Julia is Head of Unilever’s Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) and has spanned a career within Unilever since 1998. With an academic background in biochemistry and a PhD in toxicology, she has also played a key role in shaping the R&D UFLP and so read about her career so far, tips for being successful on the scheme and maintaining that vital work-life balance: Read more “Senior leader interview: Julia Fentem, Vice President SEAC”
So I find myself writing this blog whilst I wait for my flight out to one of Unilever’s regional deploy centres for ice cream in Caivano, Italy. I am now 10 weeks into my first placement and I have been exposed to a whole range of fabulous opportunities, including an induction week in Liverpool, training courses in London, trials in Paris and last but not least, a visit to our ice cream factory in Gloucester. Read more “Surviving the Scheme: Rosie Smith, R&D UFLP”
Hi everyone, my name is Clodagh and I’m now almost six months into my year-long placement with Unilever, working as Process Development Technologist within the Ice Cream Category. My role involves working on a number of short-term projects both alone and in a team, with the overall aim to apply an engineering approach to develop, evaluate, and improve processes used to make ice cream across the company.
As for most, the thought of leaving the security of university and starting a full-time job was very daunting. However, thinking back now to what I anticipated a workplace to be like, I could not have been more wrong! I quickly learnt that the ‘real world’ wasn’t quite as intimidating as I expected it to be; not once did I get laughed at for asking a silly question or for getting lost in the offices. Instead, I was greeted with a smile from everyone I met or passed by, and quickly felt like part of the team.
My first week with Unilever was spent taking part in the Ice Cream Technology Course, a training week run annually, which is aimed at newcomers to the category. This meant I gained vital knowledge on every area within the Ice Cream category, as well as having the chance to network with many others based in Ice Cream across the globe.
One thing that surprised me most during my first week – and still surprises me up until today – is how much time and effort goes into the development and production of an ice cream!
Gelato Flavour Profiling
One of my main projects so far has been based on the flavour profiling of a premium gelato company. Seeing as gelato products are so focussed on flavour delivery, this work was important in establishing the flavour profile of current products, as well as seeing how this compares to competitor products.
This was a very technically challenging project, which involved running trials in the pilot plant here at Colworth, as well as analysing the flavour profiles of samples using Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry. This project taught me that even if the work you are given is not something you have directly learnt about at university, you have to apply the skills you have and use your initiative to research and learn about a whole new area of study.
My biggest achievement so far on placement was a result of this project – the huge improvement in my presentation skills. After only ever presenting once at University, I was always very nervous at the thought of having to stand in front of a big group and present alone, but practice makes perfect! After a number of smaller presentations, I was trusted to present my findings to Supply Chain, an important customer of the Ice Cream category, and to a Senior VP in the company.
Life in Bedford
During my placement year, I am living in Bedford – a relatively small town around 60 miles north of London. Getting used to living in a new town where you don’t know anyone is always difficult, but by joining clubs outside of work it didn’t take me long to feel at home.
One of the best things about working full-time is having weekends to yourself – with no guilty thoughts that you should be finishing that assignment for university – so I try to make the most of them! I like to spend my weekends exploring the local area and visiting friends all over the country.
I joined the R&D UFLP just over a year ago. When I joined Unilever, the R&D scheme was comprised of four different six month placements. Usually one of these placements is situated in a function outside of R&D, such as marketing or supply chain, but it doesn’t have to be.
My first placement was in the Hair category as part of the Discover department in Port Sunlight. I was asked to investigate a new consumer trend in the marketplace and propose a strategy for how the company could respond to it. A very open brief, and lots of freedom to shape and influence the actions Unilever will take in the future. My days were spent learning the science of haircare, the needs of our consumers and making shampoo formulations in the lab.
Three months in to my first placement, I signed up for Dove Day, where Unilever employees across the world go into secondary schools to teach children about the importance of self-esteem and not falling for the unrealistic beauty standards set by the media. The thought of teaching a class of adolescent teenagers about a sensitive issue was pretty daunting, but I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done during my time at Unilever so far.
