March 9, 2015, by Sunita Tailor
The Importance of Being Earnest (About Placements)
This blog post was written by MA English Literature student, Nicole Jones from the School of English.
In the spirit of total disclosure… students are often not that busy. During coursework and exam time, we’re regularly swamped, but often I find myself lying in bed, surrounded by books, with more than a few hours to spare. Yes, I know. It feels like we’re busy. I regularly stress out about how busy I am. I can lie in bed tweeting about how jam-packed my week is for a good three hours. And that’s just the thing – unless you’re a super high-achiever, the majority of students do have more free time than they think.
Admittedly if you’re a science-type, the 9-6 lab life might be yours. But fortunately for us English students, we generally have a smaller number of contact hours giving us time to do lots of independent reading for our modules. I used this to my advantage in the first two years of undergraduate life to read lots of books, have a lovely social life and climb a big mountain for charity. But at the end of second year, it suddenly occurred to me that my more proactive friends had suddenly secured summer placements with a variety of adult-sounding auditing companies (I’m looking at you, Deloitte).
I knew that I had skills – writing, editing, communicating – but I couldn’t prove that in an interview scenario to save my life. The answer? Placements! Placements are key, and not just to give you something to talk about on your CV They’re also genuinely fun and rewarding, and as I’ve said, at no other point in your life is a nice member of staff going to email you weekly, offering you fabulous life opportunities. (Check out the placement Workspace page if you don’t believe me!)
Fortunately, in my final and then Masters year, I’ve taken on two, and loved them both. In third year, I managed to secure the holy grail – a paid placement, working as a teaching assistant with the Students in Classrooms schemes. To be honest, I would happily have done it for free – I spent a day a week in a local school, gained some excellent teaching experiences, met some wonderful people and even ended up doing some extra sessions. If you’re doing English and want to teach in the future, definitely look into this next year.
And this year, I undertook an internal placement, to design and run The English Showcase, an event that took place in mid February. Essentially, The Showcase was an academic conference for undergraduates and taught MA students, and we had fourteen student speakers talk about their work. In terms of turning my general skills into work experience, I couldn’t have asked for better. I used social media to promote The Showcase, created content for the webpage, organised the programme, worked with the speakers, and even got to show off my time management skills by holding up traffic light signs (these show the speakers when they have two minutes left, one minute left, and when they need to stop, as it’s important to keep timings on track at a conference). It was really nerve wracking, and lots of hard work, but because it was so flexible it never felt like a strain. Hopefully, it’s going to be established as an annual event- so look out for it next year, if you’re looking for a placement opportunity!
So if you’re a current student looking to fill some free time and plump up your CV – or a prospective student, worrying about turning an English degree into a career – rest assured there’s plenty on offer! You don’t have to just do a placement offered by the uni, either – a quick Google will yield lots of results. The application processes are usually all very simple, and there’s loads of support on offer. Give it a go – they’re designed for students, after all!