February 1, 2019, by Katy Johnson

Placement years: are they worth it? These five students think so 

By Luke Lynch, Employability Education Projects Officer

Think integrated placement years are only for engineering and computer science students? Not anymore, thanks to the University’s new ‘optional Placement Year’ scheme. 

We caught-up with the first cohort of students as they approached the mid-point of their placements. As well as sharing their workplace experiences, they were keen to pass on advice to anyone thinking of following in their footsteps. 

Cecilia (Life Sciences): Regulatory Intern at Pfizer 

Kat (Psychology): Undergraduate Placement Student at the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

Dominic (Business School): Commercial Operations Intern at General Electric Aviation 

Liisa (Politics and International Relations): Business Development & Marketing Intern at the Swedish-Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Madrid 

Mubariz (Business School): Management Consultant at JMAN Group 

1. Why did you choose to take a placement year instead of a shorter period of work experience? 

Cecilia: I wanted to find out how ready I am for the ‘real’ world and explore my likes and dislikes. I felt that a placement year would help me make a more informed career choice after graduation. 

Kat: Postgraduate degrees, especially in clinical areas, are exceptionally competitive and usually require at least a year’s worth of experience. I was attracted to the wide range of experiences on offer and the chance to take on more responsibility.  

Dominic: You get given much more responsibility as a Placement Year student – I’m currently managing a team of 50 aircraft engineers! I’ll also leave with an industry-recognised qualification in process improvement. This will be a great selling point when it comes to finding a graduate job. 

2. How did you find your placement? 

Cecilia: I got interested in regulatory roles after attending a Spotlight on: Science and the Law event. Little did I know that the speaker from Pfizer would interview me at the assessment centre and eventually become my colleague! 

Dominic: I started by looking at the careers websites of companies that interested me. If you’re unsure which companies or sectors you’d like to work in, a simple; ‘Placement Year’ search on Google, LinkedIn, Indeed or Glassdoor should bring up plenty of results.  

Liisa: I searched for people on LinkedIn who had careers that I’m interested in and read about their prior work experience – I even reached out to some of them directly for advice. 

3. What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced so far? 

Cecilia: My commute from London to Pfizer’s headquarters in Surrey. Every day I worry about being late, but I try to make good use of the time by reading the news and brushing-up on my French. 

Mubariz: At one stage I had three big projects running simultaneously: an accounts model, a new careers website and a software development project. I initially hesitated to tell my manager that some of the deadlines were not achievable. However, I have learned that open communication is the key to achieving a healthy work-life balance. 

Dominic: Group work and presentation tasks at university are often set weeks in advance and may only involve a few minutes of individual presenting. At work, I have been asked to prepare a 15 to 30-minute presentation on a completely new topic to stakeholders within a couple of days. 

Liisa: The language. Despite spending the summer of 2017 in Mexico, I was initially terrified of speaking Spanish to Spaniards. But, when I explain that Mexican Spanish is all I know, people are incredibly helpful and it’s actually turned out to be a great icebreaker. 

4. What has your biggest achievement/highlight been so far? 

Cecilia: My first ‘big’ project, which was a submission to the European Medicines Agency. As part of the project; I hosted a global teleconference to explain my strategy and answer questions from some very experienced colleagues. 

Kat: I co-facilitate a Therapeutic Art Group each week with a wonderful group of looked-after children who recently had their work exhibited alongside other artists at the Brighton Open Houses. 

Dominic: Being involved in the implementation of a repair to CFM56 aircraft engines. Flying on aircraft that use these engines and knowing that I’ve contributed to their performance is extremely satisfying. 

Mubariz: Leading an analytics project for a social mobility charity, which I then presented to its Chief Executive Officer. Also, working in a small firm means you are part of a close-knit community and the social side has been great fun. 

Liisa: Participating in a small private forum on the future of Spanish politics and business where the King of Spain was also in attendance (although this kind of thing does not happen every day!). 

5. What would you say to students who haven’t found a placement yet and might be thinking about giving up? 

Kat: Talk to the Careers and Employability Service, talk to students who have done it themselves and don’t give up! Not all placements are advertised at the start of the academic year, so there’s still time.  

Cecilia: Consider how committed you are to securing a placement year. I signed up to every newsletter I could find and attended lots of events organised by the Careers and Employability Service. Having decided that I really wanted to work for Pfizer, I put a lot of time and effort into making it happen.  

If you like the sound of the optional Placement Year scheme, head to our website for full details. 

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