For my second placement, I moved to Leeds to work for the Design department as part of the deodorant brand Axe, or Lynx as it’s called in the UK. Here I took on a much more varied work plan. I worked as a technical project leader for a couple of new products we plan to launch in various parts of the world. I found knowing that I’ll be able to see the product I worked on in supermarkets (eventually!) is really motivating. I also had a project investigating how to improve the scale up of our innovations; from formulating deodorants at lab-scale all the way up to factory scale. For that project I worked very closely with the factory team we have in the US, and gained some great insights into the process required to ensure our products reach as many people as possible, in the best condition possible. When I wasn’t working, I was training for a charity boxing match and trying to eat a little less chocolate than I usually do!
As I move into my out-of-function placement in the Walls ice cream marketing team, I’m looking forward to experiencing a whole different side to the company. I’ve loved every minute of the scheme and it’s already amazing to look back and see how much I’ve developed as a person. The scheme throws you out of your comfort zone and will challenge you constantly. It’s a huge challenge when you join a new department, in a new city, and get hit with a demanding set of goals to achieve. But this is easily outweighed by the sense of excitement found in a new chapter, and there is always a solid support network around you in case you get stuck along the way.
Check out some of the other blogs for some great tips on applying for the scheme!
I graduated from University of Bath with a BSC in Chemistry with Management in 2014 and I am currently a 2nd year R&D UFLP. I enjoy going skiing, watching rugby and I’m quite a foody so I like getting stuck in in the kitchen and trying out new recipes. I am currently in my out of function placement in a Digital role where I am looking at how we can use technology to aid and improve the innovation process, I got onto the UFLP following an R&D industrial placement year (which we’ve now stopped doing) where I worked in the Laundry Liquid category based in Port Sunlight, throughout this placement I was given a great opportunity to not just get stuck into my day to day work but also to see the wider business and it was from this point I knew that Unilever, the work culture and the ways of working was something that matched with me and I was very keen to get onto the UFLP.
My first rotation was a Product development role in Beverages based out of Colworth where I spent a lot of time working on Lipton projects but also had part of a target which was focused on PG tips. I really enjoyed my first role and was impressed with the amount of responsibility I was given from an early stage, this was great as it meant I had to step up early on to ensure my workplan was delivered as I was ultimately accountable. Best tip for the start of any placement but specifically your first role is be prepared that it will all sound like a foreign language early on, what you need to do is keep track of all things that don’t make sense and then use your network to then figure these out. In a matter of weeks that foreign language becomes all too familiar and you will be reeling off all the acronyms as well. I don’t think you ever fully appreciate how much you’ve learnt in any role until you move roles and you switch from an important part of the team to learning a whole new language all over again!
One thing that I believe the UFLP delivers well is a personalised journey where if you are passionate about trying a different role then you can use your network to see if there is a space/opportunity available. I pushed to get my second role in process development in the Hair category in Port Sunlight, the main reason for this was it was completely different, the role, the category and the site. This basically meant that I was definitely going to have a very different placement to my first. I enjoyed this role a lot as it was very hands on and had some good tangible benefits, it also gave me a great insight into the cross-over between R&D and supply chain something that will be very useful to me throughout my career in R&D.
If you are thinking about applying I would recommend looking at the standards of leaderships as a good starting point for structuring responses in interviews and assessments as these are integral to how you will be rated during the process and also make sure you do your research and keep this research updated with things that are happening now not just the history of the business, this may seem a bit like a chore but it works both ways as the more research you do the better you’ll understand your fit to the business and then you will have a greater confidence going into interviews.
Hi I’m Dan. I’m currently in my last month working in R&D at Unilever’s Seacroft site in Leeds as part of the summer internship scheme. After I finish my placement in September I will be going back to the University of Sheffield to complete a masters in molecular biology.
Leeds is the GDC for Unilever’s deodorant portfolio. One of its most recent high profile inventions has been the development of compressed aerosol technology which has revolutionised aerosols making them more sustainable for the future and drastically cutting wastage and CO2 emissions which is such a crucial part of Unilever’s sustainability plan.
A positive about working at this site has been the access to the live factory that produces more than half a billion deodorants a year for global brands including Axe, Dove, Rexona, Vaseline, and Impulse. This access allows you to gain first hand appreciation of how the work you do here can impact the production, as well be giving perspective on the scale of the project you are handling.
My placement in packaging development exposed me to new projects that are highly confidential and very interesting. As you can imagine packaging development isn’t at all related to my degree which at first was a little daunting, but after getting in to my projects and being brought up to speed I found myself adapting quickly.
I’ve found myself working mostly in the office, but I have also spent time in the labs. This has really suited me because I would like to move in to a managerial role in the future. Working in packaging is also a very diverse environment with a vast array of projects going on all the time which has given me great exposure to the business side of R&D too.
