A reflection of my placement year

August 11th 2017

I recall last July coming home after another interview, completely exhausted and angry at my own critical thoughts on my performance. I remember thinking, “That’s it, that is the last interview I’m ever doing this year.” I had been searching for a placement year since the start of my second year, eager to get some professional experience after feeling a little motivated from a few compulsory career lectures as part of a year-long module in my second year.

Throughout the year, I went through countless of applications – mostly in the biopharmaceutical industry and lab-based roles – where I was invited to a few interviews on the phone and in person but failed each one. My self-confidence took a hell of a beating, I was on the verge of giving up at so many points especially as I didn’t have much time to focus on applications, study, complete assignments, work part time and volunteer at once, but I made time. Sometimes at ridiculous hours of the day.

Now I’m not saying you should sacrifice sleep, in fact, I strongly recommend that you get your 8 hours as consistently as possible! What I’m saying is even though I had endless rejections or no responses, I pushed through.

“Don’t give up” is so cliche but is so true! Sometime in March 2016, I was offered my first professional experience in a digital marketing agency, Diva Creative, where I was interning as a Developer. Totally not in the world of Biomed but totally worthwhile as the professional experience helped me “get my foot in the door.”

Shortly after this, I went to one of the interviews I will never forget. It was in Oxford, advertised as a graduate job (but they were impressed with my LinkedIn profile and phone interview that they were willing to turn it around into a placement for me and be their first intern if I succeeded!), it was the longest hour and a half interview ever and I didn’t end up getting it but I didn’t leave empty handed, instead got:

  • Further insights on the life sciences industry
  • A better understanding of how important research actually is
  • Understanding of the work culture
  • An awareness of myself: what role didn’t fit me and what role did.

It was from this along with the experience with Diva that pushed me to look at alternative careers with a science degree.

Fast forward to over a year later… today I complete my placement year at the University of Sheffield, working as their first intern. It was an experiment for the university as they had never had a 12-month placement student-hybrid staff before. I felt a little pressure to do well because of this; I wanted the programme to continue to give other students a chance to have such a rich experience given.

One of my personal aims for the year was to ensure that I do well enough to allow this to happen… you’d be glad to hear that it is actually continuing (ding, ding, ding – achievement unlocked!)


Big changes

Apart from the obvious change such as working as staff and getting that shiny, orange, full-of-power card (with great power comes great responsibility) and working full time, I was experiencing a lot of changes and sudden realisation when I first started. For instance, it hit me that I would not be graduating with my friends whom I started University with and I wouldn’t be getting the long breaks during Christmas, Easter and Summer. I quickly realised through my experience that every second of my time working has brought nothing but value to University experience and degree at the end! Also, yes, annual leave had limited days but they felt great and earned more than anything else.

Working full-time, 9 – 5, 5 days a week didn’t really affect me as much as others. Mainly because I naturally wake up early so the 9 am lectures didn’t phase me as a student either, also I was used to the working life from my constant juggle between two part time jobs and volunteering throughout the last two years at University. I have to comment though, that it was nice to have more of a structure, in one place, rather than jumping around places that I had to get to in less than an hour (which sometimes was impossible)

I enjoyed the routine because it allowed me to be flexible on the times outside 9 – 5, including my self-care 5 am – 9 am routine and 5 pm – 9 pm “play time” including the organisation of my weekly community coding courses, learning more of what interests me, creating, blogging and building.

The routine also reminded me of the importance of weekends, something I took for granted as a student because sometimes my weekends would start in the middle of the week and not end until the next week or two (which, as you can imagine, greatly affected my productivity)

There was a lot of change to adapt to, but I welcomed it with open arms!


Working as a Communications and External Engagement Assistant

One big thing I learnt throughout the year is that my job title is not what I actually do. I attended a number of conferences, events and training sessions and picked this up from other colleagues in the University. It’s SO true. I did a range of things that didn’t fit into my ‘Communications and External Engagement’ title nor job description – and that’s great because I was able to experience a range of different areas I wouldn’t have explored if I only did Comms.

