My Experience Applying for an Industrial Placement
So let’s demystify an industrial placement… It’s essentially where you do your 4th year MChem project while working in Industry. This could vary from the research and development of cosmetics to drug discovery (and so much more). The great thing about this is that while you’re gaining lots of experience, you’re also getting paid. Trust me, after three years of slowly nibbling into your savings (“one more latte surely can’t hurt, right?”), this comes as a big relief.
But who is an Industrial Placement for?
You may be thinking: “well I’m only on a three-year course and I can’t do an Industrial placement”, and that’s exactly what I would have said back when I started. However, after thoroughly enjoying my studies here, I changed to a 4-year MChem course with a year in industry. You have until the end of 2nd year to switch if you change your mind like me. So you have plenty of time to think about it.
Industrial placements are helpful in so many ways. Want to do a PhD? Great, you’ll gain crucial experience which is highly valued in academia. Already know what industry you want to go into? Even better, you’ll gain direct experience and may even get offered a job after your placement! Not sure what you’d like to do? Well, doing a placement may help you decide what sort of thing you may or may not like to do. All in all, Industrial placements are really great opportunities, so try not to overlook them.
What was it like applying?
You can apply to 8 different companies (plus some extras if they pop up). You’ll have to make a CV and cover letter for each one. Most companies will carry out a brief phone interview and a longer technical interview (some of which may be in-person). Some bigger companies carry out numerical reasoning tests, and “assessment centres” to test more applicants at once. This may sound very daunting but don’t worry, the chemistry department is great at supporting its students through the process. We even have practice workshops at the end of 2nd year to prepare us for these things. I found these really helpful.
My Tips and Recommendations:
The first thing a company will see is your CV and cover letter so make sure you spend a good amount of time thinking about and writing these. You’ll need to stand out in some way. Try to do things that you can put on your CV and talk about when it comes to the interviews.
For example, take part in societies to demonstrate your skills and motivations, or look for some volunteering opportunities you could take part in, as this will show commitment and work ethic. However, what helped me the most was doing a summer project! The Royal Society of Chemistry offers funded 6–8-week summer projects which are certainly worth applying for. The Department of Chemistry also offers a wide range of funded 6-week summer projects, which is what I ended up doing between 2nd and 3rd year. These are great opportunities to gain some experience doing research and test what areas of chemistry you enjoy most, all while getting paid!
Don’t worry too much about whether or not it will be relevant to what you end up doing later down the line. My project was on measuring aerosol pollutants (atmospheric chemistry). I ended up getting a placement in the pharmaceutical industry (synthetic chemistry). So it’s an important skill to be able to tailor your experiences to the role, regardless of what they may be. Also, don’t be afraid to ask around and see if there are any additional opportunities you can take part in. Make the most of the staff in the department as they may have some good connections. During my summer project I did this and was fortunate enough to be able to go a research centre, so it’s always worth asking.
Lastly, when it comes to the interviews, make sure to revise. Review content that will be relevant to the role you’re applying for. The technical interview will test your knowledge so make sure you brush up on things from 1st and 2nd year. It’s also worth noting that how you arrive at an answer is just as important as the answer itself. Even if you get the wrong answer, they may still be impressed if you use a logical approach and provide good reasoning.
Thank you for reading this far! I hope this gave you some insight into what applying for an industrial placement entails and things you can do to strengthen your application. Good luck embarking on your university journey this September, embrace the nerves and excitement, and enjoy the ride 😊.
If you’d like to read about other student experiences of Chemistry at York, they can be found here.