I have been put in control of organising and driving projects which have enabled me to make contacts all over the world. This exposure to international businessmen/businesswomen from a variety of disciplines has enabled me to grow a more global view of the business and has forced me to adapt the way I engage with people in order to ensure that information is transferred effectively and a common outlook is retained.
Thoughts on the placement
One thing I am amazed at is the level of detail that the company goes to in order to ensure linearity across their suppliers worldwide. The team is constantly travelling to suppliers to ensure they are keeping within the acceptable ranges expected by Unilever. Further to this I also never appreciated how much effort is put in to develop packaging, and how much goes on to drive sustainability that consumers would probably never realise.
Something I have really enjoyed during my placement is the level of responsibility given to me from day one. Within the first few days of starting I was given tasks to complete for a major project within the team. I then got the chance to present my findings to senior stakeholders, which was a great experience to have so early in my placement. As the placement goes on the work level increase as does the level of responsibility, which is a real test as you are always learning new skills rather than on some other placements where you can find yourself shadowing people a lot.
The timing of my placement here was very fortunate with the first few weeks being very busy with the ‘R&D summer event’ where everyone from the site came together to celebrate a successful year. Further to this I was lucky enough to be here for the visit of Alan Jope (President of Unilever’s Personal Care), David Blanchard (Chief R&D Officer), Santiago Iturralde (SVP Deodorants), who gave a great Q&A session, it was interesting to learn about their careers and their opinions on the future of Unilever and was a great way to start the placement. Further to this I’ve also been lucky enough to talk with Alan Palmer (Global Vice President R&D, Deodorants) and former UFLP graduates (some who are now managers) within the company and getting some very valuable advice on careers in Unilever. Being able to network with people in these positions from very early on has given me great insight in to what I can expect from a career in Unilever as well as how to get the most out of it and reach my goals.
My top tips for working at Unilever would definitely be to meet as many people as possible from the start. Throw yourself in to your projects and make as many new contacts as possible. If you can get involved with training, or other projects that aren’t directly related to your goals then do because it gives you a more rounded view of what goes on in R&D. Further to this, don’t shy away from any responsibility, I remember on my first day my line manager told me to ‘fill my boots’ and I have tried my best to do just that, throwing myself in wherever possible.
The best tip though, is to simply enjoy it. Everyone here is really welcoming and friendly and is a testament to the recruitment process that everyone fits in to the team so well. It’s coming to the end of my placement now and I don’t want it to end, I feel settled in to the team and enjoying my work. It will be a huge shame to not see some of the long term projects through.
My Favourite thing about Unilever
My favourite thing about Unilever has to be the social atmosphere. The relaxed nature of the company has allowed me to feel relaxed and able to thrive in this fairly different environment. I have found the sociable nature of my colleagues really helpful as I know that if I require any help then everyone is available and more than happy to help, or point me in the direction of someone else who could help.
I hope to apply to the graduate scheme after my placement and take advantage of the fast track on to the UFLP which is a very attractive prospect for me. I look forward to the selection process again as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last time, and hopefully this placement won’t be the last time I work within Unilever.
I recommend this placement to everybody. Unilever is well deserving in its rank as one of the best graduate employers and you will be able to tell from day one that their goal is to not only test you, but to improve you as well. I didn’t know the FMCG industry particularly well before I joined, I now see it as a potential long term career path.
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your applications and potential career in Unilever.
We caught up with Carol Bosko, Research Director for R&D at out Port Sunlight site to provide some insight into what a career in R&D at Unilever might entail.
What excites you about science and what made you want to go in to science?
Well I first realised I wanted to become a scientist when I saw the very first example of pH change. I was at a science fair and somebody from a very large pharmaceutical company was demonstrating a simple pH indicator. When the colour changed from blue to green I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I was probably about 5 or 6 years old and it was at that point that science really grabbed my attention.
I think what’s most exciting about science is that you learn something new every day. Your job never gets mundane, never gets boring it never gets too routine because every time you answer one question there are five more questions that it opens up. It is the most intense, exciting and diverse career that one could have.
Were you inspired by any teachers, films or books?
For sure some of my inspiration came from teachers. I remember that in college I had a microbiology teacher who was very phobic about germs so it was always very interesting for me to hear him expound about the dangers of germs and yet those were the things we were studying. He was very inspiring.