Throughout the year, I assisted in several projects in areas of learning and teaching, marketing, research, employability, internal engagement including staff and students.

The workload was reasonable and much better managed than my student life. Obviously there were certain points in the year where it got demanding for example, during points in the year (e.g. freshers’ week etc.) there was always extra assistance needed for student support, when deadlines for a project all clumped up together in a week or during a time in the spring when certain members of the team started moving on to other things and I had to take responsibility and cover areas for a couple of months.

Some days were hectic with my 7 working hours feeling like it wasn’t enough to fit everything in (which I’m sure we’ve all felt before!) Being under pressure taught me to better manage my time, stay organised, and be adaptable with work. I got better over the year at labelling tasks required much more of my urgent attention.

As well as being much more organised (which has helped a lot in my personal life and projects) other ‘softer’ and transferable skills I have built on include:

  • Communication – information-flow to external partners, internal staff (PSS and academic) and students with updates of what developments are happening in the Department, Faculty and University-wide. Sometimes through various channels…
  • Creativity – thinking about taking a more creative approach to communications, I created frequent e-newsletters which condensed information into a simpler format. Also making use of my self-taught abilities in front-end development and Photoshop helped a lot with building more presentable and student-friendly online tools.
  • Presentational skills – I do enjoy giving presentations especially when I’m well prepared! I got the chance to do a few!
  • Rapport building and networking – more on this later!
  • Teamwork – Working with a diverse number of people across the University and externals.
  • Project management – the most notable project that I managed was the Green Impact project. I took a lead in liaising tasks to fellow team members, executing ideas and plans to ensure that it was the most engaging delivery.
    As a team, we ended up winning the Bronze project award and overall Gold award (from the previous year’s Bronze award. Some said it couldn’t be done but if you put your mind to it, anything can be done – including jumping and skipping a level! 😉)
    I was also nominated for Innovation for Engagement and won the Special Award of “Environmental Hero” for overall enthusiasm and commitment towards the project. If you’re interested, you can find out more about Green Impact here.
  • Professionalism
  • Commercial awareness – better understanding and insight on HE generally but also became more aware of current challenges HE is facing and information of how the business operates.

Presentations!

Out of the all the skills I’ve developed over the year, the most valuable was understanding how to network. Initially, I wouldn’t know how to network at all and would dread the networking lunch breaks.

Throughout the year, however, I attended various events, conferences, external trips and meetings, which allowed me to build up my confidence in talking to strangers during the events, pitching myself well to others, obtaining a connection where by I have successfully continued to build on those relationships.

Work trip to Bradford

I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learnt from my placement about networking and have confidently communicated and made connections at other events outside of work for instance at Women in Tech events. Which has, in turn, allowed me to make connections with those in industries I’m interested in working with in the future!

Sustainability Showcase event

Other things I got involved with (because I wasn’t tied to a job description!):

  • Playing around with shiny new technology – Bryony Olney, the most talented, innovative, enthusiastic technologist I’ve ever come across inspired me with applications of AR and VR in Higher Education. Throughout the year I got a chance to try the shiny HTC Vive!
  • Using my web-development knowledge and revamping two websites
  • Creating 360 virtual tours as a resource for students
  • Event photography!

A couple of photos of me taking photos of students graduating


Personal growth

I have gained a lot professionally and as I’ve mentioned all the transferable skills I’ve learned, I have been able to apply in other parts of my life such as extracurricular community activities e.g. Code First: Girls.

Coding community course

But I think it’s important to highlight that I’m very thankful for the year out opportunity because it’s allowed me to spend more time on myself – during my student days, I completely just abandoned my needs which resulted in a worsening of my mental health. With more time to focus on myself outside my set routine and with my colleagues being very supportive, I’ve been able to step out of my comfort zone and face multiple fears and anxieties.

I was encouraged by my colleagues to take breaks and annual leave despite my unwillingness to at the beginning; my reasoning being that I didn’t want to ‘miss out’ on my placement experience with lots of things going on throughout the year, only to realise that part of the working experience was the well-deserved breaks that come with it.

