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Chris Penny’s Communications Internship at Portland Press

Weronika ZBenning5 May 2016

Internships, placements, work shadowing….when it comes to selecting a career they’re all great ways to ‘try before you buy’. Some UCL PhD programmes contain a mandatory placement period, a few months where students must do something unrelated to their research. These prove invaluable to the students involved, so in this series of posts we hope to spread the career knowledge by speaking to three PhDs about their placement experiences.

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Interview by Shadae Samuels, Placements and Vacancies Officer, UCL Careers.

Image taken from Chris Garcia.

Chris Penny is a current PhD student with the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme.  He is based in Sandip Patel’s lab and his PhD project is studying the molecular physiology and signalling functions of an intracellular ion channel. Through Chris’ project he was able to experience writing papers and reviews, which piqued his interest in potentially pursuing a career in publishing. This made publishing the perfect option for his PIPS placement to provide him with the opportunity to gain new skills and find out as much as possible about the industry. Chris secured a 12 week placement with Portland Press, a leading provider of high-quality publishing and knowledge dissemination solutions. He was supervised by the Executive Editor, Clare Curtis.

How did Chris secure his PIPS with Portland Press?

Chris initially researched a large number of publishing houses, he speculatively sent his CV and cover letter; he would then follow up his application with a phone call to the organisation. He found this approach was quite time-consuming and did not yield a high response, so Chris reached out to his own network for contacts in the publishing industry. Luckily Chris had a friend who previously worked at Portland Press Ltd and they put him in touch with a member of the editorial team. Chris organised an interview, and he was offered an internship starting a few months later. Chris would advise anyone applying for internships to utilise their contacts and be persistent in following up with the organisation. Having a contact in the organisation really helps with getting your application noticed!

What did the company look for in a placement student?

Portland Press wanted someone who was enthusiastic, willing to learn, and able to ‘have a go’ at a variety of tasks, some of which were mundane and others that would be more challenging. It was good to have someone who had little or no experience in the publishing industry so that they did not arrive with any preconceived ideas. The only requirement they had was for the intern to have scientific knowledge.

What did Chris do on his placement?

Portland Press is the wholly owned publishing subsidiary of the Biochemical Society, and produces the Biochemical Journal and Clinical Science, among other titles. It is a really exciting time to work there, with both the Society and the Press going through a number of changes to their look, systems and processes. Chris’ role mainly consisted of qualitative and quantitative data analysis, building upon his lab skills in the context of publishing. This included carrying out extensive citation analysis, looking at which research is high profile and which areas could be improved. Helping with the peer review submitted articles, Chris was able to generate strategies for expanding the research that is published by Portland Press, and he helped with commissioning experts to write the hot topics of the week.

What did Chris gain from the experience?

The placement was an opportunity for Chris to experience the other side of academic publishing. From the placement Chris gained commercial awareness, which he found particularly useful as this experience is very difficult to come by during a PhD. He improved on his analytical skills, market research skills by soliciting reviews, launching new content and searching for peer reviewers. Chris broadened his scientific interests as he was exposed to research in areas he was almost completely unaware of previously.

How did the placement contribute to Portland Press?

Portland Press is going through a period of significant change both in organisational structure and in processes. The work Chris undertook provided some foundations for future development of the department, and helped the creation of an overall strategy. The Biochemical Society is committed to the advancement of science for academics and students. Part of its ethos is to foster education and student opportunities. Therefore being part of the BBSRC PhD placement programme was the perfect way to meet this for Portland Press.

Has the placement influenced Chris’s career direction?

Since the start of his PhD Chris always wanted to go into post-doctoral work, however he enjoyed the editorial and strategic aspects of his placement.  Therefore Chris would certainly consider joining an editorial board while in academia if possible, but would also consider working in publishing outside of academia. Chris has a better understanding of the publishing industry and hopes the experience will come in handy for articles he will publish in the future.

