To tie in with Volunteers' Week, Laboratory Scientist Apprentice Lucy Holland has written a blog about her career path plus insight into her average day and the benefits of a STEM career pathway - ideal for sharing with your students and helping to answer their questions.
Read the blog and join the discussion here in the Careers, Clubs & Cross-Curricular group in STEM Community!
What do you think of when you think of a scientist?
If you asked me when I was 18, I would tell you that a scientist is hyper-intelligent and lucky to have their job in a highly competitive sector. To 18 year old me, science was a distant and unachievable career path. But what if you asked me now? Today, I would tell you that a scientist is anyone with curiosity and an interest in the world around them. To put it another way, anyone can become a scientist. I know because, thanks to an apprenticeship, I was finally able to fulfil my ambition of becoming a scientist.
I have been a Laboratory Scientist Apprentice at the Wellcome Sanger Institute for 18 months. I joined their Cellular Generation and Phenotyping group as a degree apprentice. My apprenticeship course is ideal: I learn on the job from industry experts at a world-learning genetics research institute, am funded to complete a degree in Applied Biosciences, and earn a competitive salary. My colleagues often tell me they wish they had completed an apprenticeship, which really highlights how amazing it is to be working while learning. You gain not just the knowledge needed to become a scientist, but also the practical skills that make you stand out in the jobs market.
The unique privilege of being a laboratory-based apprentice is that I am rarely stuck behind a desk! From day one of the apprenticeship, I have spent much of my time in the lab completing research project work. My lab group provides cell biology support, collaborating on various research projects across the Sanger Institute. This means our group has multiple projects going on at once, working with varied cell types including stem cells, organoids (3D groups of cells which behave like mini organs), and neuronal cells (brain cells).
I have been fortunate to rotate around several projects, working with and learning from experienced researchers. So far, I have learnt how to grow stem and cancer cells, perform analytical processes using microscopes, and safe laboratory practice – including protecting our precious cells from pesky bacteria and viruses! Ultimately, my average day does not differ to that of my colleagues, and that level of responsibility and trust given so early into my career is an amazing way of advancing skills and confidence. Being an apprentice enables you to become trained in various techniques and eventually work independently. No two days are the same, and that uniqueness truly excites me.
Perhaps the best benefit of being an apprentice are the opportunities for learning and development. Completing an apprenticeship gives you access to a wealth of development opportunities, whether that’s through gaining scientific knowledge in an area of interest through university study, or taking professional development courses. I am fortunate that my workplace is keen on giving everyone time for training, allowing me to gain new laboratory skills and attend courses on professional speaking.
The confidence that I’ve gained from this has enabled me to expand my responsibilities, and I now run my group’s Twitter account, sit on our automation working group deciding which exciting new robots we could use in our lab, and giving outreach talks to schools as part of my STEM Ambassador role. Applying for an apprenticeship is the most rewarding decision I have made. It has surpassed my expectations, enabling me to achieve things I never thought I could do and pursue a career I love. There are now so many STEM-based apprenticeships, and I would highly recommend taking the leap and applying.