Did you receive any good advice about studying science or entering a scientific career?
I do recall asking teachers about what I should do to enter a career. The best advice I got was to get an advanced degree. That is what inspired me to go on and get a PhD in microbiology.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for how to encourage more females into science subjects?
Well I think if somebody has an inclination for science they’re going to follow their heart so I don’t think people need encouragement to go into science. However one thing I would encourage women not to dismiss is the hard sciences like engineering, physics and mathematics. Those are very critical and we are certainly under represented as a gender in those sciences. If you are going to go into the sciences remember that you may focus on one discipline like biology like I did-but you can’t forget your physics and your maths. The best science comes from a merging of disciplines and a merging of scientists from different disciplines coming together to look at a problem from more than your own point of view so don’t assume that you can forget your organic chemistry or your calculus.
Why did you chose Unilever?
I grew up in the United States at a time when I knew Unilever’s brands but didn’t know Unilever as a brand or as a company. I first became exposed to Unilever when I was doing my PhD work and I happened to meet somebody who worked at Unilever because they were funding some research in my mentor’s lab. I then began to understand the possibilities of working with Unilever. I understood how good the research was, how good the research facilities were and how many different products it went into and that’s why I chose Unilever.
What opportunities have you had whilst working for Unilever?
I’ve had so many opportunities whilst working for Unilever. First of all- travel. There is always this opportunity with Unilever as it is a global company. You get to look at consumers in other countries, to work in other countries, to visit other countries and so I do have to say my passport is stamped and it is full because I work for Unilever. I’ve also had so many other opportunities professionally-to grow and to develop myself. I get to do things that I would never naturally be comfortable with such as doing this interview, standing up in front of people and presenting my work. Unilever is a great place for developing yourself, expanding yourself, and continuing to build your scientific skills as well as your professional and personal skills.
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My name is Eleanor and I am currently a summer placement student in beverages (tea) R&D in Colworth, Bedford.
Like myself before I started, many people are not aware of the wide range of different activities that go on in R&D at Unilever, so I would like to tell you about my first 6 weeks on the job to give you all a quick insight.
I am currently studying biochemistry at Lancaster University, which involves a lot of heavy lab-based work and in depth science. I chose Unilever as I wanted to apply my scientific knowledge whilst developing skills that you don’t get just by completing a degree, such as leadership and business skills. I didn’t know what to expect before starting my placement, as the usual conception about R&D is that it’s a lot of people standing around in a lab all day coming up with new crazy technologies for products.
I am based in the regional deploy centre for beverages (tea). We are responsible for the running and deployment of regional European tea projects, from single flavour changes to a whole new product ranges. This means that we are much more integrated into the business side of things than I expected, working closely alongside marketing and supply chain in particular. I was a bit tentative about being in tea at first – I absolutely hate the stuff! Surprisingly, I have grown to like it over the past few weeks due to experiencing all different products and flavours that I never even knew existed during our in-house tastings.
Who would have thought there was so much to learn about tea?!
My first few days were pretty hectic – I met a lot of people (and forgot half their names the next day!), and heard a lot of acronyms being thrown about. Seriously guys, if it’s possible to shorten a phrase into an acronym then Unilever WILL do it! It only took me about a week to settle into my environment as everyone was so friendly and welcoming. My line manager gave me a clear set of goals and put me in contact with the right people to help me.
At Unilever, as long as you get on with your work, it’s really up to you how you manage your time. I was given 3 very different projects from packaging analysis to comparing recipes for tea products, so you learn how to prioritise and organise yourself very quickly. My job is predominantly desk-based, which surprised me somewhat, but it’s a refreshing change for me.
I’m now 6 weeks in and I have 6 weeks to go. Time has flown by and before I know it I will be back at university, which will be very strange after being in a full time work routine for 3 months! I know that this placement will help me greatly in the future and I would say that if you’re on the fence about applying, you should definitely go for it! You have nothing to lose and heaps of experience to gain. If you fancy R&D but don’t want to be stuck in a lab all day, then remember that there are lots of different areas and opportunities for you.
Hello everyone I’m Andy and I work in Research & Development (R&D) at Unilever based in Port Sunlight. I have just finished my third year at University studying Chemistry. After this placement I will be going back to University to complete a Masters degree.
