Jamilah Simpson and Nikki Greaves

Part of our apprentice panel podcasts, Jamilah Simpson our apprentice panel host interviews member, Nikki Greaves. 

Nikki Greaves, 20, is currently completing her level 5 laboratory science apprenticeship with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Always interested in science and pharmaceuticals, Nikki was set on going to university and doing a biomedical degree. Nikki admits that she only really applied to GSK as a late-night decision that she thought would be a back up to her university application. However, after applying Nikki researched the apprenticeship and the company and found that she would be much better suited to an apprenticeship. Since starting her apprenticeship Nikki has improved her knowledge and she says her confidence has grown massively: 

“I am proud that I’ve gained the self-confidence to be happy to network with people as I used to be a huge introvert. I have achieved and got involved with many things that I wouldn’t have expected I could do before.” 

Nikki’s work as an apprentice has now led her to becoming the communication lead for GSK’s apprentice network, meaning she is the voice of around 300 apprentices that work in the UK at GSK. At the end of her apprenticeship Nikki will have a degree, but she will also have at least three years’ experience of working in one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. 

Nikki is a great advocate of apprenticeships and believes they should always be considered as a first priority rather than a back-up. 

“Explore the apprenticeship routes online as there are so many more available than people realise,” she said. “It’s a fantastic alternative to university as you gain so much hands-on experience and get to network with professionals in your field. So I would say go for it!” 


Jamilah Simpson:

Hi, I'm Jamilah Simpson the Multiverse Community Programs and Networks Associate. I joined Multiverse early last year after completing my digital marketing qualification as an apprentice at Google. I'm also an apprentice panel member and your host for this podcast. Today we're joined by Nikki. Nikki did you quickly want to intro yourself before we get started

Nikki Greaves:

Hi, I'm Nikki a laboratory science apprentice for GSK currently in my third year now.

Jamilah Simpson:

Thank you, Nikki, we're so glad to have you here today. So, I've got a few questions for you. Starting with, as we both chose the apprenticeship route, I think we can both agree that there are so many benefits to them. What drew you into your apprenticeship?

Nikki Greaves:

So it's weird actually, I knew in sixth form that I wanted to go into a sciencey kind of lab-based career, and I was actually really set on doing a Biomed kind of degree at uni. My school was very like forward at pushing us down the uni kind of route, and it was only one day when I was looking at the government website that I actually stumbled upon the GSK apprenticeship,  and I was actually really intrigued. Because probably like quite a few other people I just assumed that apprenticeships were like carpentry and plumbing. Obviously, that sounds really bad, but I really didn't have much of a clue of what apprenticeships actually were. So when I saw this advertisement basically being like you can have a degree and learn hands-on I was pretty much like wow, this is actually exactly what I want. Because obviously the whole sitting in lectures, and that's just not how I learn and I was actually really worried about that aspect of uni. So actually, getting a hands-on was so much better for me, so I applied immediately.

Jamilah Simpson:

I had the exact same reaction because I didn't have a lot of information about apprenticeships when I was at college either. When I found out that there's so many different industries that you can go in to, I got really excited. I actually found my apprenticeship through my mum, so similar to you, my school wasn't helpful at all.

Nikki Greaves:

I honestly didn't even know they existed like at all.

Jamilah Simpson:

So Nikki your apprenticeship sounds really, really interesting and I'd love to know more about what you do day-to-day.

Nikki Greaves:

So, the usual day for me consists of helping my team set up and run studies. Where we basically look at how different compounds work. So how they work in the body if they're going to the right places and doing what we want them to do basically. A particularly interesting project that I've been involved in, was working on an HIV project where we looked at the potential for a treatment to take place twice a year rather than the current treatment regime, which is administered monthly.

Jamilah Simpson:

Wow sounds like pretty important stuff. So as you know we've all been going through a really tough time over the past year as a nation. Being a laboratory scientist, have you had an opportunity to support with COVID- 19?

Nikki Greaves:

Unfortunately not. I would have absolutely loved to be involved, but my team and I have just had a lot of work that's ongoing. Like I have been in work as a key worker, but it hasn't been COVID involved. Although I have actually signed up to be a volunteer for the mass vaccinating and actually GSK like alongside the NHS organised that for some of the employees. So I'm doing that.

Jamilah Simpson:

That’s amazing. You mentioned that you're a key worker does that mean that you still go into your place of work?

Nikki Greaves:

Yeah, so pretty much throughout the lockdown we were going in on a like shift kind of pattern. So that obviously there's like a limited amount of people on-site, but yeah pretty much just working our way through it. Because obviously a lab base, I can't exactly work from home very much. As much as I try and say my coursework, I could get on with my coursework. But yeah I know we've just been doing shifts really.

