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Tagged: Placements

Review of Engineering Placement Year

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, Joseph

I am now coming to the end of my year-long placement as an engineer at a Plymouth firm called Pipex px®. In this post, I will attempt to give you a brief summary of the highs and lows of my experience. If you have not yet decided whether to do a placement perhaps this post will help you make up your mind. If you are in the process of applying to the University of Bath (I really hope you are!) then this piece will fill you in on everything that the placement scheme at Bath offers.

If you look back to the blog post I wrote at the start of my placement year you will be able to get a more in depth feel for the first few weeks. However, for the sake of completeness, I will recap those weeks in this post, giving you the ‘full package’. Moreover, I can now put those weeks into perspective and make relative comparisons against what I now know about the real world of work – scary stuff!

Without further ado, here is my placement year, condensed into several short paragraphs. I shall start at the beginning…

"My colleagues, managers and directors could not have been more helpful"

As far as I am concerned, the first three months of placement felt like a real whirlwind. As expected, I had a lot of names to remember and a lot of protocol to learn before I could begin real projects in earnest. A formal training programme saw me through my first few weeks and for the following two months I wrestled with some introductory projects. During these months, time flew by very quickly as everything I was experiencing was completely new to me. I had to learn exactly what processes the engineering team followed to see projects through to completion and since I hadn’t been there very long this led to lots of questions. Fortunately, my colleagues, managers and directors could not have been more helpful and I quickly learned that there is no such thing as a stupid question. The wages earned during placement year are a real bonus- having money to spend outside of work was such a novel for thing for me and I made sure to make the best use of my free time; every evening and at weekends. I could suddenly afford cheap flights and trains here and there and I made sure to use these offers to my advantage – it was great! I kept fit by popping down to the local rowing club at least two evenings a week. I think that being a member of a local gym or sports club like this is really beneficial as exercise gave me the opportunity to clear my mind, keep healthy and remember that there was life outside of work.

Not a bad way to unwind at the weekend!

Not a bad way to unwind at the weekend!

Between the months of October and April I really had my work cut out. I was lucky enough to be part of a team working on a huge project in Switzerland and this kept me fully occupied for over 6 months. I gained real responsibilities and learned so many skills associated with managing large, time-constrained projects worth millions of pounds to the company. At the time, it felt like a real baptism of fire but now that office life is coming to an end I am really grateful and honoured that I was able to work on such an important project. Although overtime was necessary and I even worked over the Christmas holiday period to make sure things got done, I was still free at weekends to do whatever I wanted and this was just brilliant. It is always worth remembering that whilst studying at university, even at weekends students are burdened with upcoming coursework, hand-ins and revision. In the real world of work, at weekends, I was completely and utterly free to do whatever I wanted and whilst on placement I had a little extra cash in my back pocket to fund the next adventure too.

In the spring time, it was very satisfying to see the large project I had been working on come to a close. I was able to make sure everything I did was left in an orderly manner and tie up any loose ends. As far as my engineering know-how was concerned it was also extremely useful to see the steps taken by large firms to bottom out massive projects and make sure that all work carried out can be accounted for commercially. Although not directly applicable to my studies, I am very excited to bring back my new-found organisational skillset to everything I do in Bath while studying Integrated Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. One thing placement has reinforced is that organisation is key – I am very confident that I will be able to apply this to many aspects of my life after placement, and not just academia.

"I had been given various roles in a range of projects and had so many new opportunities to learn and grow as an engineer"

As my contract at Pipex began to run down and months left turned into weeks, I made sure to take time to consolidate everything I had learned. As suggested by the ever-helpful placement team at the University of Bath, I regularly wrote notes on everything I was learning whilst on placement and kept an up to date notebook of my year. This was very helpful when it came to writing my final placement report. As an engineer on placement it is necessary to write a lengthy report documenting everything that you have done whilst on placement (in the long run, this report acts as a mock-up of the report that must be submitted to our accrediting professional body e.g. the Institute of Mechanical Engineers). With this in mind, I made sure to include as much detail as possible in my report. As it happens, the process of writing this report was worthwhile; it brought home the fact that I had done so much in the space of just one year. I had been given various roles in a range of projects and had so many new opportunities to learn and grow as an engineer – the work I was involved with was so far removed from anything I had ever done before but in each situation I was able to adapt my skills and deal with any problems. I am proud of what I have achieved and I must thank the very supportive engineering team at Pipex for all their help, support and tolerance.

