Graduate and Career Stories
Our Graduate Trainees
Andrew Derlien - Fundraising and Marketing Stream
"Hello! I’m Andrew and am about to start my second year at Cancer Research UK on the Fundraising and Marketing stream.
The last 12 months have taught me a huge amount, and it’s been really useful getting the chance to work on high profile, stretching projects against a backdrop of encouragement and support. I didn’t expect to be able to try out a range of different roles so early in my career, and that really is the big privilege of being a CRUK graduate – if like me, you have a rough idea of some areas you’re interested in but want to explore them further, this is the perfect sandbox to do it in.
After an induction month working on the national Stand Up To Cancer campaign with Channel 4, my first full placement was with the Digital team, conducting user research as part of a business case for introducing logins on the CRUK website. This involved building a relationship with an agency to conduct primary research with supporters, patients and researchers.
Keeping with my desire to build a diverse portfolio of experience, I’ve been working in a completely different and very fun role in my current placement. As a Local Fundraising Manager in the Volunteer Fundraising team, I work with supporter groups and individuals in the West London community – supporting their ideas, maximising their fundraising and making sure they feel inspired and appreciated. I also work with corporate partners and am expected to find leads and acquire new ones, producing financial reports for my patch and working to targets. I’m also carrying out research into how the charity acquires High Value Individuals (people who fundraise more than £20,000).
Graduate placements are designed to be challenging, so the range of support we’re given is really important. We all have a mentor, an Executive Project Manager who’s on hand to sort out any problems and chat through placement choices, and two weeks a year of training courses in areas like presentation skills, project management and personal branding. The graduate network itself is very tight and it’s sometimes easiest to talk things through in ‘non-work’ mode over lunch or some Friday drinks.
There are very few companies I could feel genuinely proud to tell people I work for, but Cancer Research UK is certainly one of them. It means a great deal to me that I’m part of a competitive, developed graduate scheme with a company that exists to improve and save people’s lives. There really aren’t very many other places where you’ll be able to say the same thing."
Deepa Pindoria - Scientific Strategy and Funding Stream
"Hi, I'm Deepa and I'm on the Scientific Strategy and Funding stream. I studied Biological Sciences at UCL where my masters’ year largely consisted of a project within the lab. After graduating, I knew a career in the lab wasn't for me however my passion for science didn’t fade. I heard about CRUK’s grad scheme from careers fairs at university and took the time to read about it more on the website. I was instantly drawn towards the charity because of their drive and ambition to beat cancer sooner! The scheme offered the perfect combination of staying close to science but within a dynamic office environment whilst rotating across four different teams.
My first placement was within the Research Brand and Communications team. In my 6 months here I developed a set of key messages for communicating with our research community. I also worked with the Centre of Drug Development and Digital team to help improve their existing web pages. This was a brilliant first placement as I had the opportunity to work with individuals across the organisation which really opened my eyes to the diversity of work carried out across the organisation.
My second placement is currently with Stratified Medicine; this team help increase access to targeted treatments for cancer patients. Here, I've taken on two pieces of work around testing patients for such treatments. The first involved finalising a report on the current provision of molecular diagnostic testing in England, which was commissioned by the Cancer Taskforce in preparation of the new Cancer strategy. The second piece of work involved writing an article on the current and future provision of molecular diagnostic testing. In this placement, I’ve particularly enjoyed applying my scientific knowledge, dipping my toes into the world of policy and producing an influential report!
Being on this grad scheme has allowed me to focus on my personal development and there are numerous opportunities to try new things and develop new skills. We have a large support network including mentors and talent sponsors throughout the two years which really helps to build your network quickly. My biggest learning so far is to grasp opportunities you know are going to challenge you - you'll be surprised at what you can achieve and how much you can learn from it!
CRUK is a brilliant place to work, with passion and dedication being at the forefront of everything. If you're interested in applying for the grad scheme be sure to clearly convey your motivations for wanting to work for this charity. And don't be scared to show your personality because after all you need to stand out from the crowd! I'd recommend reading the research strategy and understanding the direction of both our research and the organisation on a whole. My biggest tip would be to prepare... practice that presentation and brush up on those competency questions!"
