Textbook learning isn't for everyone so the opportunity to mix practical learning with work experience was perfect for BSc H student Adam Gymer.

Thanks to the partnership between Pfizer and the University of Greenwich, Adam can take what he learns in the classroom, and apply it directly to his work in the lab. The support he has received in studying for his degree means that he has been able take his passion and skill for organic chemistry to the next level and beyond.

NAME: Adam Gymer

COMPANY: Pfizer – one of the world's leading biopharmaceutical companies

COURSE: Degree Apprenticeship (BSc H Chemistry - Laboratory Scientist)

STARTED: 2014/2015

"I was never very good at textbook learning… I love practical work and that's what does it for me. Now, I come into uni, I learn the theory, and when I go back to the labs I can see that theory being applied in the work place immediately…that makes it click for me."

WHAT COMPANY DO YOU WORK FOR?

Pfizer is a pharmaceutical company – they make medicines such as paracetamol, but they also work on cancer drugs and sickle cell anaemia. I've worked on medicines to treat lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer.

WHAT IS YOUR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND?

I did my GCSEs and A Levels at a grammar school in Kent. After that, I started working with Pfizer to do an Advanced Apprenticeship. My supervisor and I got in contact with University of Greenwich to see if we could get me onto the HNC. I went to work four days a week and came to the campus one day a week. I've just finished that and my Advanced Apprenticeship as well. Now I'm on the Degree Apprenticeship, which is sort of a continuation of the HNC course.

HOW IS THIS SET-UP BENEFICIAL FOR YOU?

For me, it actually works a lot better because I was never very good at textbook learning – it was difficult for me, sitting down, learning it 'because it's good for you and that's how it is' versus what I do now. I love practical work and that's what does it for me. Now I come into uni, I learn the theory, and when I go back to the labs I can see that theory being applied in the work place immediately which is so useful. And that makes it click for me.

HOW DO YOU BALANCE FULL TIME WORK AND UNI?

It is a challenge! I have one designated day which is pretty full on, and I go away and revise for exams and do essays and coursework, alongside my job. For the apprenticeships that we're doing now, you'll have at least 20% of your time spent doing academic studies outside of the workplace, and 80% in the labs or doing practical work. I think that I got lucky with my supervisor actually – he's very keen on the education side and sees it as equally important as the work I'm doing at Pfizer, so if I need extra time I can take it. I feel really supported and the help we get here [from Greenwich] is great as well – if we're struggling we can meet up with tutors and lecturers.

WHY DOES AN APPRENTICESHIP WORK FOR YOU?

There's loads of benefits! I've found that this is a much better way of learning for me. It's all paid for by Pfizer, which is really nice, so I'm essentially getting a degree and five year's work experience in a relevant industry. I also get paid, so I can support myself. Once I've done the five years, I'll have a complete degree and there's a possibility of a full time job at the end as well, since I've trained for the five years in that job. It's a pretty good deal! And it's definitely an investment for Pfizer – I think they see it that way.

HOW DO YOU FIT INTO THE PFIZER TEAM? ARE YOU TREATED ANY DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE YOU'RE AN APPRENTICE?

Obviously, the people who have gained their masters or their PhDs know that we're less experienced but they still give us work which is challenging because it's a learning experience for us. They're really open to that and they understand. I get so much support from them – any uni work I have questions about I can go to the specialists at Pfizer, and they'll help me out and that's really good.

I definitely feel like part of the team. It's not like 'go make the tea or whatever'. They give me really challenging work – you're valued. I feel very valued.

WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU'VE LEARNED IN THE LAST FEW YEARS OF STUDYING FOR THIS APPRENTICESHIP?

Try not to take on too much. I've found when I started working and when I started university, I was like 'oh yeah, I'll do this, I'll do that, I'll do everything!' but you can't do that. You have to find your work/life balance – that's been really useful for me to learn where that should be.

DO YOU THINK THE DEGREE APPRENTICESHIP HAS HELPED YOU IN LEARNING HOW TO BALANCE YOUR COMMITMENTS?

I would say so!

WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO AFTER THE DEGREE APPRENTICESHIP?

Hopefully I can stay in the pharmaceutical industry. Where I'm working right now is perfect for me – I really enjoy it. I'm working in organic chemistry, trying to find the best conditions for a given chemical reaction, so I get a lot of exposure to the areas I'm interested in. I would like to stay at Pfizer – I like the people. But once I have my degree, the world's my oyster - I could do anything.

WHAT ABOUT GREENWICH APPEALED TO YOU?

For one, Pfizer had a history with Greenwich already. They knew that the education we would get here would be to a good standard, and that they would teach us what we need to know in order to operate well in the workplace – that came from the influence of my supervisor. From my point of view, I like the way the course looked and it seemed interesting. For me, it was an opportunity – I didn't know that it would be an option for me to start with.

WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BE THINKING OF APPLYING TO A COURSE LIKE THIS?

If you think it will suit you, definitely give it a shot! There are so many benefits. You have paid education, a salary, getting five years of really relevant work experience which is invaluable these days. It's not the easy option, but if you're like me and you're not so great being fed theory, but you love practical work and getting stuck in, definitely give it a go!