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What are you getting out of your work experience?

By UCL Careers, on 21 October 2015

Recently there was an interesting article in the Independent about “Work experience for students – are placements really all they’re cracked-up to be?”  The article, although a little pessimistic, provides a good insight into the fact that not all work experience is equal in terms of the benefits provided for students.  It all depends on factors such as duration of experience, type of organisation and whether it is a structured experience.

The Office 001EG Focus/Flickr.com/CreativeCommons

Undertaking any form of work experience – internships, placements and insight sessions – will be beneficial – the key is knowing what the benefits are.

For example, if you were to embark upon a short bout of work experience – one or two weeks – you are unlikely to gain much in terms of skills development.  However, you will learn a little bit about the industry the company is in and what it is like to work for that company (e.g. is it a small, tightly knit team where everyone mucks in, or is it a large company with formal organisational structures where you have a well-defined role). From this experience you can start to understand more about your own preferences around working culture and environment.  You will also be starting to develop a personal network of contacts who may be useful for your future career aspirations.

You might also gain similar benefits from events and insight sessions run by companies to enable students to gain knowledge about a particular industry and the roles available in it. Law, media, finance and management consultancy firms run these type of sessions to introduce students to the sector, what roles are available and what skills would be needed to succeed.

With a longer internship of around six to twelve weeks you will be testing out an area of work or industry that you are interested in. You will increase your understanding about the company and how it fits into the sector.  For example, you’ll gain insight into what differentiates it from other companies and how this influences how the company operates within the market. The work you do within the internship will enable you to demonstrate to future employers which skills you used outside of your studies. You may improve your technical skills within your internship and it is likely that you will begin to develop and demonstrate your “softer skills” such as how you operate within a team, how you manage a project, how flexible and committed you are, and how you communicate with your colleagues. If the work is demanding, you will gain insight into what skills you need to improve.  Even if the work is not as challenging as you would like, by reflecting on the experience you will become more self-aware and begin to understand what you most enjoy and what you do not want to do. You will start to form a realistic impression of what type of role and environment might suit you.

If you secure a place on a structured summer internship scheme such as those run by large finance, consultancy and technical firms, the work will be of a similar nature to a graduate role and there is likely to be a training component to your internship. Undertaking an internship on a summer scheme in these sectors can sometimes lead to candidates being offered a place on a graduate scheme once they have graduated.

For internships in small or medium sized companies, or schemes where you rotate, you may gain experience within more than one area of the company and gain a more meaningful understanding of how different areas of the company slot together.

For year long internships or placements, you will gain a much deeper insight into the industry you are working in and heightened self-awareness. For a placement that forms part of your course, you will have the opportunity to integrate academic theory into practice.  You will become more expert at any technical skills you use and continue to develop your “soft” skills. You may, by now, have worked out for sure whether you want to continue in that role/industry or you may have decided to use the transferable skills you have gained in other sectors.

For any opportunity where you have had to undertake tasks or projects, you will increase your confidence and you will be better able to demonstrate your abilities to future employers.

Where you have had to go through a recruitment process (e.g. application, interview, assessment centre) you will have gained valuable experience in how to navigate the process and if you have asked for feedback along the way, you will be able to use that to help you improve next time you apply for a role.

You will (hopefully!) have also been able to earn whilst you have been strengthening your knowledge, skills and confidence. By law companies must pay the National Minimum Wage for an intern unless they are exempt (for example if they are a registered charity).  There is an exemption of payment if the experience is a placement as part of an academic course. Be informed – see information on the National Minimum Wage.

For more information on the benefits of the different types of work experience and how to make the most of the opportunities see the information about internships and work experience at Target Jobs, Prospects and the resources at Careers Tagged – work experience.

– Rochelle Symons, Placements and Vacancies Manager, UCL Careers.

Industry Insights from Biotech and Pharmaceutical Careers

By UCL Careers, on 12 December 2014

On 26 November 2014, UCL Careers brought together a panel of industry professionals to talk about their careers, share advice for students and graduates hoping to get into the Biotech and Pharmaceutical field.

Linsey Chrisman, has written a selection of their key insights and advice. The panel were:

  • Dr Jane Bentley, Executive Director Project Management & Global Oncology Operations Lead, Worldwide Clinical Trials / Institute of Clinical Research
  • Richard Bolton, Service Owner, IT Director, GlaxoSmithKline
  • Adam Manhi, Assistant Manager, Healthcare & Life Sciences, KPMG Life and Health Sciences
  • Tony Ring, Operations Manager, Abbott Diabetes Care

What’s happening in the industry?

  • It is an unstable time in the industry with companies reluctant to commit to long term spending and hiring on temporary contracts. Most of the hiring that’s happened at Tony’s facility in the past year has been on temporary contracts. Roughly a third of temporary hires get permanent jobs with the company.
  • Big pharma companies are shrinking the number of people they employ directly in the UK. Increasing amounts of work, including research and development, is being contracted out. Many jobs are still there – but they are in the smaller organisations which have contracts with big pharmaceutical companies, not in the big companies themselves.
  • Many small biotech companies are ‘virtual ‘, ie. a few founders without physical office space or a lab, and contract lab work out to other organisations. This might be contract research organisations or just organisations that have lab facilities, such as research institutes and universities.