If you’re a UCL PhD or researcher wondering how to secure work experience or a more permanent post, book an appointment to speak with one of our advisers. And for advertised opportunities check out UCL Talent Bank and JobOnline.

Alice Lui’s Festival Experience at Science Museum

Weronika ZBenning30 April 2016

Internships, placements, work shadowing….when it comes to selecting a career they’re all great ways to ‘try before you buy’. Some UCL PhD programmes contain a mandatory placement period, a few months where students must do something unrelated to their research. These prove invaluable to the students involved, so in this UCL Careers Researchers series of posts we hope to spread the career knowledge by speaking to three PhDs about their placement experiences.

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Interview by Shadae Samuels, Placements and Vacancies Officer, UCL Careers.

Image taken from Allan Watt.

Alice Lui is a current PhD student with the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme; based in Saul Purton’s lab her PhD project is studying the synthesis of fungible biofuels in cyanobacteria. Alice initially wanted to gain experience in science communications to reach the wider public beyond academia. The placement team brokered a relationship with the Science Museum who offered exclusive roles to PIPS students, one of which was the chance to work at one of their upcoming festivals. This was the perfect opportunity for Alice to gain experience in science communication to a wider audience, she applied and was offered the position after having an interview. She was supervised by the Assistant Content Developer, Pippa Hough.

How did Alice secure her placement with Science Museum?

The placements team was aware that Science Museum were interested in taking on UCL students as interns so we got in touch and informed them of BBSRC/LIDo programme. They were keen to host such students on a placement and offered two exclusive PIPS opportunities, Alice sent her CV and cover letter to Science Museum, and she was then invited to an interview and then offered the position to begin shortly after.

What was The Science Museum looking for in their placement student?

The Science Museum wanted a student who would be able to work to tight deadlines, has excellent research skills, and would be able to handle a lot of changes! Alice’s expertise in synthetic biology and bio-sciences in general really stood out in her application/interview as this would be helpful in translating complicated research papers.

What did Alice do on her placement?

The main focus of Alice’s placement was to research and develop the scientific content for the ‘You Have Been Upgraded’ festival on the topic of human enhancement technologies. Her time was spent mostly on researching the area of human enhancement and synthetic biology. She contacted academics, artists and individuals involved in this area of research and interviewed them about their work and whether they would be interested in being involved in the festival. Alice also researched possible demonstrations that could be shown during the festival.  During the week leading up to the festival, Alice helped with setting up the festival space. During the festival Alice supported the scientists and interacted with the public, she was also responsible for researching possible objects that could feature in the museum.

What did Alice gain from the experience?

The main thing Alice gained from her placement was the confidence to communicate! She improved on her communication skills as she was communicating with people outside the industry and therefore had to learn how to engage a lay audience. This was extremely valuable to her especially if she decides to embark on a career outside of academia. Alice learned the importance of being organised which improved her time management skills.

How did the placement contribute to The Science Museum?

Alice’s ability to think fast on her feet and problem solve on the go really helped the festival run as smoothly as it did. Alice also did general research around contemporary science topics that fed into events and small exhibitions the department produces. Her work on finding an object to represent a case on Ebola was particularly helpful! Overall she proved how valuable it is to have an intern which is something the team has not done before and there are excited to have their next LIDo intern.

Did the placement influence Alice’s career plans?

Although Alice is still uncertain about her future job prospects the placement has made Alice realise how important job satisfaction and your wellbeing is. She is therefore considering different types of opportunities. Alice may consider a role in Science Communication following her PhD as she gained a lot of confidence in communicating with a wider audience.

If you’re a UCL PhD or researcher wondering how to secure work experience or a more permanent post, book an appointment to speak with one of our advisers. And for advertised opportunities check out UCL Talent Bank and JobOnline.

 

Is there a difference between work experience, an internship and a placement?

ManpreetDhesi10 September 2015

With much being said about the value that employers place on job candidates having previous work experience UCL Careers has seen the amount of opportunities for work experience, internships and placements rise drastically over the last few years.  At the same time the terminology has become quite confusing and often the words “work experience”, “placement” and “internship” are used interchangeably by students, employers and the general public even though they could mean very different things in terms of what the student will actually experience.