During my summer placement at Unilever I am based in the open innovation team. Before I came to work here I had not even heard of open innovation, but essentially it involves looking at what the outside world is doing and finding exciting and innovative things that we could use as a company in our products. Here you get to be involved in lots of fledgling projects that have huge potential.
My current role involves me working on a project that is intertwined between both open innovation and Laundry discover. In R&D discover is where new product technology is used to deliver functional benefits. I have managed to balance my day-to-day work so that I get a 50:50 split between lab and office work. This is good as I am not too far out of my comfort zone of the traditional Chemistry lab but I also get to experience an office environment which is something very different and has helped in terms of my own professional development.
R&D is about experimentation, trial and error and creativity – not everything we do will work, but the aim is to keep going until we find something that does work. On the slightly more dull side of things, in order to carry out any of my tests a lot of sample preparation is involved. This basically means I do a lot of ironing and washing! Not exactly a fun task, but unfortunately it needs to be done and is all part of the bigger picture.
In the office I get to experience a completely different side of my project. Currently this involves a lot of work around business models. This work is used to help decide whether or not a project is feasible to carry on with at the very early stages. Being able to be involved in this sort of work is really interesting and fun and certainly not something I thought I would be doing during my time here.
So far my time here has given me the opportunity to be involved with both the practical and business side of R&D. Whilst here I have been able to find a role that not only utilises my degree on a day to day basis, but I have also been given the opportunity to learn and develop new skills that are outside of my comfort zone. This has involved me helping to meet business objectives, develop business models and support a high profile project in its progression.
My Top Tips:
You would be amazed by the breadth of opportunities within R&D at Unilever. So if you think your degree may not be wholly relevant, don’t write R&D off stop and take another look. It’s a great function if you really want variety in your role and the opportunity to play a key part in making an idea become reality.
Favourite thing about Unilever:
My favourite aspect of Unilever is the working culture. It is a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere to work in which helps you achieve your best. In R&D, collaboration is often a necessity and the working culture here really helps to nourish this.
Welcome to our 2014 Summer Placement Research & Development students! Here they share with you their profiles, what attracted them to Unilever and top tips for future applicants:
Name: Andrew Wilkinson
University: University of Birmingham
Function: Research & Development
Role Title: Open Innovation summer placement student
What attracted you to Unilever?
I chose Unilever because of the seemingly endless opportunities on offer. Also I got on well with all of the employees that I had met; they were friendly and approachable so I knew I would fit in well. Not to mention the cool brands that you get to work with here.
Any top tips for future applicants?
Watch out for Unilever at careers fairs and don’t be afraid to have a chat. Make sure you ask lots of questions to find out as much as you can about all the opportunities on offer. If you get on well with them you will fit in nicely!
Name: Conor Gask
University: University of St Andrews
Function: Research and Development
Role Title: Laundry Liquids Design Summer Intern
What attracted you to Unilever?
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). I was intrigued to find out how an Fast Moving Consumer Goods company were planning to implement such ambitious goals and how this would affect their business. The opportunity to own my own research project also attracted me, as the findings you make really can have an impact on a huge scale.
Any top tips for future applicants?
The first week and a half can be quite slow getting projects in place, so use this time to talk to as many people as possible in your office. Within 3 days of being here I was able to arrange lunch with the Director of Laundry Liquids, giving me an opportunity to ask lots of questions about career paths within Unilever. Employees here are very welcoming and will generally make time to help you out with tours and introductions, don’t be shy!
Name: Jaipal Sachdev
University: Imperial College
Course: Chemical Engineering
Role Title: Summer Intern
What attracted you to Unilever?
The emphasis put on self and team development and the fast changing pace of the business.
Any top tips for future applicants?
Research Unilever thoroughly; make sure you understand the Standards of Leadership. Make sure you have an example in your life that has helped develop each of these standards.
Name: Kathryn Tipping
University: University of Nottingham
Function: R&D Summer Placement
Role Title: Formulation Scientist
What attracted you to Unilever?
I was attracted to doing a summer placement at Unilever as I felt it would be a highly valuable experience, working for a world leading multinational company with a great reputation. I was also attracted by the potential to gain a huge breadth of knowledge of the Fast Moving Consumer Goods market, through the wide variety of products developed here. The potential opportunities that may arise from the placement were also very attractive.
Any top tips for future applicants?
Be confident, work hard and try your best to succeed, but most importantly be yourself!