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Sebastian Burgess - Abbott Diabetes Care

Our ‘A Week in the Life’ series focuses on industry insights from Cantabs as they intern in numerous sectors. Make sure you stay updated either via Facebook or our mailing list.



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.

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