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  • Role: Graduate Trainee

Andrew Knowles

I left university with a good degree, but little idea of how best to use it. In the year after graduating I co-ran a project for an oil spill response company, before travelling around Cuba, and it was this year out that gave me the space and perspective to narrow down a career direction. I love cutting edge science, and it was this, along with a desire for a fulfilling role, that led me to Cancer Research UK.

Cancer Research UK is Britain’s leading charity dedicated to cancer research. It funds research into the causes, treatment, prevention and detection of cancer, as well as lobbying government and industry groups on issues related to the disease. The charity employs people in a wide variety of roles, from shop volunteers right through to bench scientists. I’m currently on one of the graduate programmes, focusing on the corporate and scientific sides of the charity.

This role consists of four six-month placements that cover the whole breadth of the organisation, from finance and human resources, through to the processing of grant awards and clinical trials. This gives me a fantastic insight into how the charity fits together.

At Cancer Research UK, graduates get to select their pathway through the programme, and at the end can apply for a job at manager level. The standard is pretty high i.e. 300 plus applicants for three places in 2009, but this means I work with some really talented people.

Day to day work life

This varies enormously depending on the area of the charity I’m working in. I have had placements in risk management and science information, and spent six months helping to shape fundraising project governance. All have required very different skill sets. My work for risk management was about taking a step back, analysing processes and driving through some recommendations for improvement – very much a consultative role.

In science information, the work was much more hands on – I rebuilt the department intranet site and ran a raft of initiatives to highlight the department’s resources, including setting up a newsletter and presenting the work of the team to other areas of the organisation. Working for the fundraising directorate brought me into contact with senior colleagues and involved taking a much broader, strategic level overview. Having such a varied workload is one of the best things about being a graduate here.

Job satisfaction

My most recent placement is back with the science information team. I’m working with a small group to review and communicate Cancer Research UK’s scientific achievements and the impact the money we’ve spent has had on beating cancer. This is really exciting, as it allows me to use my scientific background, and it really brings home one of the great things about this job – the difference you are making as part of the charity. I also get the chance to work with internationally acclaimed scientists and award-winning science writers, and it’s inspiring to spend time with people at the top of their profession.

The biggest myth about working in the charity sector is that it’s a soft option – trust me, it isn’t. Working here is incredibly rewarding, but you have to be on the ball and flexible to adapt to a fast-changing environment. I subscribe to several news wires and read the science blogs to stay up to date with the bigger picture, and I find other graduates and the contacts I have built up through my placements invaluable for keeping up to date with other areas of the business.

At the end of the day, working at Cancer Research UK means I know I am making a real difference to people’s lives – the job satisfaction is enormous.

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