We spoke to one of our former ATA apprentices Roxanne Wright about balancing work, study and her adventurous lifestyle, as well as meeting her best friend through her apprenticeship.
At Cogent Skills we pride ourselves on the support we provide for both the companies who use our services and the apprentices we train or employ. We ensure the services we provide are leading to long term careers for the apprentices, and solutions to skills gaps for the companies. With this in mind, we decided to speak to one of our former ATA apprentices Roxanne Wright who used the apprenticeship route to become a full time Scientist at leading pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and had some impressive adventures along the way.
What Apprenticeship Were You Studying Towards During Your Time with Cogent Skills?
Chemical Sciences Apprenticeship with a BSc Chemical Sciences Degree
Why Did You Decide To Do an Apprenticeship?
I’ve always been a very practical hands-on person when it came to learning. For me, going to university full time felt like being put into a box and not the best way to continue my learning in science and develop. I knew from doing chemistry at A-level that it’s what I enjoyed and I wanted to progress into a career in that field but had no idea what options I had. Coming up to the end of sixth form in 2014, apprenticeships weren’t something I knew much about so I initially applied for university like everyone else. Luckily, I had been talking to the receptionists at my sixth form about it and she stumbled across the application for an apprenticeship at AstraZeneca and forwarded it to me. It was a late application, but I took my chances and applied. The next thing I knew, I was at an aptitude test centre and following that, an interview. Out of over 300 applicants, I got in!
Tell Us About Your Journey as an Apprentice at AstraZeneca
In 2014 I started my first apprenticeship with AstraZeneca (level 3). This was when I started to really understand how many different career options there were in chemistry. I joined a team that tested the quality of pharmaceutical drugs from early phase drugs all the way to commercial. This helped me understand the importance of quality control and subsequent effect on patients and the success of the drugs over their lifetime.
I learned how to test drugs for a wide variety of quality aspects including impurities, solvents, water, metals and other attributes that impact the efficacy of the drug and toxicology. Relating this to forensic science helped me to initially make sense of it all, like fitting lots of little pieces of evidence together to solve a crime, but in this case, to release a drug for use in a clinical trial or set a shelf life for a drug.
In 2016 I finished my first apprenticeship and was offered a full time position at AstraZeneca as an Associate Scientist. In the same year, I started a level 5 apprenticeship, which included a part-time degree with Manchester Metropolitan University, supported by Cogent Skills and their outsourced employment.
In 2017 I won the Royal Society of Chemistry’s apprentice of the year award for advancement and support of the global reference standards group, who test and distribute reference standards for use at numerous sites all over the world!
In 2018 There was a re-organisation within the department and I had a chance to take a key role in setting up a new group for the analysis of drug stability within early development. The success of this group was a driver for my promotion to scientist in 2019.
Since then I have fallen in love with the field of mass spectrometry and have been finishing off my bachelor’s degree in chemical sciences, which I completed recently and achieved a 2:1.
It’s not been easy, working and studying is hard, but it was definitely worth it!
Through the apprenticeship program Roxanne has developed both her scientific capability and professional business attributes in parallel with delivering business objectives of increasing significance. The apprenticeship program has also given her the scientific curiosity to explore other areas outside of her core role to better inform her future career. Apprenticeships in chemical / industrial sciences provide an opportunity for businesses to attract and train the next generation of scientists that might otherwise leave science as career behind, opening up a pool of talent and additional career paths for young adults.
Team Leader in Early Chemical Development at AstraZeneca.
What Did You Learn During Your Time as an Apprentice?
Probably the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me is to soak everything up like a sponge, no-one is ever too experienced or too old to stop learning.
Similarly, I’ve learnt that holding onto knowledge is not what leads to progression, yes it’s good to be indispensable, but not by holding onto knowledge, by being an ambassador for sharing it.
Change and being able to adapt to it is important.
Resilience – what matters is not that you get knocked down, but that you get back up!
How Did the Apprenticeship Help You Progress Your Career?
It encouraged me to really focus on my own development, building capabilities where needed. Through the apprenticeship I was able to explore lots of different avenues of the pharmaceutical development process from discovery to commercial.
The most valuable aspect of the apprenticeship was the projects as part of the university degree. These gave us a good grounding in not just chemistry but everything needed to become a good pharmaceutical scientist; health and safety, business improvement & environmental.
I am currently an analytical Scientist in the early phase development of pharmaceutical drugs, specialising in vibrational spectroscopy and mass spectrometry studying drugs on a molecular level to ensure they are of upmost quality and investigating new drugs.
