February 11, 2022, by abrierley
Ditchley Placement as part of the Faculty Widening Participation Placements Programme
2nd Year Politics and Economics student
This summer I was fortunate enough to be part of the Summer Internship at Ditchley which primarily was a researching role for their new database and app alongside a team of around 20-30 other interns. Throughout my time at Ditchley, I gained numerous skills, deeper awareness of the world that we live in, people and society and a different perspective of politics. It also allowed me to regain much of the socialising that had been lost through the pandemic despite it being a remote placement. All of which I am very grateful for.
Ditchley is a charity working in the sector of international affairs to connect people from all backgrounds via events they host at their estate in Oxford. Their aim is to bring people together to develop new ideas and thinking in order to maintain peace, liberty and justice globally through the discussions held during their events.
My role in it all was divided into three parts (which I really appreciated as it meant that I was doing something different each day/week): names research, events research and quantitative analysis. The first part was the main bulk of the internship and consisted of spending a couple of days each week researching a given list of names of previous and future meeting attendees and inputting particular criteria into Ditchley’s app so that they can be added to their database. The insight and fresh perspective that I gained from doing this seemingly monotonous task was very much worth it!
As Ditchley invites people from all ages and backgrounds, I found myself learning about the world of work and different possible career paths (i.e. how to get from A to B in a particular field/industry and all the different ways people can get to some really fancy sounding jobs) by researching these individuals’ professional lives and interests. The events research was slightly similar to researching names and involved researching and submitting information on as many events as we could find in a particular given theme into the app. The third branch was quantitative analysis which was much more technical and involved the use of coding, Excel, a graph database and PowerPoint to present our findings to the rest of the group. This part was challenging as it is not my field of expertise at all and not something that I had ever really done but I found it very interesting and engaging. It also now means that I have experience and skills in quantitative analysis that I didn’t have before.
I found out about the Widening Participation bursary scheme via email. I had received these before in the past but never thought much of it in my first year of uni as I was busy settling in and enjoying all of the other aspects. In hindsight, I would certainly recommend to any first years to take up a placement if they can as the insight that you gain and the preparation towards a career/entering the workplace after uni is, to me, invaluable. In my 2nd year, I decided to have a look through the list of placements from the email I received and Ditchley’s Networks Internship stuck out to me the most. It corresponded very well to my own interests and skillset, was in the field that I wanted to gain experience in and was simply intriguing.
Top tip for application and interviews: Just be yourself! It’s cliché of course, but it really does allow you and your enthusiasm to shine through. I heard someone say recently at a careers event about interviews that if you try and change yourself to fit a certain criteria/box that you think your prospective employer wants, you might get it wrong and also will be changing yourself to be stuck in a miserable place trying to maintain something that you are not. It does no favours for you nor your employer in the end.
I could have saved myself the stress and the nerves throughout my interview had I just relaxed and worried less about impressing my interviewers or stressing about what they thought of me and instead focused more on conveying to them who I am and what I am about; explaining to them what my passions are, how I think they would fit into their work, my skillset and compatibility for the job at hand, my values, my future career… I realised that they are interviewing YOU and don’t really care about your qualifications at this point or what you can impress them with as they would have already seen it from your CV and application form. The interview is your time to shine (as cringey as that sounds). I enjoyed the placement in its entirety and the work involved, but the best part was working in a team and making new connections. I haven’t worked in a team since before coming to university (except for in sports and societies) as team projects are not something that really feature in my degree. Not only did I really enjoy working in a team for the research, presentations and chairing, but I realised that it is something I’m good at and really appreciate in a working environment whereas in all the personality and career tests I had done previously, I always put down that I preferred working on my own. Thus, I engaged in something that I enjoyed and learnt something new about myself whilst working with some amazing individuals and making like-minded friends along the way. It also taught me what position I naturally gravitate to when working in a team as well which is helpful for future teamworking opportunities.
Even though I loved not having to do the same thing every day, I did struggle with dividing my time proportionately between the three different areas. I realised that this was down to perfectionism and spending too much time on certain tasks, making sure they were up to a standard that I was happy with when I should have just been ensuring that the tasks were simply completed within the given timeframe. This way, I could have left myself some time off and structured my time better so that I could switch off my laptop after a certain time and no longer think about work for the rest of the day. I mentioned this issue to my placement supervisor and, in doing so, it became clear to me that I needed to change my approach. The next morning, I set myself a realistic goal of doing x amount of names within a certain amount of hours and not worrying so much about adding in the finer details. I didn’t meet my goal first time but as the days went on I gradually got into the swing of things and was working more efficiently. I will now keep this in mind for my upcoming years at university and when I return to the workplace afterwards. Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just needs to be managed. What I would recommend to other students thinking of applying is: Go for it!
Take the opportunities that are presented in front of you as you never know where they might lead. Even if it is something that you really didn’t enjoy then at least you now know something more about yourself that you wouldn’t necessarily have known not having taken the opportunity and done the placement. On the other hand, if you really enjoyed it then you have an idea of what you might want to go into next and already have made connections with people in that field/area who can perhaps help you on your career journey. Also, whilst on placement do not worry about not being enough or not having the right skills – i.e. the imposter syndrome. This kind of stuff is decided at the interview; you chose your employer but equally the employer will check you have the basics to be on board the placement when they interview you anyway.
By doing the placement, the skills that you started off weak in will most likely be challenged, developed and strengthened – as was the case with my quantitative skills that I was really worried about initially. I voiced these concerns and made sure I communicated this well with my supervisor from the very beginning and ended up developing such skills at a pace that I could keep up with and with their support and that of my teammates. I am most grateful to the placements team (Lois, Steve, Caroline and Mark) and the Ditchley Foundation for my placement and the experience that I have gained. I wish you all the best of luck with your applications. I’m sure you will have a great time
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