So there we have it, a whistle stop tour of all things placement – this time with some perspective. Although not always sunshine and rainbows, the whole experience has been unforgettable and put me in a fantastic place for the future, whether that be in engineering or elsewhere. As always, the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bath have gone ‘above and beyond’ to make sure that I am not only happy, healthy and safe whilst away from campus but also that I lay solid foundations for professional accreditation when I graduate.

If you have any questions relating to placement as an engineer please do leave a comment below and I will do everything I can to make sure your questions get answered. - happy to help wherever I can – placement is such a valuable year…

 

Engineering placement - getting into the swing of things!

  

📥  Joseph

I am now four months into my placement (you can read all about the start of my placement here) and I am in the thick of it. I am slowly becoming more confident around my colleagues and my level of responsibility is also rising. Outside of my working day I am keeping incredibly busy and the weeks, months, and seasons are flying by faster than ever. In this blog post I will run you through my working week to try to give you an idea of what makes my placement year such a storming success.

Whilst at Bath I developed an affinity for the sport of rowing. Indeed, despite the fact that I am working 8 till 5 Monday to Friday, and am often away from home at weekends, I am still able to satisfy my desire to train on the go and even get into a crew boat from time to time. Hoorah!

Training in picturesque Devon

Training in picturesque Devon

My average working week starts at 0700 on Monday morning. After my weekly fill up at the petrol station and short commute into Plymouth I am at my desk and ready to go by 0745, as is the norm throughout the week. My working week, as a member of the engineering services team at Pipex px is always varied with a mixture of computer work- manipulating 3D models, line beam analyses, stress calculation and production of engineering drawings; as well as a variety of meetings, discussions and paperwork- much as you would expect from a busy engineering house I suppose. It goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoy my time at work and there is ample opportunity to challenge myself on a day to day basis.

What I have found to be most liberating whilst on placement is that once the office doors close and lights go off, I am free to make the most of my time outside of work, in the beautiful south-west. Moreover, my placement salary means that I am now able to afford many of the things that I could not justify on my student budget. This new-found freedom and liberation from looming university deadlines has inevitably resulted in my ‘working week’ becoming a rollercoaster of activity. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I can be found at my local rowing club training with the senior men’s team. This is a great opportunity for me to socialise with other people of my own age, away from the office environment. On Thursday evenings, I go to a local French class. At this class I have met new people and have found that it acts as a respite from my maths-heavy engineering job – a perfect way to mix up the week.

On Fridays, having finished work slightly earlier at 1600, I am almost always seated on a train to another part of the county (or in some cases, world) before 1800. I am very proud to say that I have not yet had a weekend with nothing to do. Instead I have always managed to plan an exciting activity for the weekend ahead (all in my lunch break of course). On my enhanced placement student budget I have travelled to Brussels, Geneva, London, Cheltenham, the Isle of Wight and of course, even Bath – all during my precious two-day weekends! On top of this I have been able to afford an intensive powerboat course at a Plymouth Marina – something I would never have dreamed of being able to afford before my placement year – a real treat!