I spent most of my breaks going to an all-day conference, doing nothing (which actually drives me crazy so it wasn’t as relaxing as I thought) or travelling. Travelling doesn’t seem like such a crazy achievement but for someone who couldn’t even get on trains alone until last year, travelling around Europe and a small part of the US is such a personal achievement.

Trip around Europe

Now let’s talk about money. 💸

My previous professional experience was unpaid and so it felt like a bonus getting paid in this placement. This is a totally different blog post altogether so I won’t go into it too much but previously, I was always all about working unpaid as long as I got the experience but now I have seen the impact and value of my work!

Earning a lot more money than I ever could earn in a month from my casual work and part time jobs throughout university has taught me a lot – I have definitely been more mindful of how I handle my money; less on stuff and things, more on experiences and future investments.

This clearly shows that I got more out of my placement than professional development, life-long skills and incredible experiences for personal growth!


Highlights

Some of my personal highlights from my placement include:

Sustainability Showcase

International Women’s Day

A couple of photos of me holding cool things


Returning to University

Working at the University has given me the opportunity to explore areas of the institution I never thought existed such as the community of professional services who work hard to ensure that processes run smoothly.

I’m looking forward to successfully applying the worthwhile range of experiences, knowledge, skills and routine I’ve obtained from my placement to the final year of my studies.

As it is my final year, I’ll be going through the process of applying to jobs in addition to completing the last push of my #shefunilife. I’ve learned a lot from working with Amy Woolley; about employability generally, the graduate market and alternative careers paths, which I know will be incredibly useful in my search.

My placement year was not the most obvious one that a science student would’ve chosen – in fact, out of other five placement students I am the only one who had not gone on to do a science-based placement. But that does not make my placement less valuable or worthwhile because I have gained so much – personal and professional development, networks, friends, mentors and I think most importantly, better awareness of who I am and my potential!

Camila & I (I wish we worked together longer!! 😭)

So to my colleagues and everyone I’ve worked with: thank you so much! I’ve had an amazing year and will be forever grateful for the opportunity, its challenges and the support throughout.

Handing over

I wish the new placement student, also from the Faculty of Sciences, Sarah Biggins a wonderful year ahead! Let’s keep the “you aren’t tied to what you can do because of your degree” momentum going and I hope you gain as much from it as I did!

 

If you’re a student wondering whether or not you should take a year out and work full time, don’t doubt it! It’s the best decision you could ever make not only for your future self (when you’re looking for jobs after University) but for your present self. The various things you learn on placement (when you make the most out of the opportunity) ensures that once you leave, you are the best version of yourself you can be – the one with a belt of professional experience but also a more well-rounded individual! I know that when I leave today and compare my August ’16 self to now, I know that I’ve grown into the most confident version of myself I have ever been who is ready (and never been so ready) to take on what’s next!


Now I’m off to Canary Island to relax for a week, start two placements in the tech industry (because I’m not done with working full time yet! 😜) and then start my final year in Biomedical Sciences. If you need me, I’ll be in the corner of the various University libraries learning about how to reconstruct a face.

Because this is hard-cold facts that we all need know.

Note: I’ve also posted this on LinkedIn.You can read it here.


Posted under: Checkpoint, University, Work


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27 comments

  1. Batsheva says:

    Wow. This post highlights so many accomplishments and perseverance on your behalf. What’s best is that you really look like you had fun doing it– and when I mean fun, I mean purpose and fulfillment. This was a great read.

    http://cynicalduchess.com

  2. Wow, you should be so proud of yourself! You’ve done some amazing things! You really are an inspiration to people! Makes me want to get off my rear and go back to school. =3

  3. Amy says:

    Glad you enjoyed your placement, Pauline! It’s so cool that you got a chance to do that during your degree. We did six weeks of work experience, but I never thought to take a year to do it. It’ll definitely help when you’re applying for jobs next year, because most places want someone with lots of experience!

