Working with Pharmaceutical Industry Professionals Before Graduation

Primary tabs

At Georgia Tech, cooperative education programs (co-ops) are a popular way for engineering majors to gain professional work experience before graduation. For science majors, these programs are not as common. M. Cynthia Martin, a fifth-year Ph.D. chemistry student is among the few science majors taking the engineers’ usual path. She is taking part in the co-op program of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the London-based global pharmaceutical company, for a 12-month term. The experience will give her a view of the pharmaceutical industry that is usually not accessible to students.

Co-ops offer students paid professional career training and enable students to work with professionals in their chosen field of work before they graduate. In the program, Martin will spend one year in GSK’s Respiratory Stress and Repair Discovery Performance Unit located, at their Upper Merion campus in Pennsylvania. She will be part of a team that’s discovering small-molecule drug candidates to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Martin brings experience from developing synthetic methodologies, one of the major activities in the research laboratory of her Ph.D. advisor, Stefan France, an associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

At GSK, Martin “will focus on using organic synthesis to produce drug candidates,” France says. As part of a professional team, Martin will be responsible for accurate notebook recording. She will carry out routine organic chemistry operations, such as reaction set-up, vacuum evaporation, thin-layer chromatography, flash chromatography, basic workup of reaction mixtures, and basic interpretation of spectra. And she will be expected to implement safe laboratory practices, France explains. Through this assignment, France adds, Martin will further refine her organic chemistry skills.

Indeed, Martin says, the GSK co-op “enables me to do exciting synthetic organic chemistry—and also obtain real life experience in the pharmaceutical industry.”

“The GSK co-op program is a wonderful opportunity for chemistry students from top academic institutions to experience how a pharmaceutical company operates on a daily basis.”  says Nicole C. Goodwin, director of medicinal chemistry and Martin’s co-op supervisor at GSK. “It not only offers the students insight into how their current skill set fits into an industrial setting, but also enables them to expand that skill set during their tenure here.”

The co-op program will introduce Martin to the many facets of drug discovery. “Contrary to many academic programs that often focus on one specific area of chemistry,” Goodwin says, “our early drug discovery programs must effectively work at the interface of synthetic chemistry, molecular biology, structural biology, computational chemistry, and pharmacology.”

Martin’s co-op experience at GSK will be an advantage if she ever wishes to continue working in the pharmaceutical industry. “With full access to department meetings and general company-wide activities, students have the opportunity to network around the organization,” Goodwin says. In addition, some co-op students ultimately find full-time employment within GSK after their graduation. According to Goodwin,  “Recruiters both from GSK and other companies have a positive perception and an appreciation for the real-life training the students receive as industrial chemists in the GSK co-op program.”

Scott Smith

Student Assistant, College of Sciences


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Scotty Smith
  • Created: 07/07/2016
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

Target Audience