Our new series, ‘A Week in the Life’, will focus on industry insights from Cantabs as they intern in numerous sectors. Whatever your interests, whether it be engineering, public sector, finance, consultancy – we’ll have something for you. Make sure you stay updated either via Facebook or our mailing list.

Sebastian Burgess
Abbott Diabetes Care


I’m interning at Abbott Diabetes Care, a medical devices company in Witney, just outside Oxford. Within this, I’m in the Operations Engineering department. We are responsible for planning and executing upgrades and installation of the equipment and infrastructure that goes into making the company’s flagship products, such as Libre Freestyle and the blood glucose strips.

What does a typical day look like?
My day starts at 9am and finishes at 5.30pm. Hours are light, you’re scheduled for 37.5 hours a week. For most of theday I will be writing reports for upgrades we want to make to the manufacturing lines. The company is subject to extremely strict regulations to protect customers, so before we make any changes we must consider their potential impact to the product. This discussion will typically be informal at each other’s desks, although for bigger changes we might schedule a meeting with various company experts.

How did you hear about the internship?
Through the Uni weekly newsletter. I wanted to work in a big engineering company involved in the healthcare sector and Abbott fit the bill perfectly.

Talk through the application process. What did you find difficult or surprising about it?
The application was not strenuous, an hour-long phone call and I had an offer. The call itself was largely top-level topics including my qualifications and the job. I know other interns at Abbott though who had their interviews on site, which involved more rigorous technical assessments.

Did you need any particular skills for the placement?
Soft skills, like teamwork and communication, and specific technical knowledge are both required to work in this area, but the most useful skill is to remember everything you are told the first time. My way of doing this is to immediately write everything relevant down after a meeting or discussion with colleaguesof what was discussed and what needs doing. You integrate into the project much faster that way.

In terms of hard skills much of it is taught to you on the job, although the broader Engineering course at Cambridge has helped make me aware of the diverse engineering in the projects.

What was the highlight of your week/internship so far?
Presenting the results from a test method that I had independently developed at a company meeting. Present were various representatives from the Abbott hierarchy, so being given a stage to present my findings and the impact it had on the company was a real privilege.

How much networking/socialising opportunities are there?
The company is very large, and there’s so much going on outside of your department that you can miss a lot focusing on the one project. Thankfully, my line manager set up meetings for the interns with the heads of different departments. We discussed the work they do and what the future for Abbott is. As an intern thinking about going into this industry this was an invaluable opportunity.

What have you learnt from your internship?
This internship has given me the opportunity to hone my soft skills like being able to juggle multiple work streams. I’ve also gained a real appreciation for the differences in working in a big company, as opposed to a start-up. They both have their pros and cons. Bigger companies do tend to be held back by formalities and paperwork. The reward though is being able to be part of a much bigger player in the industry. Even in a big company, I get the impression that the work I’m doing is directly going towards improving people’s lives.

What have you found surprising or unexpected?
It was surprising how little of the actual content you spend hours learning at Uni comes into play at work. This can be a bit frustrating at first! The Cambridge course is useful though, in that it teaches you how to juggle a lot of work at once.

What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector?
In the engineering industry, you face the choice between working for a bigger company or a smaller company. Working in a big company can be very rewarding if you’re part of a team working on a large project (and can look very good on the CV too!). There are plenty of such companies around, and the support Cambridge provides helps for the strict formulaic interviewing procedure they tend to have.

There are also plenty of smaller companies in the Cambridge Science Park for instance. If you’re thinking about the relative contribution you can make to the company, at a smaller company, this contribution will probably be larger. When you get to your next interview and you’re asked a question like: ‘Can you give an example of when you [insert stereotypical work scenario here]’, the more the company gives you the opportunity to contribute, the more likely you are to have a cracking answer to this question.

3rd year Engineer
Trinity Hall

Pippa Stevens (President)
British Antarctic Survey


Hi, I am on a six week research placement at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in the Air, Ice and Climate team. I am trying to understand how and why the width of the tropics is related to the age of air in the stratosphere; this is important to help us understand global warming.

What does a typical day look like?