Even better still, the placement team in Bath are just as supportive now as they were when I was applying for placements. I have now submitted, and received feedback on, my interim placement report – a report describing the kind of things I have been up to whilst on placement. This report not only allows for my placement supervisor to keep an eye on my projects whilst away from Bath, but also acts as a fantastic record of what exactly I have done during my whirlwind time at work! In fact, my placement supervisor, the Dean of Mechanical Engineering no less, Professor Gary Hawley, has even been to visit me at work. This was great opportunity to show the University where I am working and what I have been up to. We discussed the future, my progress and where I can look to gain even more experience in the immediate future. This visit was much more insightful than I ever expected and I am really glad that the University Placement Office makes such things obligatory.

All the while I am taking log of all of the skills that I am developing whilst on placement in my personal development record (PDR). The Bath PDR is based on the specification as required by professional bodies such as the IMechE and hence, in filling out my log, I am actually taking my first steps towards professional affiliation after I graduate – a streak of ingenuity from the Bath Placement Office yet again!

Well there we go, a whistle stop tour of my ‘normal’ week on placement at Pipex px in Plymouth. When I applied for the IMEE course at Bath I was not planning to enrol on the placement year. In the first few months of my first year I was persuaded to sign up for the placement scheme. If I have not already made it absolutely clear – how glad I am that I did make that change! As always, I will keep you posted.

 

Starting my Industrial Placement

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, Joseph, Second year

As some of you may already know, I am currently on my placement as part of the ‘year in industry’ scheme available to the vast majority of students at Bath - the Electronic Engineering Department is no exception. To be quite honest, when I joined Bath back in 2014, I didn’t really envisage going on placement and I was certainly very apprehensive about taking time out of my studies to work for a year. How naïve I must have been? Going to just one of the many talks provided by the engineering placement team persuaded me of all of the benefits of taking a year to experience industry in its fullest. One thing that really surprised me is quite how much information is available to students about the placement year, which, in general, doesn’t even take place in Bath. The placement team could not have been more helpful. I attended loads of lectures about the year away prior to even applying for a placement scheme and now that I am on placement, I can say with confidence, that this level of support carries on which is fantastic.

The myriad of connections Bath University has with the engineering industry worldwide means that the number of placement schemes listed on the University Moodle Server feels unending and really allows for a very personal and thoughtful choice of which schemes or jobs to apply for. Personally, I wanted to find a relevant, well known, engineering company in the South-West. A country boy, I didn’t think I could handle the bright lights of the city just yet. Fortunately, this was no problem at all with hundreds of placement opportunities dotted about the South-West region. This range of choice meant that I needn’t apply for jobs outside of my search radius as there were numerous opportunities within it.

Having followed the very thorough and helpful instructions provided by the university team, I was quick to send off several cover letters and applications for various jobs in the South-West including Babcock, Centrax and Pipex px NOV. At this stage, out of the control of the swift acting placement office, it was a waiting game to see what opportunities materialised; meanwhile the placement team were flooding me with further options into the summer months as other positions became available.

I was very lucky to be accepted by a Plymouth based company called Pipex px who have recently been acquired by the American engineering giants National Oilwell Varco (NOV). Pipex px NOV is proving to be a really worthwhile placement scheme and I am benefiting from the wealth of experience and opportunity across the now enlarged global company.

Following a swift induction to the organisation I was set to work right away. Moreover, I wasn’t just making cups of tea – from day one I was able to apply the skills learned at Bath to real world engineering problems. One of the things that has surprised me most thus far is how much the employer appreciates the Bath IMEE course and recognises the vast skill set I have developed at Bath. From minute one I understood that my presence within the Engineering Services Department was on a very professional basis as I was assigned an audacious desk space, an engineering grade PC and four screens to play with – yes, four computer screens!

My favourite lunch break destination on the Moors

My favourite lunch break destination on the Moors

Another of the many things that I have come to appreciate during my first few weeks is just how tailored my Integrated Mechanical and Electrical engineering course is to the requirements of engineers in industry. I have already been contracted to design, model and draw a water filtering system – skills that I have ‘mastered’ during the first two years of my degree course. To my surprise, the system which I have designed has already been sent to the factory for production - albeit a prototype -  to be sent to various sales teams in the States. How extraordinary?! I would not have been able to do any of this if it had not been for the rigorous design modules that I have studied in Bath.

