Niamh Hall has just completed her BSc in Human Physiology at Leeds and successfully gained a place on this year’s NHS Scientist Training Programme. In this post she shares her tips and advice for other students interested in this career.
If you are reading this it is most likely because you have an interest in science and healthcare. If so, you may have heard of the NHS Scientist training programme (STP) and you may have heard that it is extremely competitive. I am here to tell you that a first time applicant in their 3rd year with no year in industry or previous experience can apply and can be successful in obtaining a place on the programme. I’ve been asked to write this article to give an insight into what my job will entail and to give a few hints and tips to anyone thinking of applying in the future.
What is the STP?
Firstly, the STP is a three-year paid training programme to become a clinical scientist, the specialties are particularly diverse and include a range of specialisms in clinical bioinformatics, life sciences, physical sciences and biomechanical engineering and physiological sciences. The programme also includes the completion of a fully funded part-time masters degree related to your chosen specialty. The roles involve a combination of lab-based and patient-facing work; how much of each depends on the speciality. My particular role in cardiac science will include carrying out crucial diagnostic, monitoring and analytical procedures for patients with known or suspected heart disease. I will also assist in interventional procedures.
The application process for the STP is extensive; it consists of an initial application with four questions which must be answered in under 250 words, then there are two aptitude tests that must be passed, shortlisting, invitation to an interview consisting of 4 stations and then offers are made based on interview scores. I know it seems daunting but if you really believe this is the career for you and you are passionate about it, it is possible.
From no idea to graduate job
I started 3rd year of my Human physiology degree absolutely baffled when I considered what I wanted to do, I had heard of the STP but didn’t believe I had what it took to get in as I had got a 2:2 overall in 2nd year. I had heard the stories of people applying 4-5 times and still being rejected, these were people with PhDs and Masters and I was graduating with no relevant experience in the field. If this sounds like you, take it from me that although it is a definite plus to have relevant experience, it is not absolutely essential. You are able to apply for up to two specialties but I would advise that unless you are passionate and capable for both, choose one rather than spreading yourself too thinly as you will have to study for you interview.
I found studying for my interview relatively easy as my dissertation was on cardiology and I was doing quite a few modules related modules, this may give you an indication of the kind of level of knowledge that they require: Do a lot of reading around the role you are applying for and make sure you know it, the programme and the core values behind the NHS like the back of your hand, this shows your enthusiasm for the role. The interviewers do not have a copy of your application, therefore you are all on a level playing field, the trick is to take the experience you do have and interpret it in a way that becomes relevant and beneficial. For example, I used my part-time job at Primark to exhibit my skills in customer service and communication with members of the public. I explained how I could translate these skills to patients with the NHS; that they would allow patients to be comfortable talking to me and ensure they were satisfied by the level of care I was providing them with.
Good luck if you do decide to apply, I’m going to leave you with a few tips, I hope they help:
- Do not be put off by the stories of competition. If you’re interested in it, go for it!
- Use to your advantage the vast amount of support and opportunities available through the University of Leeds. I can honestly say without the help of the careers service and the PwC female mentoring scheme set up by the Plus Programme my interview preparation would have been lacking. I was given guidance and information when it came to applying for the STP and unwavering effort and support via mock interviews, I truly believe it was invaluable.
- Put time and effort into your application and the questions they ask, make the best first impression possible, study the advert and find out exactly what they’re looking for.
- The student room website had a thread for the 2017 STP which was indispensable for me when applying, I was able to chat to other applicants and keep an eye out for any interviews/offers. I advise you to use this tool.
- If you are lucky enough to get an interview, be very proud of yourself and try to relax. The format of the interview sounds scary but it actually gives you four chances to impress people, this is your time to shine and show your personality, and don’t forget to smile and make eye contact.
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