I am a MSci Natural Sciences student who specialises in Physics – I did the Chemistry, Maths, and Physics (CMP) pathway for those interested. I‘m doing a ‘Science Communication’ work placement at a Science and Technology Facilities Council‘s (STFC) national laboratory in Oxfordshire. In my job, I undertake many different roles related to internal and external communications, both physically and digitally. To list a few, I support events on-site, public engagement activities, give site tours, and help manage our website and social media accounts.
What were my first impressions of my employer?
My first real interaction with my employer was during the job application process. I was interviewed in front of a panel of communication officers at STFC during the application process – I was terrified! However, once I got into the Zoom call and started actually talking to them, I was okay. I realised they were all just people, and they were just as passionate about my placement as I was.
Does the work environment live up to my expectations?
The short answer is no, the work environment actually far exceeds my expectations.
I was expecting a very rigid management style and strict working hours. I was worried I’d be expected to work extra time on top of my contracted hours. Plus, because I’m a student surrounded by professionals, I was expecting to be ignored and not have my voice heard. This was the impression of “real-life work” I’d been given by the media I’d consumed from an early age. Much to my surprise, I discovered the work environment at my placement to be just the opposite.
From the beginning, I was told I got the same privileges as every other employee:
- Flexible working hours
- A hybrid working environment
- Annual leave
- Sick time
Numerous times over the past few months, I’ve been asked for my opinion and trusted to solo-lead projects (with lots of help available if I need it). My line manager encourages me to take breaks, not check anything work related outside of work hours, and strictly stick to my contracted hours.
Has my experience so far varied from what I expected in a negative way?
I won’t sugar-coat it, I’ve had a few negative experiences so far, but nothing worth actually complaining about. The worst experience so far has been the lack of structured social activities for someone who’s not very outgoing, like myself. A “New Starters Coffee” was held a few months after I started, but not much else was done to help me socialise with my fellow placement students (there are 16 of us in my department alone).
There are recreational activities and societies on site I can participate in. But struggling with social anxiety makes it difficult to go out of my way to participate in them. Therefore, I do feel a little isolated at work from the people around me in my office. However, as someone that struggles with socialising, this was a reality I was prepared for. It’s something I could improve if I wanted to.
Overall though, my placement has been a very positive experience and far exceeded my expectations for my first job in a “proper” office environment!