From 2016-2018 You Were an ATA Apprentice with Cogent Skills Hosted at AstraZeneca, How Did You Find It?
Having the additional structure and organisation really helped me focus on what I needed to do next to complete my apprenticeship. The most beneficial thing was the regular catch-ups. They helped me to reflect on my achievements and see the bigger picture and routes for progression, allowing me to reach further. Having an outside perspective from Cogent Skills encouraged me to question the way things are done and realise my potential “the sky is the limit”.
What Do You Feel Were the Advantages of Doing an Apprenticeship Over Other Education/ Training Programmes?
1. The flexibility
The freedom to have control of my own education and career and steer it in any direction. From working at AstraZeneca I see that no door is permanently closed as long as you make the step and ask for it to be opened. There are so many options to experience other fields, functions, departments, nothing is really out of the question. Personal development is more of a partnership than something you do alone at AstraZeneca.
2. The people
Working with colleagues that go above and beyond to help you learn and develop. Being in a team that thoroughly enjoys what they do because they have the option to choose and change if they wish. It’s an infectious environment to be in that encourages you to strive for more without realising that’s what your doing because it’s just enjoyable, It’s science, it’s new.
3 . The money
Getting a career funded, for free and getting paid!
How Was the Social Side of Doing an Apprenticeship Over Going to College or University
Through the apprenticeship I’ve made a lot of friends and yes, I’ve had to sacrifice a little for work but that hasn’t stopped me going out and enjoying myself.
At AstraZeneca, we have people working full time, part-time, shift work, graduate placement students, post docs, placement students, sandwich students and more. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with so many of these people over the years, going to the weekly pub quiz’s, to see the work band play, on nights out, team meals, social events, beer festivals, volunteer days and big organised events. I wouldn’t change it for the world!
One of the best parts has been meeting my best friend George who has really been through everything with me! He loves my dog as much; if not more than I do and was more than willing to travel across China and Vietnam with just a month’s notice! We talk almost every day about anything and everything. Over the past couple of years I’ve also managed to drag him along for some traditional climbing in the peak district. We love climbing together, it’s our time to just relax and get away from the world, in the middle of no-where with the best views. As well as an escape, I also climb to push myself in something outside of work; doing some quite challenging and sometimes dangerous climbs if full attention is not given. I couldn’t be more lucky to have met someone who will do this with me and someone I can put my full trust in.
Roxanne Climbs K2 at Hen Cloud with George…
You Have Managed to Have lots of Amazing Adventures Alongside Work and Study, Tell us about Them.
2016 – Unfortunately my mum was diagnosed with cancer, and was undergoing chemo, but she was still up for traveling to Italy with me. We took a trip to Naples and climbed Mount Vesuvius our first ever mountain over 1000 metres. That’s when I really got the mountain bug!
2017 – I took a trip to Dubai with my mum to celebrate my 18th birthday and also embarked on my first ever solo trip abroad to Bali, where I climbed Mount Batur (1717m)
2018 – Sadly my mum passed away, however I had been raising money for her treatments which I was able to put towards some amazing causes. I donated some to the Cyclists Fighting Cancer charity and the rest was used to build a well in a small community in Uganda through charity DROP4DROP.
A month later I travelled to China and from Beijing to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam with George. While in China I climbed the infamous Mount Huashan in Xi’an and scattered my mums ashes. In December I travelled through Thailand backpacking with my cousin.
2019 – I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, via a relatively difficult route called the Machame route. I travelled to Tanzania alone but hiked as part of group and met the most amazing people. The money I raised went to Manchester Children’s Hospital towards the installation of an MRI scanner.
In the Summer was introduced to Trad climbing by some colleagues and became hooked straight away! I also travelled solo to Russia and then met some friends to climb Mount Elbrus (Europe’s highest mountain) for charity.
In winter I took a trip to Norway with George to try ice climbing for the first time and loved it!
2020 – Unfortunately due to Covid-19 big adventures abroad have been off the cards, but I still had some great times closer to home and spent lots of time climbing and hiking.
2021 – Covid-19 is still restricting what we can all do, but I have been training towards my Rock Climbing Instructor qualification and will have my final assessment later this year.
Through her combined efforts for charity Roxanne has raised around £10,000!
- Travelling sabbatical for 3-6 months around Canada and South America.
- Complete my Rock Climbing Instructor Qualification
- Build my capability in mass spectrometry analysis of larger pharmaceutical drugs, to enhance specialism in this field working towards promotion to senior scientist / Associate Principal Scientist.
- PhD doctorate full time with AstraZeneca