Always kept on my toes, it was not long before I was requested to ponder over some beam calculations as part of a feasibility study. This was a real test of my memory, having studied statics as part of the Solid Mechanics course in year one. To my relief, I was able to re-enrol on the course using the University Moodle Server – something I never thought I would do. Yet another pleasant surprise.

It goes without saying that my CAD skills have been completely overhauled since entering the professional workplace and I very much look forward to becoming better and better in such fields. I already fully understand why the year in industry is so recommended by the Bath team and I cannot wait to re-enter year three with the array of new skills I will develop over the next year. As always, I will keep you posted…

 

Adventures in the Netherlands

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📥  Faculty of Science, Postgraduate

I struggled for breath as my body was in free fall. Some people apparently hate this feeling when a plane descends. I loved it. It almost felt like the thrill of a roller coaster, and I was a kid again wishing it would take yet another dive. This plane was about to land in the Netherlands. For my CDT placement, I was going to do research there for six weeks with my project partner, Emma.

It was a quiet January night when we arrived in Nijmegen, a city near the Netherlands–Germany border. Our supervisor, Alix, welcomed us and showed the way to our apartment. She had a calm and thoughtful demeanour, just as I remembered over Skype when she briefed us on the project.

Emma and I were going to test a thermometer for use at temperatures below –200 °C. Weird things happen when stuff is this cold, one example being superfluidity [1]. Traditional thermometers measure expansion and contraction of mercury in a glass tube, whereas digital thermometers measure changes in electrical resistance across metals like platinum. Both types, classed as secondary thermometers, can be a problem for researchers: at low temperatures, they lose calibration. That’s why for our project, we were to test a primary thermometer which doesn’t need calibration. The catch? It takes over ten minutes for a single temperature measurement. This involves software plotting a conductance–voltage curve whose full width at half maximum is directly proportional to temperature via known constants. Despite long measurement times, primary thermometers are worthwhile for researchers needing reliable results in low-temperature physics.

When we reached our apartment, the lab where we’d be working was close enough to be seen out the window. How convenient. It took only a few minutes to walk there, but it felt like going through a freezer. The sharp difference in temperature between well-heated buildings and outside made even Alix grumble.

image1

[View from the 7th floor of our guesthouse apartment in Nijmegen, Netherlands. We worked in the High-Field Magnet Laboratory (HFML) seen on the right with curved architecture.]

The lab itself was the High-Field Magnet Laboratory (HFML) where magnetic fields up to 37.5 Tesla can be reached; for comparison, a fridge magnet has a strength of 0.005 Tesla. Magnetic fields are often used in low-temperature experiments to reveal more information about samples like a magnifying glass. The downside is that magnetic fields affect thermometers so they need to be monitored and accounted for when calculating temperature. It turns out that unlike other primary thermometers, the specific type we were to test—a Coulomb blockade thermometer—was expected to be independent of magnetic fields. Confirming this would be useful for researchers in the HFML.

Everyone in the HFML was friendly and supportive. Ineke helped us settle in and was a joy to be around, and Olga went out of her busy way to help us when needed. We couldn’t be more grateful. Someone I admired, Inge, whistled and strolled around the lab as if she had springs in her steps. She’s a confident person, able to fully express herself with infectiously enthusiastic body language. Another researcher, Laurens, noticed Emma’s lip ring.

“Do you have piercings in other parts of your body?”
Emma let out a big smile and confirmed his curiosity.
“That’s all I needed to know."

Cycling is the norm in the Netherlands, so we borrowed bikes to explore Nijmegen. The trouble was that I hadn’t ridden a bike for over a decade. It had been many years for Emma, too. Unsurprisingly, we had a rough start when riding again. Emma fell and scraped her knee. If she felt embarrassed, that soon disappeared with what happened to me in the hours ahead.