Jamilah Simpson:

Well I can imagine that must be really difficult to go through

Nikki Greaves:

it's actually. I feel like it gives regularity to the days. It is a bit difficult to like, make a routine because sometimes you're called in last minute, or sometimes then you're not needed. So, that's probably the hardest bit, but other than that it's still nice to be able to talk to people other than my housemates, as much as I love them.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, I really struggled to maintain that routine when I was working from home and I've recently started coming back into the office a few days a week. It's just nice to have that commute. It's something that I never thought that I'd miss having that commute in the morning and actually getting on a train. I really missed that during the first lockdown. So now I'm getting back into it it's just nice to have that distinction between work. So on to our next question. What would you like to do next after you've finished your apprenticeship?

Nikki Greaves:

So, I'm currently doing a level 5 apprenticeship. So I'm in my third year now, so hopefully, fingers crossed if all goes well, in August time I'll get my bioscience foundation degree. Then I'm hoping to basically stay on at GSK for another year and a bit, to get a level 6 apprenticeship, and get my full bachelor's degree, so hopefully that. As for after that I'm just hoping I can get a full-time job at GSK, and maybe explore different departments. Because I'm still not really sure what I want to particularly do. I think the science industry is so like varied, and so wide. I think there's just so much to explore still. So we'll have to see.

Jamilah Simpson:

I think it's amazing that you're thinking about going on to a level 6. I didn't even know that existed until a few weeks ago. The fact that you've also like kind of got a plan in place I really respect that. I'm not much of a planner I just like take things as it comes. I think I'm going to start definitely thinking about like the 5-year plan and the 10-year plan going forward.

Nikki Greaves:

I feel like I need to be more that. I'm too like plan it all, plan it all, I really need to kind of take things on the chin a bit more.

Jamilah Simpson:

We can help each other out we can balance. So we know that you're part of the apprentice panel, along with myself. Why did you decide to join the panel in the first place?

Nikki Greaves:

Well, I just think it's a great opportunity. I think being able to work with people, who are like-minded, who also have a passion for apprenticeships. I just think that was a great opportunity and it also gives me an opportunity to give maybe apprentices that don't have a voice, like a platform for them to speak out, and give their opinion. So, I just thought it was a great opportunity to have.

Jamilah Simpson:

It's quite an empowering experience, isn't it? Something that we're working on in the apprentice panel, is the best practice guidance for apprenticeships. I believe that you're in the induction process. Nikki, can you tell me why that part is so important?

Nikki Greaves:

I just feel like the induction of anything is just important. I mean like it's the part that sets you up. It's the part where you get told what to expect, and the experiences that you'll get, and what you'll learn. So I just really feel like a great induction can have such an impact, and it will really set you up for the rest of your apprenticeship.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, definitely, I agree. Out of curiosity what was your induction process like?

Nikki Greaves:

So, I went on-site, like a month before, and it didn't go very well. I actually was so nervous the night before that I didn't sleep very well. Then in the morning, because I lived quite far away, and I actually commuted in the morning. It was like an hour drive, so I had barely eaten, like a banana, so and then I had a really long journey. So I was absolutely knackered, and I actually fainted.

Jamilah Simpson:

Oh my god, that’s awful.

Nikki Greaves:

As it was it was, actually quite good. On my first day, because it kind of was an ice breaker. I was like the girl that fainted if you remember me. So, it kind of worked out in the end. As embarrassing as it was.

Jamilah Simpson:

Oh wow, that sounds very intense. By being on the apprentice panel what do you want to achieve?

Nikki Greaves:

Well, like I said, just to have a platform for apprentices to raise their opinions. Also, to just help with improving the overall apprentice experience. I feel like there's such a range of different experiences, and I feel like making that all like merge, and all actually go together, so that everyone has similar experiences. I think that all that's a really good thing to work towards.

Jamilah Simpson:

Definitely. I 100% agree. Finally, you briefly mentioned the fact that you didn't really have support from school when you were looking for your apprenticeship, and you were quite surprised when you found out the opportunity that you're in now. Have you got any advice for people thinking about doing an apprenticeship?

Nikki Greaves:

Yeah, so I would just say explore apprenticeships online, on government websites, there's just so many actually available that people don't realise. So I just say do your research. It's a really great alternative to university, you get to network with so many professionals in your field. I just feel like it opens so many doors. So I just say go for it, research it, apply.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, I think we both have, like biased opinions, because we both, like you're on an apprenticeship at the moment, and I've completed mine last year. So we only have like good things to say about apprenticeships. But I definitely agree with your point about research and making sure that you know what you're getting yourself into before you actually commit. So, thank you. That's all we have time for in today's episode. I want to say a huge thank you to our guest Nikki for taking the time to tell us about your apprenticeship experience and being so open and honest with me today. Thanks for listening, and look out for our next episode. Bye.

You can find more information about the apprentice panel on the Institute’s website.

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