Tay-Yibah Aziz is undertaking a placement year at the University of Leeds as a Public Engagement Intern, a placement she secured through the Leeds Internship Programme. During her placement she will be working with the STEM@Leeds team in Educational Engagement in partnership with WYSTEM, coordinators of the STEM Ambassadors voluntary programme in West Yorkshire. In this first post, she shares her experiences of securing the placement, and her learning points and advice for other students seeking placements.
Hi everyone, I’m Tay. I’ve just finished my 2nd year doing Human Physiology and I worked very hard to gain a placement year. I knew I wanted to do a placement year as soon as the opportunity arose; I felt as though I needed some extra experience and development before graduation. I’m still unsure as to future plans after my degree and this year will give me the opportunity to become accustomed to a professional working environment and hopefully help me in the decision making process.
Do I want to get a graduate job or pursue further study?
Would I enjoy an office environment over being in labs?
These are some of the questions that I hope this year will help me to answer. It will enable me to learn more about my personal style and preferences and decide which working environment might suit me best.
A placement year might not be for everyone; it takes a lot of patience and resilience to get one, and I believe it was my determination that ensured my success. If I had given up as early as some of my peers, I wouldn’t be so fortunate as to be working for the University right now. Going through the application process can be very difficult during exam period which is why it’s a good idea to start looking and applying as soon as possible, preferably within August/September for those of you looking for one for 2015. This might seem far too early but placements are incredibly competitive and they can be hard to find.
Exploring my interests
In the early stages of applying I mainly focused on laboratory-based roles as I was curious to experience this environment: Many previous placement students had mentioned that their perception of a lab-based role was very different to what it was actually like, and so I kept an open-mind. According to them working in this environment professionally was very different to their experiences of working in them during the course of their degree, and so my curiosity got the better of me and I applied for some.
However, as time went on, I felt as though my applications for lab based roles lacked passion and enthusiasm; I knew deep down it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I decided to broaden my search and consider other areas. Other areas I considered included HR and business placements and other healthcare industries. A bonus to keeping an open mind during your initial search is that you will find more potential positions that you are eligible for, and the wider scope allows you to really consider what is available. This is extremely important, considering the limited number of available positions already.
Research was key
After researching many different companies and industries, I began to see patterns in what I was looking for regarding company values: I knew after applying to and visiting some of the larger pharmaceutical companies that those industries were not a good match for me. I felt that there was no familiarity in the business, the locations of work were unwelcoming and I felt like the underdog in many situations. For example in some places I felt as though being an undergraduate made some staff look down on me, and that I wasn’t respected as much as higher staff.
These are my personal reflections based on what I learnt is most important to me. Considering how your personal values and priorities align with those of a prospective employer is very important. This is not something I necessarily considered when starting to look for placements.
I began searching for opportunities by visiting the Stars at Leeds pages and using recruitment websites such as indeed.com. Using keywords such as ‘placement’, ‘industry’ and ‘student’ should help you narrow down your search.
Previous placement students are a goldmine of advice, so don’t be shy. Find out who your placement year tutor is and see if you can get the contact details of previous students for help. Students will probably also come into your Study Year Abroad/Year in industry lecture to hold a Q&A session, which is extremely useful. Make sure you don’t miss out on this and turn up to the session!
You can also ask your personal tutor for advice on where to look; they will probably have some useful contacts for you to use. They will also probably refer you to the Careers Centre – again, a goldmine!
My top tips
If I could tell myself anything at this point last year based on what I know now, it would be this:
Look earlier – I wasted a lot of time in the early stages of the year and only really got my search rolling around January. This obviously wasn’t the smartest thing to do as I should have been focusing on my exams and I could have done a decent amount of research by that point if I started earlier.
Keep an open mind – As I broadened my search, I discovered opportunities which I found interesting but wouldn’t have even considered initially. I had no idea HR and marketing roles would appeal to me so much until I started noticing them and reading the job descriptions.
Use the Careers Centre more frequently and earlier – this is by no means a marketing ploy (well it sort of is), but the Careers Centre helped me secure this placement – without their help I wouldn’t have got it, and that’s no lie. The mock interviews were the best resource I decided to use – no matter how pathetic I felt after each one when realising how unprepared I was, each interview was always better and stronger. It made me realise how difficult preparing for them are, and how much work they demand – many times I walked into the room feeling confident as a Spartan before battle, and leaving feeling deflated, but at least I knew what I needed to work on!
Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more – I sent my application forms and cover letter to everyone I knew for this placement – and it must have worked because I wouldn’t be here otherwise! It’s amazing how someone else can pick up tiny mistakes in your document that you pass over time and time again. Grammar and spelling have to be perfect – there are no excuses.
I hope this has answered some questions you may have had regarding the application process and I wish you the very best of luck in finding an opportunity. Patience and resilience are your best friends; don’t give up and you’ll certainly go a long way!
If you are looking for a placement, or any other form of work experience, we are here to help you. From exploring ideas, finding opportunities to the application process, we provide expert advice and information at all stages. Check out our website, talk to us or check out our latest events.