The hours are pretty flexible, but I generally work a 9am – 5pm day. Most of my day is spent writing code, running trials and manipulating data sets. There are around ten summer students currently working at BAS, and the variety of research between us is incredible: from analysing the diets of wandering albatross using chemical traces in their feathers, to modelling Jupiter’s ionsphere! Aside from individual work, I have a lot of interaction with my supervisor, and several seminars are given throughout the week.

How did you hear about this placement?

I found out about work at BAS through a friend who worked here last summer. If environmental science isn’t your scene, there are many fascinating ‘UROP’ (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) placements available every year, which span the sciences. However, in science, often the best way to find opportunities is often to simply email the group leaders in the area you are interested in (most email addresses are on faculty websites!) and go along and chat to them.

What have you learnt from your internship?

I have learnt a huge amount about atmospheric science, and am now far better at coding in Matlab! It is easy to learn about scientific areas outside your speciality, as everyone is very willing to share their experiences; I have been lucky to have had a tour of the BAS aquarium, fossil collection and and ice core laboratory (at -25 degrees). A word of warning: don’t get too swamped by coding and huge data sets, always ask for help if you’re struggling, and always have an end goal in mind.

What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector (or get a place on your internship)?

Valuable research experience is easily available in most areas of science, especially in Cambridge and if you are willing to work for free; in most cases, your college will be able to give you funding for living costs/accommodation if the work is related to your degree. Even if research isn’t your dream career, a science placement will teach you valuable data analysis skills, and a huge amount of knowledge that will help you in your degree. All that is required is a bit of research, a keen email and one informal chat/interview with a supervisor!

3rd year NatSci
Jesus

Imogen Sinclair (Past Vice President)
McKinsey & Company


I’m interning at McKinsey & Company, a large management consulting firm based in central London. The placement gives penultimate year students the chance to do exactly what you’d do on the first year of the job as a business analyst, just for the summer. Interns get staffed onto a project and join the team of consultants in assisting clients in a variety of different ways.

What does a typical day look like?

A typical day for me involves: meeting my teammates in the morning at breakfast in the McKinsey office; heading over to the client office in London; doing a team check in to set out tasks for the day; starting on our tasks; talking to the clients and each other regularly, especially if anyone has any issues or things to think through; having a team lunch; having a team problem solving; having a meeting with the client; doing some more individual work; doing a team check out to confirm what we’ve done and need to do; and heading home or meeting up with friends for dinner in the city. But between the interns, there’s no typical day! Every project is really different from each other, and some interns aren’t based in London – of fourteen of us, only half are, with interns off in Rome, Munich, Paris, Dublin, Luxembourg and Sicily. The variety of experience is huge.

How did you hear about this internship?

At the start of second year, I realised I wanted to do consulting, and McKinsey was pretty hard to miss. As one of the Big Three, on any career website for consulting it came up, and I also knew a couple of people who had applied/worked there, so I gave it a shot.

Talk through the application process. What did you find difficult or perhaps surprising about it?

I really enjoyed the application process. It was pretty rigorous, starting with a problem solving test sat in London (after passing the CV screening), then two rounds of interviews, the first with two and the second with three interviews. But it was very accessible – before the first round of interviews, they invited us all down for a case study workshop in their London office, and I had an interview ‘buddy’ from the firm who rang me to do a practice case with me as well as answer any questions. These both definitely surprised me, as I felt like the company wanted me to succeed. The interviews were all around case studies, so it required a lot of case study prep, but the experience was very positive for me.

Did you need any particular skills for the placement?

No hard skills, just soft ones like communication, sharp analysis, ability to problem solve, and being able to work in teams. Any degree background is totally fine: we have a few historians, some economists, some scientists, and nobody has any real advantage in terms of experience from their studies.

What was the highlight of your week/internship so far?

As I write this, I’m on my way back from a company retreat for the interns and their business analyst ‘buddies’ in the firm – a definite highlight. They took us to a hotel in Devon, and it was a weekend of unlimited eating, drinking, relaxing, and various fun activities.

How much networking/socialising opportunities are there?

