Internships, work experience, student placements, I’m sure you’ve probably had six million careers talks all about the merit of doing them. The ‘transferable’ skills you’ll gain and how great it’ll look on your CV etc etc.
I’ve been there, sitting in the lecture theatre thinking sure, sure, yeah, punctuality is important obviously, blah blah and that’s all very well but I’m too busy over here trying to do life and get my degree.
But the honest truth is they couldn’t be more right.
Making time to sort our your CV and apply to something you’re interested in is just as important as anything else you could be doing and it’s 100% worth it.
Towards the end of my 1st year I found myself with a decision, I either needed to find a job here or pack up and go home for the summer. I’d done various things in the past, from working in a gift shop, to waitressing and being a teaching assistant. Home for me is a lovely little town in rural East Sussex, and the reality was a summer there was not going to be career advancing.
So I buckled down, sorted my CV out and applied for various different projects and placements. I used something here called the student internship bureau. It’s a fab uni service that gathers info about lots of different opportunities you can apply for. Don’t get me wrong it was time consuming, and getting rejected from quite a few, particularly after an interview, was tough but I got there in the end and I’m so glad I stuck with it.
I managed to get an internship in the Research Strategy and Policy office at the university. I was working on designing and creating a website about research impact. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive at first, I’d never worked in an office before, and everyone seemed very professional and experienced. However, it turned out to be a fab experience with lovely people! I learnt so much, from how research grants work, to how to set up a database, and use a web CMS.
All those transferrable skills, including communication, professionalism and confidence, I gained in buckets along the way and pretty much without realising. I was really lucky to have a great supervisor who spent time teaching me about the wider academic environment and talked to me about her career and the roundabout route she’d gone so far.
One of the greatest gains from the experience were the doors that were opened to me afterwards. When this summer was looming I had the confidence to apply for another internship and actually managed to land the first one I applied for in something I really wanted to do. There is no doubt in my mind without last summer’s experience I wouldn’t have got there.
This summer I worked in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science – Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory. I helped to set up and work with a new instrument that measures levels of ethane and methane in the atmosphere. It is called a quantum cascade laser detector (I know pretty fab right!!). It was a learning curve at first, adapting to a new situation, but again everyone was really lovely. I felt like some of the intelligence there may even have started to rub off on me! 😛
Working there opened my eyes to the world of research! The incredibly cool, interesting, cutting edge stuff going on that you don’t really see as an undergrad. It’s made me think seriously about what I might like to do in the future, potentially a PhD – something I hadn’t fully considered before.
What I think I’m trying to say is, just go for it! If I’ve managed to do it, I’m sure anyone can. Apply for some stuff, have a few interviews, do something new! Start early if you can, applications are opening up for next summer already. Most placements are only 8-10 weeks long, so if you find yourself not enjoying it, you don’t have to stay there for ages and you’ll definitely have gained skills and experience. With the long summer break you’ll still get a holiday too!
Hope you’ve found this vaguely interesting and or helpful! Please feel free to ask me any questions about what I did or how I got there. 🙂