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When you apply for opportunities it is important that both you, and the employer, have the same understanding as to what the opportunity is, how involved you will be and what you will gain from it. We thought we’d attempt to come up with descriptions of how we use the terms to help build an understanding of what the differences are.  So, here goes:

Work experience

Traditionally was associated with a short period of time within a company, such as one to two weeks to gain exposure to an organisation. It might include an element of work shadowing staff to observe what they do in order to understand a role better as well as getting involved in relatively low level tasks to help support the business in a very practical way.  Recently the term “work experience” has become an all embracing title for any form of participation in a working environment, and could include volunteering work with a registered charity which may not be paid but would still be counted as work experience.

Internships

Generally last anything from four weeks to a year. They may or may not relate to your studies and could vary greatly in terms of what the role will involve. Often, and in particular for large companies where they have an established summer internship scheme, the work will be of a similar nature to a graduate role.  For these companies the internships are likely to be structured with possibly an element of training. For some sectors such as banking and finance, having an internship on your CV is fairly important if you want to pursue a career in that field. Undertaking an internship on a summer scheme in these sectors can sometimes lead candidates being offered a place on a graduate scheme once they have graduated. However, there are also many other organisations that will offer internships that are not part of a scheme, but will enable you to experience what it is like working in a particular role and sector.

Placements

The word “placement” varies in meaning but at UCL, placements are thought of as an assessed, integral part of an academic programme and the tasks undertaken will most likely relate to your programme of study. However, many courses at UCL do not have this element within them.  If they do, they will usually range from three months to a year, depending on the requirements of your course. The level of work in a placement is usually similar in scope to an internship or graduate role. Placements are likely to be structured and may involve an element of training. Often you would be assisted by course staff in your search for a placement.

There are also other opportunities out there such as “insight sessions” which are usually offered from employers in the finance, management consultancy and law sectors.  These are short periods (days or a couple of weeks) where you have the opportunity to attend events and activities within a company designed to help you understand more about that company, the sector it is in and what roles are available.  Often there is a chance to undertake some level of skills training as part of the insight session with the aim to help you understand the skills necessary for the sector.

The key thing is to find out more about an opportunity in terms of what you will actually be doing and what, therefore, you might gain in terms of skills, experience and insight into a particular industry or working environment. You should also make sure that you understand what you are entitled to with regards to payment. By law companies must pay the National Minimum Wage, if you are classed as a worker, unless they are exempt (for example if they are a registered charity).  There is also an exemption of payment if the experience is a placement as part of an academic course. Be informed – see information on National Minimum Wage

For more information about work experience, internships and all the other types of opportunities use UCL’s Careers Tagged resource and see The Careers Group sheet on Securing Internships and Work Experience.

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

Corporate Cult? We try to work with everyone.

PhilHowe11 June 2015

George Monbiot’s recent article in The Guardian, “How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates”, raised some interesting questions about graduate recruitment at the UK’s top universities. At UCL Careers we recognise not all organisations have equal resources, and that it is our responsibility to give non-profits, public sector organisations and SMEs every chance to promote their career opportunities to UCL students and graduates.

The article criticised several Russell Group universities and, although his researchers did not contact UCL and nor were we criticised in the article, we wanted to share what we are doing to ensure students and graduates find out about and have access to more than just City careers.

The article accused leading universities of passivity in the face of “love bombing” from large corporates, suggesting they should be doing more to counter this. UCL Careers devotes considerable time and resources to initiatives alerting students to alternative career options, and encouraging non corporates to come on to campus. Looking at our events this week, we are working with 23 employers on our Global Citizenship Employability Programme, of which 50% are charities, SMEs or public sector bodies, including Think Ahead (a graduate programme for mental health social work) Ark Schools (an educational charity) and Bartonia Care (a healthcare scheme for the elderly). Likewise, looking at the employers collaborating on our Focus on Management course, these include the Civil Service Fast Stream, Researchers in Schools and Repositive (an SME working for efficient and ethical access to genomic data), alongside several large corporates. Finally, just over 25% of the employers attending our Jobs Market, are from the public and charity sectors, or are SMEs.