We’ve had tonnes of social activities, with drinks every Friday, various dinners, a BBQ, lots of football events, and of course the weekend away. All of them allow the interns to socialise with each other and also with people who have worked there longer. The quantity of free food is slightly terrifying – people like to joke about the ‘McKinsey stone’, due to the free breakfasts and lunches in the office and constant team meals, as well as free drinks.

What have you learnt from your internship? 

In a few weeks, I’ve learnt a lot about soft skills, in terms of how to harness them and develop them further. I’ve also learnt some harder skills, such as on excel. And a lot of it is also just understanding consulting and McKinsey better.

What have you found surprising or unexpected?

I’ve been surprised how social it’s been, with constant activities going on. I’ve also been surprised how quickly you become part of the team, even just being there for the summer and being brand new – I’ve still been trusted with significant work of my own to do, and feel like I’m contributing.

What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector? 

A lot rests on the interview process, so prep hard on case studies, as well as thinking about personal experience examples for competency questions. Practicing with friends is really helpful. Beyond that, you just have to apply to internships and be yourself.

3rd year History
Emmanuel

Solene Peroy (Vice President)
BNP Paribas, Trading


Hi, I’m Solene and I’m currently interning in trading at BNP Paribas in London. My first rotation is in FXLM options trading, which means that my desk trades options (a type of financial product) on currencies in emerging markets, such as the Turkish lira and South African rand.

What does a typical day look like? 

I’ll typically get in at 7am if I need to listen to the morning call, which is a daily meeting giving everyone on the trading floor an overview of important news, and what to expect for the coming day. As an intern, I can’t execute trades because I haven’t sat any certifying exams, but I shadow my team for a couple of hours and help my manager by working on a project analysing important data in Excel. My team typically has lunch at the desk but also leaves when the relevant markets close, which for my desk is 5pm!

How did you hear about this internship? 

I heard about the BNP Paribas summer internship at the Finance careers fair at the start of Michaelmas term, and then at an event held by the bank in Cambridge.

Talk through the application process. What did you find difficult or perhaps surprising about it? 

The most challenging part of the application process was for me the assessment centre, which consisted of written tests, Trading and Sales games, and an interview. The Trading games were fast-paced and put us on the spot quite a bit, but it was also a very good experience to simulate the environment of a trading floor. What mattered in the application process was not so much our financial knowledge but rather our attitude, and our ability to pick up concepts quickly enough to play the games.

Did you need any particular skills for the placement?

I think very valuable skills as an intern are the ability to present yourself with confidence but not arrogance, and to ask questions you actually want answers to. From a technical point of view, for my desk in particular, having a hand at Excel is very useful, although in general this may be learnt on the job.

What was the highlight of your week/internship so far?

The highlight of my internship so far has probably been the weekly Wednesday breakfast organised by the bank with a different speaker each time. The speakers are in general very senior employees and having the opportunity to ask them questions in such an environment is a really valuable one.

How much networking/socialising opportunities are there? 

In the training week, there are plenty of socialising opportunities as one of the aims is for the interns to get to know each other and the graduate class already working at the bank. Further on in the internship, there are fewer organised events but as the interns get closer and we get to know our teams there is usually something on after work every Friday if not several times a week.

What have you learnt from your internship?

Coming from a Natural Sciences background, I have learnt a great deal not only about financial mechanisms but also some economics – I feel like I already read the news in a different way. Another learning process is also how to prioritise tasks during the day, for instance balancing spending time on your project at your own desk versus shadowing other desks in order to get a broader view of the bank.

What have you found surprising or unexpected? 

I did not know that the role of an intern would be different to the role of a graduate in that no intern can execute trades or talk to a client (without the required certification), but at the same time this gives us a huge opportunity to learn by observation, talk to people in many different parts of the bank and ask questions without having the same responsibility as a full-time employee.

What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector? 

Advice that I would pass on to someone applying for an internship in Global Markets is to be prepared to learn about the finance industry before, and at every step of, the joining process. I would definitely recommend researching the industry and talking to representatives of the banks you would like to apply to, but it is also impossible to know a great deal before starting a placement – presenting yourself in the best light and showing that you are eager and able to learn more will be most effective in interviews and beyond.

3rd year NatSci
Jesus