The Value of Workplace Experience: How a Year in Industry Complements Your Degree 

The Value of Workplace Experience: How a Year in Industry Complements Your Degree 

Transitioning from the second year of an undergraduate degree to the third (and potentially final) year can be a daunting one. The prospect of graduation and employment being a matter of months away can leave a sense of panic and anxiety, and we often think that we need to have it all figured out before leaving university for ‘the real world’. As such, a year abroad or in industry can be an attractive way to delay the inevitable and cling on to student life. However, this severely understates the benefits of that a placement can offer for you and your career. 

Coming into Level 2 of study, I was relatively indifferent to the idea of a work placement. I kept an open mind and decided that I would explore the options available and pursue any if they were particularly appealing. Initially, I didn’t understand how working for a year during a degree was any different to just graduating and finding a job – this way, I could settle in a permanent role without having to worry about going back to university for another year. 

What I failed to consider was that a placement is a unique opportunity to trial a career without having to totally commit to it. This is especially helpful if you haven’t fully decided on a specific path yet, or if you are conflicted between different options. The type of graduate role or industry you have in mind may be suitable in principle, but it’s difficult to know how you will manage without first-hand experience. A placement in a relevant position can guide you in making an informed career decision, helping you to consider factors that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. 

To optimise my chances of landing a position, I reached out to the Psychology Careers team for support with my CV and interview strategy, which I could not recommend strongly enough. After applying to several different roles, I accepted a position as a Research Assistant with Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group (YQSR). The University of Leeds has a strong relationship with the Bradford Institute of Health Research, with several Psychology department lecturers and staff also being based here. Thanks to this relationship, placement opportunities are offered exclusively to Leeds students each year, which prove to be popular options for psychology students. Other psychology students commonly find industrial placements in teaching, clinical research or workforce roles (such as project management or HR). 

When starting in the role, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be doing on a day-to-day basis; the job description had listed a range of potential tasks that I’d be involved in, but it didn’t seem set in stone. However, I soon learned that this was intentional – the role involves helping on a range of projects as and when required, which has proven to be both unique and extremely useful. The flexibility of the role has led to a wide range of experiences, with no two projects or tasks being the same. This has been particularly useful as a placement, as it has given me a wide scope of the many opportunities that the field of research has to offer. So far, I have been involved in database searching, screening, qualitative analysis, creating systematic reviews, data coding and many more, and have contributed towards systematic reviews, thematic analyses and interventions. 

In my experience (and from what I’ve heard from others), managers and colleagues are very accommodating to placement students. Entering a new workplace can be intimidating – I was certainly anxious about my ability to fit in with professionals and whether I would have the capability to be of service to them. However, everyone has been considerate of my position as a newbie to the field, and the team have gone out of their way to help me grow, often taking time to teach me how to do something instead of expecting me to already know. In addition, everyone at the office has been incredibly friendly, sociable and patient, which goes a long way in helping a student settle in the workplace.

Thanks to my placement, I have a much stronger sense of directionality when it comes to post-graduation options. I’m lucky enough that research experience will directly help me in my own pathway, but even if you end up deciding that your placement role isn’t for you in the long-term, completion of a year in industry will illustrate your soft skills to any employer. A placement highlights that you can work within a team, adapt to new situations and be depended on, which all will serve you well regardless of your aspirations. A year in industry is well worth consideration, and the Careers team are always happy to answer queries and offer your personal advice. 

Written by Matthew Morys-Edge 

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