August 25, 2016, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

It’s not where I work, but who I work with that matters

PhD student Emily talks about her experience of doing a placement with Arthritis Research UK. 

emilyFor my placement with Arthritis Research UK I was based in Sheffield for 3 months, so getting well-oriented in the new environment and role was important to me. Fortunately I was given a really good induction and had quite a solid grasp on what I would be doing from the start. On day one I also got to sit in on a strategic funding and planning meeting which showed me that brainstorming was a team activity and welcomed by managers.

One of my main placement projects was starting a blog series called “Demystify” which was about engaging with Arthritis Research UK employees. The idea was anyone could ask any question, however stupid, about science or arthritis and this would then be answered in detail in weekly blog posts. I was quite excited to have my first blog post go up on their internal pages. A few replies started to trickle in such as: “Is the microbiome the answer to everything?” and “what does a fibroblast do?” These weren’t my area of expertise so it was interesting researching the answers and I learnt a lot in the process. It reminded me that I love to research and find things out and unpick a problem, it was nice to get back to the basic science skills of problem solving. My confidence in my writing ability really grew and it was nice to get into the habit of writing every day.

My positive experiences of doing that blog encouraged me to pitch an idea to my manager for a week long ‘pub quiz’ style blog series. She loved the idea so I created the blog posts to celebrate British Science Week.  This was a great way to engage with the work force and make them aware of all the science activities in their area that they could go and see with their families in the evenings and weekends. It was exciting putting it up and watching the emails come in with the answers. I was pleased it was something that was my idea and I was able to run with it.

“there isn’t some magic moment always where it all comes together but instead hard work and determination solves the problem

Having demonstrated my writing abilities I was also given the opportunity to write a press release based on a paper that was sent in from the Communications department for one of the researchers. It was on a subject area which I didn’t have a clue about! I’ve not even done an immunology module in my undergraduate degree so it was definitely a challenge! I was really scared at the beginning as I didn’t understand most of it however after re reading and highlighting and looking up I understood a lot more and after 2 days of coming back to it in-between other tasks and rewriting I managed to produce a press release for the Communications team. My manager thought it was brilliant and I was very pleased with myself! I usually give up on things or class them as too difficult but having the constraints of sitting at a desk opposite my boss and the 9-5 mentality I was starting to become more disciplined and as a result I was achieving more. It made me realise that there isn’t some magic moment always where it all comes together but instead hard work and determination solves the problem. By the end of the placement I felt a lot more confident when it comes to constructing writing and my voice within a piece of writing.

As well as developing my writing skills I also got a fair bit of event organising experience through helping to prepare for the Fellows Conference in Loughborough: a 2 day event which is mostly used for networking and helping collaborations to emerge between the researchers. It was great fun. Specifically I helped with the setting up and recruiting people for an outreach workshop the charity was planning to help fellows include or think about patients in their research.  I got to know the team a lot better and was able to talk to fellows and professors.

Aside from helping me enhance my skills the placement also gave me valuable insights which will be useful in thinking about career planning. For the placement I lived on my own in Sheffield which I didn’t always enjoy as I felt it would have been more rewarding to live with peers. In addition a visit to the London office highlighted that to work in the Charity sector you have to probably be based in the Capital. Ironically, during the London visit the manager of the Communications team encouraged me to apply for a job they had coming up but unfortunately I had to explain that I was a Phd student and needed to complete my studies first!

On my last day of the placement the team took me out for lunch and gave me leaving presents and a little speech which I wasn’t expecting at all! I miss them. But having experienced such a lovely, close knit team environment has made me realise that, in my post-PhD job hunt, knowing the type of people I’ll be working with is much more important to my work happiness than the details of the actual role itself.

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