Hi everyone, I’m Iona, and I study Social and Political Sciences with Philosophy at York! I’m now a month into my Communications and Government Affairs placement year at GlaxoSmithKline. The time has flown by, so I thought I’d document some of my experiences, reflections, and tips I’ve learnt since entering the world of work!
Placement years and why I’m doing one:
Placements, which usually happen between your second and last year, involve spending a minimum of 9 months working for a company before returning to finish your degree. There are placements in lots of different sectors, and it’s a chance to explore what you might want to do after graduation.
As someone who has no idea what they want to do for a career, this seemed an ideal way to learn more about working life, and the sorts of jobs that are out there. Hopefully, by the end, I’ll have more of an idea about what I like doing (or not doing!).
There were loads of other reasons I chose this path – placements look great on your CV, help you build a network of professional/social contacts, and are good alternatives to masters degrees to stand out in the grad job field.
My placement is with GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company that researches and develops different medicines. I’m in the Communications and Government Affairs team for the UK branch of the company. We’re responsible for internal and external communications (so trying to engage/motivate/inform people both inside and outside of GSK), and also for trying to influence policymakers.
I chose this placement because it’s really varied, which is ideal for someone exploring a new career path like me. On the Comms side, we help to give GSK and its employees a voice, whether that be through the media, patients, or the public. On the government affairs side, we try and identify political trends, work with different government organisations, and try to shape public policy. No two days are the same!
Reflections on my time so far…
I’ve only been here a month, but it feels like longer!
Stepping outside of university life has been nerve-wracking, but it’s been so much better than I expected. I thought I’d begin placement and be immediately overwhelmed with work and information, but instead, I’ve been able to spend time immersing myself in the team and taking stuff at my own pace. Also, whenever I don’t understand something, there are so many people I can talk to. Everyone’s been so welcoming, and they don’t seem to mind my endless questioning!
I was also worried about leaving my uni friends behind and having to make new friends. Luckily, there are lots of other placement students at GSK, so we’ve been supporting each other and meeting outside of work. We’re all in the same boat, so it’s really helped to spend time together and share our experiences.
Another highlight has been being able to explore a new environment, especially since the pandemic. The GSK offices are in West London, where there are lots of parks and nearby walks. There’s also a tube station nearby so I can explore other parts of London after work. I thought I’d find being in the office a pain, but because I’m so close to the City, I actually really enjoy it!
Still, starting placement has been tiring! It’s a completely different lifestyle to uni. Adjusting to a new schedule and organising my free time has been quite challenging, but a month in, I’m finding it much easier!
… and some tips for starting placement
This first month has been a bit of a whirlwind, and not at all like I expected! Here are some other things I’ve learnt so far:
Try and coordinate office days with your colleagues
Being in the office on the same days as other colleagues means I’ve been able to form better connections than I would have done over Zoom. We meet for lunch every day and chat about what we’re up to, which has really helped me settle into placement life.
Take every opportunity that comes your way
Being proactive is really important in the workplace, especially in the first few months. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities, whether that be a work project, voluntary opportunity, or social event, will help you get the most out of the year.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Starting work and being the newbie is hard! It might seem obvious, but asking someone to repeat what they’ve said or explain it differently will save you both so much time in the long run. In fact, people usually prefer being asked for help, as it shows a willingness to get things right and learn.
Read more student stories about placements