    I love working 9-5 (well 8-4 haha) because it’s great to have a regular routine. When I was at uni/working in retail, my hours were all over the place, and I could never really plan things in properly because each week would be different. It’s much nicer to have a daily routine as well, especially for meals. I don’t miss eating at weird times when I was at my retail job! 3pm is not lunch time!

    It’s great that you achieved so much while you were there. You should definitely be so proud of yourself for doing so much. That’s amazing. Hope your other two placements go just as well!

    Hope you’re enjoying your well-deserved holiday. The photo you put up on Twitter looks amazing!

    • Pauline says:

      My degree didn’t actually have this set in place, hence why only 5 of us from my course decided to do it. We had to arrange everything ourselves so it was a little stressful BUT the whole process was worth it 😊

  4. Sakura says:

    Wow! Great that you persevered and got so much returns! I feel that people with enough grit tends to gain so much more and you certainly sound like a lady with lots of grit. Good job!

  5. enyiie says:

    I really learned a lot from reading this post and I’m feeling inspired to try harder. Thank you for writing such an in depth post about your placement year, Pauline – I can take away so much and learn so much from what you’ve shared.

    I like the idea of leaving study to pursue a year of full-time work because it really helps to put into practice skills and knowledge learnt from uni and definitely boosts employability. I can imagine how much I would realise I take for granted as a student once I work full-time! Communications and technology sound like very interesting fields (of which I know nothing about, unfortunately! but I’d love to learn more).

    I’m doing a double degree in Finance/Law which I find to be two very competitive fields, but I’ve never considered looking further or outside these areas to find placements or jobs in other fields, but I know now that a degree is not the be-all-end-all and there are plenty of other opportunities out there that may even be a better fit.

    With that said, hope you’re enjoying your holidays! Will be reading more of your posts 🙂

    • Pauline says:

      I’m so glad you got a lot out of this post – I aim to inspire!! 😊 If you ever have the chance to do any sort of work experience, I always encourage you to go for it! Especially when you come to Sheffield 😊

      Thank you ❤️

  6. Nancy says:

    Congratulations on finishing your placement year! I’m happy to hear that you’ve pushed through interviews and scored a position that helped you grow throughout the year. At the end of all of this, you’re still getting the experience and a degree so it’s worth the efforts you’re spending now. The full-time life isn’t bad at all. As long as you’re keeping yourself busy, time will fly.

    I totally agree that there are times when you do job functions that aren’t within your role. The first few times that happened to me, I was so confused because I had expectations… Now, I’m totally open to different functions as long as I’m still getting paid well XD. I’m glad to see a lot of soft skills you’ve built because of work! I totally agree on all of them 100%.

    Taking breaks is definitely important!!! It’s a great way to recharge your energy and potentially refresh your outlook on things. You getting paid with this experience means more gym clothes for you ;).

    Congrats on all of your achievements over the year! Hope you’ll adjust back to the student life in no time ;). Have fun out there in Canary Island!

  7. Liv says:

    Aww congratulations on your achievement dear! Wait so placement year means you take off from university classes to work at your job at uni? That sounds like a wonderful thing, in my opinion! You learn so much by investing time in something, which in your case was working at uni. I think a lot of people (like myself) hurry through college (gonna speak American here haha) and miss a great experience and valuable skills that can’t be learned just by studying. Luckily I got it when I went back to grad school, but it was at NYU which was way different and I still felt like I wanted to invest more time in the school if I had the time.

    You deserve a good break after finishing all that work! Enjoy your trip and good luck with your new placements as well as your final year! 🙂

    • Pauline says:

      A placement year means taking a year out of studies to work full time! It doesnt necessarily have to be at University, the role I wanted (in Comms) just ended up being there 😊 A friend of mine worked in industry at a private company! It really just depends on what you apply for.

      Haha – “college” love it!

  8. Chynna says:

    There’s always one moment in our lives that changes the rest of it forever… in a good way! Even though you didn’t get that job in Oxford, you definitely still benefited from it and girl you are kicking ASS! You’re completely rocking everything you do and I am so proud <3 Congratulations on being their first intern and I'm so glad that it went well that they're going to continue with it 🙂

    Extremely proud of your achievements, girl. You are so inspirational! Again, congratulations on completing your placement year and I hope you enjoy your well deserved break (in fact I know you are because I've been stalking you on insta ;D)

    Also, hint hint – I might be coming to Sheffield in September because my sister wants to go to an open day!

