bioscience.

What is my job role?

I work at AstraZeneca within a large department (antibody discovery and protein engineering) in a very small team called the mRNA team.  I work day to day in a molecular biology lab and help by progressing molecular biology projects within my team.

We focus mainly on mRNA. There are lots of different techniques and molecular biology protocols involved in mRNA. Everyday is different and I have learnt a variety of molecular biology techniques. These will help me in my future career.

Current projects – the ups and the downs

Currently, I am working on two projects. The first project is RT-qPCR mRNA stability assay, the main goal of which is to be able to determine the half-life of mRNA expressing antibody. This project has been challenging and has shown me the reality of science.

My second project is to produce mRNA from a range of different DNA which contain different untranslated regions (UTRs) and then to eventually evaluate the expression of the open reading frame (ORF).

What are some advantages for working for a multinational pharmaceutical company?

Working for a global pharmaceutical company presents many different opportunities for me to explore. There are so many different areas of expertise you can learn from and you can get really hands on, learning different skills and working on different projects.

Another advantage is working with so many different people. There is a great work/life balance, with lots of different events that really help you to get to know people from different departments.

Another advantage of being at such a large pharmaceutical company is that it really gives you high level experience. Since school I have always loved being in a lab environment. Now I work in a lab every day, gaining knowledge about molecular biology/techniques and overall just getting the most of the apprenticeship to ensure it will help in my career.

How has the apprenticeship been so far?

Overall, the apprenticeship has been better than anticipated. Being someone who initially wasn’t going to apply for an apprenticeship, I am so glad I did and was chosen for this opportunity. I think the best thing for me about the apprenticeship is that from the beginning I’ve had such hands on experience in the lab, which is exactly what I wanted.

I am really enjoying my apprenticeship, but that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t downs to it. Working full time along with studying for a degree can be stressful at times, but if you have the right balance as well as motivation and organisation then you can definitely make it work. On the whole, I am really content in my job.

What would you tell someone if they were going to apply for an apprenticeship?

Some advice would be to definitely apply even if that’s not your first option. I personally believe apprenticeships are the best route to go down; you’re learning/gaining experience and getting paid at the same time. If you do apply stand out and just be yourself.


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