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[Bikes parked outside Nijmegen train station. There are more levels below ground, and this is a typical sight in the Netherlands.]

While crossing the road, I almost got run over by cars. It was my fault, though. I was so focused on trying to ride in a straight line that I forgot traffic goes in the opposite direction here. And yes, I should have looked both ways, but learning to ride a bike again in foreign land threw me off big time. Along not-so-straight lines, we continued onwards to the city centre. “We came all this way to another country and the first store we go into is Primark?” I saw the irony that Emma was referring to, but we needed towels and knew Primark would sell them. After exploring the city centre, we returned to our bikes parked beside an overflowing bike rack. I managed to topple over an entire row. The bikes fell like dominoes. Paralysed to react, I could only watch, but onlookers generously helped me pick them up afterwards. At least on our ride back to the apartment, I finally saw someone looking shaky with eyes down on her front wheel.

"Emma, look, someone else is learning to ride too!"
"Aye, but she's half our age.”

Back in the HFML, reaching low temperatures for our thermometer involved putting it in a cryostat. This was a freezer cooled by liquid nitrogen and liquid helium. We glued the thermometer onto a 2 m long metal rod—a probe—to be placed inside the cryostat, and then soldered wiring to connect the thermometer to a computer where measurements can be read. Emma and I did our best to get it all working, but we would later find that this wasn’t enough.

image3

[Cylindrical cryostat supported by a triangular structure and attached to a liquid helium vessel. Cables connected the thermometer to a computer where temperature measurements can be read.]

On one weekend, we crossed the border to the German city of Düsseldorf. It was like little Japan, so we went to Okinii, an all-we-can-eat Japanese restaurant. Emma showed me how to use chopsticks, but I could have downed more food if I had practice beforehand. We also had drinks at a restaurant 170 m high in the Rhine Tower. Seeing Düsseldorf from up there was most memorable, even if Emma hadn’t shattered her glass by accidentally pushing it off the table. When evening settled, we stopped by a street drummer called Oded Kafri [2]. As an introvert, I find it difficult to connect with others, yet here was a person who used music and theatrics to connect with and entertain the crowd. I was inspired.

image4

[Rhine Tower (Rheinturm) is the tallest building in Düsseldorf, Germany. It’s 240.5 m high with an observation deck and restaurant at 170 m.]

"All hopes and dreams have been shattered", Emma wrote in her lab book. Dramatic, but it's how we felt when seeing a dozen wires had snapped from disconnecting our stubborn probe. It wasn't the first nor last time that snapping wires stopped our progress. Experimental physics was showing us no mercy. Eventually, with practice and patience, snapping wires no longer troubled us. However, the software didn't plot conductance–voltage curves correctly but instead gave scattered data points. This lasted for weeks. Having ruled out experimental errors, we could only conclude that there was something broken inside the thermometer. Alix’s plan was to contact the manufacturer for assistance and possibly get a replacement, but we wouldn’t be around to see the conclusion. Our time in the Netherlands had come to an end. Hopefully, Alix doesn’t have as much trouble when working on the thermometer herself.

It seems that progress can make the difference between a frustrating project and a fulfilling one. Although our project was the former, Alix was sympathetic and reassured us that these things happen. Sometimes, things are beyond our control. We may not have achieved much research-wise, but that doesn't mean the CDT placement wasn’t worthwhile. Far from it.


[1] More about superfluidity and our CDT in my previous blog here.
[2] Feel free to search for Oded Kafri on YouTube!

The build up to applying for a placement

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, Joseph, Second year

In addition to the hectic schedule of second year engineering, it is also expected that we start to look for placements for our year in industry. For the majority of engineers at Bath, both electrical, integrated and mechanical, a year in industry is something that is really appealing. Bath is renowned for its strong placement office, and I know that both I and my colleagues chose Bath due to its strong links with industry, both in the UK and abroad.

