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Marie's Year in Industry

Hi! My name is Marie, I’m studying Biomedical Science at Warwick and I’ve just finished my placement year in industry, working in a molecular diagnostics laboratory– which means I’m about to go into my final year of uni, eek!

I chose to do a placement year for all the reasons they’ll quote to you during placement talks – to gain experience in a workplace setting and earn some money, to test out a possible career path, to develop my skills and increase my employability, and to put my academic knowledge into practice in a real-world setting (- in truth, I’m not sure I used much of it!).

If you’re still on the fence about adding another year to your degree, I’d say just do it. Make some applications, even if you don’t get a placement, you’ll have yourself a shiny new CV and cover letter drafts ready for when you leave uni! It has to happen at some point, why not now?

Applications are a nightmare for all of us…

I won’t lie to you, applications were not fun, but once I’d created and spruced up my CV, and written my first cover letter (the first is by far the worst!), it got better. I’d heartily recommend booking an appointment with Careers to have someone look over your CV before you start making applications so you can tweak anything that needs tweaking.

Cover letters are generally harder to write because, as I’m sure you’re aware, you’ll need to make them specific to your application, and base them on what you know about the company and the role. The good news is once you’ve written one cover letter you can use bits and pieces of it in other ones (thank God for copy and paste)!

I didn’t apply for too many jobs (I think maybe 4 or 5?) but I did apply for some of the top ones at gsk and AstraZeneca, which is something I somewhat regret… When you’re looking for placements look as far afield as you can because the ones that are right in front of your face are in front of every other student’s face too, so they’re hugely oversubscribed and your chances of getting in are very very slim!

I would advise checking the Teams placement chat regularly to see what’s being posted every week, and don’t disregard the smaller companies just because you’ve never heard of them. In fact, I applied to a couple of smaller companies in addition to the Big Ones and those were the only ones that invited me to interview (still waiting for a rejection email from one big company and it’s been a year…!). My interview with the smaller company that I ended up working for was also very relaxed and informal and I got the feeling that they had decided I was qualified enough, but just wanted to check how well I would fit in with their team. My best interview advice is cliché, but just be yourself and be honest!

A lil heads up – when making your applications be sure to only apply to jobs you’d be very happy spending a year doing, and only accept an offer if the same applies – a placement is an entire year of your life, don’t waste it doing something you know you’ll hate! It’s often hard to know what the job might entail but you can ask further questions about a role during your interview, or even send them an email for further details beforehand.

My top top tips!

I have so so many tips but I’ll cut it down to the bare essentials to save us all time!

Look after yourself:

Working a 9-5 job, 5 days a week, right after second year of uni is pretty daunting for most of us. It takes some adjusting, and for me, a lot of alarms in the morning! Coming home after a full day of work I was often exhausted, especially at the start. If you’re feeling tired and stressed out, don’t be too hard on yourself. Looking after your wellbeing is so so important. Try to build good habits with sleep and meals and exercise if you can – I can’t express just how valuable these things were to me!

It can sometimes be hard to maintain a good work-life balance, especially if you’re isolated geographically…Your placement is likely to be somewhere new to you so make sure to look into possible opportunities in your area to meet new people, do activities outside of work, and don’t lose touch with your support network!

Making mistakes means you’re not a robot (what a surprise!):

You’re bound to do something wrong during the year at some point. Try not to stress, just tell someone, be up front about it and try your best to fix it. As long as nobody died, it’s not a total disaster and you’ll recover from it. We all make mistakes, just don’t make the mistake of not owning your mistake!

Be a good employee and talk to people:

First impressions really do count so make sure you’re on time and organised with maximum enthusiasm and effort from day one. Be as friendly and cheerful as possible (smiles all round!) and network, network, network! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just check in with people, ask them how their day is going and if they have plans at the weekend. Sometimes simple small talk leads to more in-depth conversations and helps you connect. It’s also the perfect time to pick the brains of your colleagues about their areas of interest and career path, and they’ll very likely be delighted to share and give you heaps of advice!

Another way to get to know people is to get involved with any activities run by your company - at my workplace we had quizzes, themed dress-up days and pot-luck-lunches which were a fantastic chance to have a chat, share recipes and network while also consuming copious amounts of delicious food! LinkedIn is also a great way to connect professionally with colleagues online and see where life takes them – who knows, maybe they’ll be the one to help you get a job someday!

Record everything (okay, maybe not EVERYTHING! But most things…)

Keep a record of the things you’ve done and personal achievements. I used a note on my phone that I’d update with things I’d been trained to do and things that happened – they’ll be super examples for any future interviews I have!

A year is a long time and you’ll be surprised how much you forget or start to take for granted. It might even be easier to update your CV along the way so you don’t have to face doing it all at once (I admit I’m slightly terrified to start!).

Jotting all the things down will make future you grateful for past you, I promise.

That’s all for now folks!

I could go on but I don’t want anyone getting square-eyed reading this! I hope some of it is helpful to you.

My final tip is pretty simple - make the most of it. This is the only placement year you’ll likely ever do and it’s a great introduction into the working world. Embrace every opportunity that comes your way, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone (I know I had to, repeatedly!), and never be afraid to ask questions.

If you want a more in-depth ton of advice, I and a few other placement students are working on a placement guide to offer more support throughout your year, and it should be up on Moodle by the end of the summer (fingers crossed!).

Have a great one!

Marie x

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