We developed our themed weeks specifically to raise the profile of sectors such as Charities and NGOs, the Environment, and Museums and Cultural Heritage, and to place them on an equal footing with our Careers Fairs which feature more corporate career paths. Unlike our Fairs where organisations pay a substantial fee to attend, our themed weeks are completely free of charge for employers.

This year’s themed week programme comprised 26 individual events covering six sectors, and over 1,300 UCL students attended. They heard from expert speakers at organisations such as Amnesty International, Save the Children, the NHS Graduate Programme, the Institute of Conservation, the National Theatre, the V&A Museum, Global Alliance for Chronic Disease and the Stroke Association. Some weeks, such as Charities and NGOs, almost entirely featured SMEs, charities and public bodies, but even weeks such as Life and Health Sciences had representation from non corporates at every event.

The UCL Careers Twitter hashtag #uclinspireme highlights a range of career opportunities which UCL students and graduates may not be aware of- and where employers may not have the resource to promote them on campus. This includes a series of blogs written by people in less publicised graduate jobs including fashion PR, market research, and child safety, as well as highlighting less common vacancies such as “Epidemiology Intern”, “Content Marketing Executive”, and “Fundraising and Marketing Graduate Trainee”. Students can follow @uclcareers, or search for the hashtag #uclinspireme, to keep up to date with these.

We also make a great effort to involve charities and SMEs in our placements, internships and vacancy services. Smaller organisations are put off by fees to access university students, but are also often worried about attending high profile events and receiving huge numbers of applications, which they don’t have time to process. We set up our shortlisting service, UCL Talent Bank (which takes much of the legwork out of recruitment) specifically to engage smaller employers and bring their vacancies to UCL students’ and graduates’ attention. Since Talent Bank started, we have advertised around 175 roles for non corporates, including Rainforest Foundation UK, the Institute for Sustainability and homelessness charity Providence Row. Talent Bank is free of charge for employers.

Talent Bank is a service for all UCL students and graduates but we are also tasked with sourcing internships for specific courses at UCL, one of these is the BASc Arts and Sciences. Over the two years we have been working with these students around 65% of the internships they secured were with either SMEs or charities.

Finally, we often arrange for employers to visit departments to talk about relevant career opportunities. In two examples from this year, two panel discussions in the School of Public Policy involved representatives from Oxfam, VSO and Macmillan Cancer Support, while a recent panel event at the Institute of Education featured a large UK based charity, an international development organisation, the director of a small business and a self-employed consultant, the idea being to demonstrate to students the variety of the types of careers they could aspire to.

The Guardian article praised the Careers Service at the University of Cambridge for trying to “counter the influence of the richest employers”. It lauded their policy of imposing a fee on rich recruiters and using the proceeds to make it easier for non profits to recruit at the university. Almost all leading UK universities charge fees for recruitment services to larger organisations, and UCL is no exception. First and foremost, these fees have to represent good value for the companies who pay them or they won’t recruit here, and the many students who are interested in careers such as finance, law, consultancy, IT and engineering will miss out. That said, we consciously invest any surplus from these activities into services for all students, including the initiatives listed above.

We don’t believe our role is to make value judgements about particular career paths, and nor will we tell you that you should or shouldn’t pursue a particular job based on our own ethics. We do believe we have a responsibility to marry our knowledge of the many different careers UCL students pursue, with the availability and interest of particular employers when delivering our events and services. We hope this overview provides reassurance that we don’t just promote one type of career, but we are always interested in hearing from students and graduates if there are particular employers or sectors you want to see more of.

– Phil Howe, Employer Engagement and Business Development Manager, UCL Careers.