    • Pauline says:

      Thanks Chynna! I remember how I was really bummed out about Oxford but I kept my spirits high and managed to secure a placement year at home! Which wasn’t so bad 😆

      Again – hit me up when you’re in Sheffield ❤️

  9. Cat says:

    I’m glad you didn’t give up! I understand the feeling of interviewing multiple times and having to deal with the rejections. That’s great that you got the internship with Diva Creative and then your placement afterwards!

    Switching from a school mindset to a full-time working one was weird at first, but I quickly came to like it too. In a way, routine is nice, and I also enjoy having free time outside of work. With school, you still have to do homework and projects outside of classes!

    I also think that’s great that your job involves a variety of things. Sounds like it keeps things interesting and gave you a lot of good experiences 🙂 Definitely a good thing, too, if it allowed you to build on a lot of different skills! I’m glad that it’s given you time for yourself because I do think student life can be rough on self-care at times. It’s a good sign if your colleagues encouraged you to take breaks and vacations! I always find that taking a break makes me even more refreshed and productive when I get back.

    As for the money thing, I know that unpaid internships are common, but I always feel like people should be paid for their hard work. Sometimes unpaid internships feel like companies are taking advantage of students. Experience is great, but that isn’t what pays the bills!

    Congrats on all the awards you won and on your achievements! You totally deserve them! I’m glad you’ve had such a good experience with your placement year!

    • Pauline says:

      The best part of my placement year and working full time has to be the fact that I could do whatever I wanted after work. I didn’t feel guilty for spending my evening doing anything I wanted in contrast to studying full time where I constantly felt like I needed to study. 😊

  10. Claudine says:

    Congratulations on completing your placement and I just couldn’t stop smiling while reading this – you’ve grown SO much and everyone can see that! You’re a very inspiring person and I love how you made the most out of your placement, learning so many new things along the way <3

    You really got me at the part where you said that you shouldn't limit yourself based on your degree – maybe I really should consider living by that too! I have to start looking for a job next year and while I'm already aiming for a dream job, I guess I should broaden my horizons and apply for others too 😀

    Oh and congratulations on learning how to network! That's a really huge feat and one of the most important skills you can ever learn. It's one thing I'm still horrible at despite spending 2 years in the corporate setting. I should learn that too 😛

    • Pauline says:

      Networking isn’t so bad after a while – I think, with most things, you just have to keep putting yourself out there and out of your comfort zone. After a while, you gain enough experience and it’s the best thing ever 😊

  11. Anca says:

    It was lovely to read your experience. You did so many things and developed so much during this year. You should be so proud of yourself.

  12. Tara says:

    This post is full of positivity 🙂 I love how you focused on the goods of not getting that Oxford job, how you changed your perspective to seek new and better things. It’s easy to get discouraged from the rejections, but wallowing in such a thing won’t lead you anywhere, so it’s good to reflect and find a good out of the rejection, which you clearly did!

    It’s good the 9-5 work schedule suits you XD It doesn’t suit me because of my natural sleeping schedule, but I make it work. It does feel odd to do tasks outside fo your position descriptions, but it’s good to learn and gain new skills that you can use anywhere else! I did practically everything in one of my previous job, so that’s why I called myself the Jill-of-all-trades.

    Major yes to the breaks! I’m all for taking breaks and leave when I can 🙂 You need to have the right work-life balance in order to stay physically and mentally healthy!

    Congrats on everything you’ve accomplished in a year, Pauline. Your hard work and dedication shows!

    • Pauline says:

      Yes – balance is key ❤️ Thank you for always supporting me Tara, I really do appreciate it! It’s been a long journey but I’m so glad I did it!

  13. Emily says:

    So many accomplishments! Congrats!
    Isn’t That Charming.