In this blog post I hope to give you a brief description of how I’ve gone about searching for the placement that is right for me and the support offered by the university. Given the number of industries Bath has links with, as well as all of the other placements advertised worldwide, it really is a mind boggling situation and guidance is important in terms of finding the placement that is correct for you – thank goodness I’m at Bath…

At first I was very worried about the rush to secure a placement. For some reason I imagined that the list of places available would be limited and that only a lucky few would find a position, let alone a role that they suited and they were enthusiastic about. Oh dear, I could not have been more wrong. Since I signed up to the placement scheme at the end of my summer holidays I have been inundated with emails from the placement office saying that numerous new roles have been announced. Day in, day out, the emails arrive and hundreds upon hundreds of places are on offer. This immediately calmed my nerves and I was able to relax and really dig through the list of placements available to find a select few I was really interested in. This was no easy feat, but I was very glad to have too many placement opportunities to consider than too few!

I quickly learned to be very, very selective with the placements I researched. Given the sheer number of opportunities available, I was even able to choose some jobs on the basis of their location and where I’d like to live, irrespective of the role being advertised – what a luxury! For some of the bigger companies, especially those that are expecting a lot of applicants, the deadline for applying was early on in the semester and many of my course mates worked hard to get their CVs and cover letters submitted in time. For the majority of placements however, the application deadline is very relaxed and most placements do not expect applications until semester two (after the Christmas break – hoorah!).

As I opted to apply for these companies (as opposed to the bigger names in industry), I had plenty of time to put hours into researching the role and planned to write my cover letters during the Christmas break. Moreover, this time frame enabled me to really focus on the coursework throughout the semester and allowed me time to fulfill my duties as one of the captains on the rowing team.

For those who were organised during the summer break, myself included, the placement office wasted no time in amending CVs that were sent to them. This is one of the things I have appreciated most about the placement office. The team were very thorough in optimizing and correcting my CV appropriately whilst considering the types of jobs that I would be applying for. This resulted in a complete overhaul of the CV I had thrown together over the summer and made my CV look very polished indeed.

Having chosen a few placements that intrigued me, I set about checking all of the details associated with the roles; job description, size of the company, location, accommodation and so on. I was in no rush and could ring home to discuss things I was unsure of. After all of this, if I had any questions concerning the application or what to do next (I always did), I sent an email to the placement office. They were always very, very speedy to reply and the advice they gave was reassuring. Often they pointed me in the direction of the Moodle page where a massive amount of information is listed, including the experiences of past placement students as well as databases of where everyone else has applied – this is particularly useful when it comes to finding somewhere to live during a year in industry!

My biggest concern during this time was missing out on placements that were not yet announced and subscribing for placements I was not completely bowled over by prematurely. This problem was quickly resolved after questioning the placement team. The team was very understanding (I imagine they are asked some questions over and over) and told me to write a letter to respective employers in advance if I was aware that their placement scheme was yet to be announced. This reassured me further and has resulted in a very stress free experience altogether.

In addition to all of this, throughout the semester there were also seminars hosted by the team which guided us in writing and submitting applications, interview technique and what to expect when we finally got to the job. All in all, I have been tremendously impressed by the efforts the university makes to make this big decision as easy and stress free as possible. Prior to coming to Bath I was very naïve and somewhat unaware of this massive opportunity. All I can say now is that I am extra-glad I came to Bath and it is a real advantage to be part of a department that is so involved with our jump into industry.

Click here to read more blogs about placements at Bath

 

 

Surviving Second Year Architecture

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📥  Charlotte, Faculty of Engineering, Second year

Second year. The year the work load increases dramatically. The year that people expect you to actually know things and, for Architecture Students, the hardest year of the undergraduate course.

Or so we were told in our introductory lecture at the beginning of the year.

