August 19, 2014, by Beth Dawson

Are Internships With SMEs the Way Forward? Megan Thinks So!

By Megan Thomsett, MSci ChemistryPicture for nottingham blog post

I am currently undertaking a summer internship at a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) within the chemical industry called Reach Separations and before I submitted my application I hadn’t even heard of them!

While browsing Twitter, I came across a very thought-provoking article written by a biochemist and science blogger for The Guardian. The article outlined how vital but challenging it is for science students to find internships. As a chemistry student I understand the importance of obtaining laboratory experience, and how hard it can be to find those opportunities. However, there are opportunities out there. Yes, while I sit at my desk on my paid summer internship at Reach Separations it’s easy for me to say that, but across my four years of study I’ve come across many chances to gain valuable experience in a field – it’s possible to find them if you know where to look.

‘When applying for internships the first port of call is usually a scheme organised by large companies which can be very competitive.’

Reach Separations is an SME specialising in purification and chromatography within the medical and agricultural chemistry industries that has found a home in the Nottingham bio-Incubator, BioCity. bio-Incubators are home to around half of the UK’s emerging bioscience companies and house between five and 50 different firms. They’re ideal because they offer flexible office and laboratory spaces that enable life science companies to conduct their research and business in the same location.

‘When applying for internships, SMEs should not be overlooked as bio-incubators like BioCity can be the perfect place for undertaking a placement and gaining laboratory experience.‘

BioCity Nottingham contains more than 50 companies that I, as a local student, wasn’t aware of. Each and every one of these has the potential to offer invaluable experience within their industries. Placements in small companies often expose you to cutting-edge techniques, allowing you to work on emerging products such as innovative new drugs or analytical techniques. In an SME you have more chance to be closely involved in the employer’s whole business operations and processes to gain greater insights into how they work. A laboratory based intern here at Reach Separations said that he has been given significant duties as an important member of the small, dedicated team.

In a smaller organisation a spare pair of hands can undertake tasks when no one else has enough time. I’m providing a useful service by looking at issues such as competitor analysis, marketing and market research, while the rest of the team are busy working hard on the core business and in the laboratory. This also gives me invaluable insight into the business outside of the lab.


Reach Separations often take on placement students. They currently have a work experience student who has just completed his AS-levels and will be applying to universities in September. Even a week-long placement here has offered him a priceless experience – including getting the chance to visit some of the other companies on site.

Whatever stage you are in your science career, whether you’re deciding what to do once you leave education, or trying to gain some experience during your degree to put on your CV, a placement will always be extremely valuable to your career development!

If you’re looking to start your career in science, visit our scientific careers webpage for advice and links to resources. To find out more about working in an SME visit our routes into work pages and get more insider perspectives from our previous blogs.

Posted in Applying For JobsWork experience