Nike Alesbury - Head of Research Information and Engagement
"I joined CRUK in 2003 on the Fundraising & Marketing graduate scheme and was lucky enough to have a broad range of placement (not just in F&M). This has given me an appetite for variety in my career.
Following the graduate scheme, my desire to keep finding new experiences led me to take a sabbatical, working for Greenpeace in Sydney and the American Cancer Society in New York. I returned to CRUK into HR, in the Learning & Development team, where I took on several different roles and stayed for nearly 3 years. During my time in L&D, I secured a secondment as a Senior National Events Manager within the Events team. When this was due to finish, the role of Head of Volunteering was being advertised, also as a secondment. I couldn’t really move from one secondment to another, so I asked if there was an option for the role to be permanent and when I was successful, I was able to take on the role permanently.
I have always tried to make my own luck to secure roles that I want. For example, on the graduate scheme, I once tried to write my own role profile for a job I wanted – it didn’t work, but if you don’t ask you don’t get!
My next role was to lead the Local Engagement and Development team in addition to the Volunteering team on a temporary basis, which led me to my current position as Head of Research Engagement in Strategy & Research Funding. I’ve had a wide variety of roles across the organisation and I would consider myself a generalist rather than a specialist.
There are many opportunities to move within the organisation. I believe in being open minded and prepared to take on roles even if you don’t have experience in that area. I think we need to put trust in our transferrable skills and continue to encourage people to move sideways.
One thing I’ve found immensely helpful throughout my career has been having access to a mentor; these individuals particularly helped me to be brave in taking my sabbatical and putting myself forward for new roles. Ultimately you drive your own career but it is useful to have a support network. I would encourage others on the graduate scheme to get the most out of their relationship with their mentor. Building networks during your time on the scheme is so important and is a great way of opening up your opportunities, both on the scheme and when you are looking for your substantive role."
Nike Alesbury - Head of Internal Communications
"I originally wanted to be a scientist. After my degree I worked for a year as a research assistant, which I loved, and then did a PhD in neuroscience. During the PhD, however, I realised that straight research wasn’t really my thing at all. But working in the lab can keep you in a bit of a bubble, so I had no clue what I wanted to do instead.
Then I went to a presentation about science in the media by Cancer Research UK. The presentation was incredibly thought provoking, but most of all I was overwhelmed by the passion the speakers showed for CRUK. I spoke to the speakers afterwards and found out about the graduate scheme. As they say, the rest is history!
The graduate scheme was perfect for me – an entry point into a great organisation with brilliant and passionate people and where I had two years to get to know different areas of the charity and gather experience in an environment outside of a lab. It also gave me a real insight into what a fantastic organisation this is to work for. My role now is about passing on the passion about the importance of the work that CRUK does to our staff. I have learnt so many transferable skills along the way. For example, most of my projects on the graduate scheme contained an element of strategy, enabling me to develop my strategic thinking skills. It was a great experience and helped me shape the role I have now. I was fortunate that, after my last placement on the scheme, a position opened up in one of the teams I had worked in. I applied for the role and got the position of “Senior Manager for Impact Evaluation”. The work and the team were brilliant and continued to reinforce my enthusiasm for the organisation.
After eight months, the position of Head of Portfolio Information became available. In this role I managed a brilliant team of passionate, enthusiastic and talented people who had an important role in inspiring our staff about the work that we do and enabling them to be ambassadors for our research. After only eight months as a senior manager before that, it was quite a steep learning curve to become a Head, but I think the fact that I really cared about and believed in what the role was about helped me a lot.
After four years in that role, I moved to the Fundraising and Marketing Directorate as Head of Internal Comms (which now sits in HR), which is testament to the transferable skills I have learnt in my previous roles.
As a whole, the graduate scheme has been really influential in shaping my career. I learnt so much about the Charity and was able to build-up my internal network, which continues to be useful to this day."
We will beat cancer sooner
Please keep an eye out for details of our Graduate Open Evening which will take place in October.