Ways to get in

  • Companies in this sector are often looking for graduates to work in IT. This can be a way in to other roles.
  • Work in manufacturing can be a way in to roles in Research and Development and Quality Assurance.
  • Many companies use agencies to hire temporary staff. Research recruitment agencies that work with this sector, register and keep in touch with agencies proactively.
  • Contract research organisations often take on staff to help compile reports for regulators. These positions may not be advertised, so consider applying to organisations speculatively or registering with recruitment agencies.
  • Don’t get hung up on graduate schemes! There are very few in this sector. No one on the panel had ever done a graduate scheme. They all built experience in a combination of internships and temporary entry level jobs before getting into the job they were aiming for.

What are the biggest challenges facing the industry at the moment?

  • There are regulatory changes on the horizon. The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) is expected to start requiring all of the raw data from clinical trials to be supplied to them in set formats. The UK MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency) and other regulatory bodies are expected to follow suit. It could be resource intensive to get the data to conform to mandated formats and companies are concerned about the costs.
  • Richard said one of the biggest challenges he saw in the industry was that ‘it’s getting harder to know what you know’. In other words, research and clinical trials produce vast amounts of data, and it’s a big challenge to store and organise it in a way that’s meaningful and useful, not just to the team that produced it but to other people within the company and regulators.

Please see the speaker profiles here. You can also get more information on this field on the Life and Health Sciences Week web page.

– Linsey Chrisman, Information Officer, UCL Careers

What is Engineering?

By UCL Careers, on 10 December 2014

In her final blog as a careers consultant here at UCL, Natasha Aminzadeh looks at “What is engineering?”

When I ask Engineers this question I get a reaction of disbelief. The question itself is too big and vague. No one is expected to define “medicine”.

But, just look at any urban or rural view at any time and engineering is everywhere…electricity pylons…, wind farms…, cars…..,the internet…,phone signals…,roads…,traffic lights…,drainage systems,… Engineering is all this and more…

Engineering is all around us. This makes it hard to explain.

Explaining Engineering:

Engineering is the act of manipulating science, materials and controlling resources including energy and managing the effects of the natural world in the way that a particular group need and want. This act of manipulating, controlling and managing can be of great benefit to Mankind. Engineering solutions are the natural output of human thought. Man has been an engineer since the beginning of human history.

Engineering is the compromise between idealism, possibility and necessity. It has evolved through formal training to increase its efficiency and build on past experience.

Why is engineering alien?

My time at UCL has confirmed the theory that Engineering is mis-understood as a discipline; and the way that non engineers describe it demonstrates this.

Essentially, every engineer is a practical problem solver with every engineering output bringing a new solution.  The French word for engineer is ingénieur which comes from innovation: starting something new…

The problem being solved can be big or small. But regardless of the scale of the problem, an engineer is always problem solving.

This is reflected directly at UCL Engineering where the major strands to engineering demonstrate our “Change the World” ethos.

Biochemical engineers scale up life science discoveries for use on a global scale…making medicines – from drugs to stem cell treatments – quicker to produce, more effective and widely available…they also use biological systems to generate other useful chemicals.

Mechanical engineers study motion, power and heat transfer to build machines and tools for just about everything you can imagine…from  oil rigs and Formula One cars to heart valves, robots, irrigation systems and satellite launch systems.

Chemical engineers take raw materials, reactions and ideas and scale them up into sustainable solutions for large-scale production. Virtually, all manufacturing and processing uses chemical engineers, whether they make beer, fresh water, bullet-proof polymers or fuel.

Electronic and electrical engineers make use of the properties of electricity and electromagnetism, from the scale of individual electrons right up to EM waves that cross planets…their work has brought us processing power faster than human thought, communications all over our planet and beyond, and revealed ever more about the world around us.

Medical physicists apply the fundamental principles of physics to the cause of human health. They are behind many of the lifesaving procedures carried out by modern medics, informing diagnosis, treatment and the maintenance of human health.

Computer scientists work in a massive range of activities – wherever there is computer/human interaction……from the basic instructions within processor cores, to the design of the buttons on a synthesizer app, to the algorithms which protect investment, or building minds that think for themselves.

Civil and environmental engineers work with local communities, natural resources and structures from microscopic to interplanetary scales, to improve our surroundings and the way we fit into them.

They design cities, buildings, transport, dams and much more.

In my 2 years at UCL, I have worked with students and academics who are at the cutting edge of world class research into all these engineering areas.

It has been a huge privilege to work here and to experience the inter-connected world of engineering at the academic level. Most of all I was able to work with UCL Engineering at the time that it is paving the way to enhancing the multi discipline collaborations (e.g. the introduction of the new Integrated Engineering Program (IEP) this year) as a response to the need to provide holistic engineering solutions to make the world finer place for all humanity.


For the better!