I mean, thank you head of year for gently easing us back into university life after a summer spent free of work load and responsibility. The pre-crit stress that we all felt last year (reduced to a distant memory whilst sipping Piña Coladas on the beach in Zanzibar) came back into focus as we were given the course outline in the same room that we had pinned up and presented our work in only months previously.

In just one semester we had 2 projects, 6 assignments and 1 exam. Now, this may not seem like a lot to anyone who has yet to study architecture but trust me, the two projects alone are enough to raise your blood pressure.

Yet, the thought of February and of relative freedom whilst on placement kept us sane as we struggled through each of our assignments. Yes, unlike any other architectural course, Bath offers a ‘Thin Sandwich Placement Course’ which essentially means that instead of undertaking a year of practical experience in the third year, you do two half year placements; one in semester two of second year and the other in semester two of third year. This is designed so that each experience prepares you for the following university year as well as giving you the opportunity to work in two different practices in order to expand your knowledge of the breadth of architectural practices.

Now, this does cause housing problems especially if you decide you want to go home for placement, venture to London or go even further afield rather than staying in the Bath or Bristol area. You will need to find another student to swap your tenancy with for the second semester but the university will help you with this. There is a business course which has placement at opposite times to architecture students thus typically a group of architects will be replaced by a group of BBA’s after January exams.

Unfortunately, this swap means that you do need to vacate your residency prior to the start of semester two and you may not necessarily have secured a placement by that time. Thus, you are either forced to return home or like some of my friends, to camp out on their sofas as their BBA friends took over their bedrooms.

I, however, decided to remain in Bath for placement meaning I still (thank god) have free rein over my bedroom. It’s depressing though, as the semester starts and I have still yet to find a placement, I find myself wishing that like my flatmates I too have lectures to go to and work to do. Instead my days are blank. I have sent out applications to 29 practices in Bath and I constantly refresh my inbox expecting a gushing email off someone begging me to work for them any minute.

7 have replied to me so far. 5 to say they are sorry but cannot offer me a placement at this time but that they are impressed with my portfolio blah blah blah. 1 is reviewing my application and 1 has asked me for interview. So now I am counting down the days to said date.

Portfolio ready for Interview

Portfolio ready for Interview

During the first semester I dreamed of being free. Now, I dream of a project of sorts to keep me occupied. Don’t get me wrong, the first few nights of going to bed without setting an alarm were bliss. I could wake mid-morning and not have to move until my rumbling stomach made it impossible to hear what McDreamy was saying on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. But, quickly the novelty of doing nothing all day has worn off. It’s funny, starting a series when you actually have time to watch multiple episodes a day is not as fun as beginning ‘Gossip Girl’ a few weeks before June deadlines last year.

Helping out at Bath Cats and Dogs Home

Helping out at Bath Cats and Dogs Home

In order to pass the days, I have re-organised my whole bedroom, carried out a much needed clean of the bathroom, volunteered more frequently at ‘Bath Cats and Dogs Home’ and even cycled to and from Bristol one day when I was feeling extra motivated to leave the house.

My newly organised bedroom

My newly organised bedroom

I spent over two hours in Bristol’s Starbucks finishing my book and recovering before forcing myself to remount for the 13 miles back to Bath. It is a lovely sign posted off road route which is relatively flat except a few assents on the outskirts of Bristol. Definitely a must do for anyone who has a bike in Bath – though it does get a little busy during peak commute/school times. A bell is a useful investment; I could only politely yell at the school kids to get out of my way.

The Bath to Bristol Cycle Way

The Bath to Bristol Cycle Way

I am really excited to start a placement and to be working full time – partly so that I can truthfully sing Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ but also so that I can experience life as a grown up and decide whether or not it’s what I want to be. I’m not sure how useful I will be to the lucky practice who hires me, but I guess I’m a fast learner. At least that’s what I will tell them in my interview tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

 

Applying for a year abroad

  

📥  Matt, School of Management, Second year

There are certain expectations that you should set for yourself if you're planning to go to university.

  1. Someone will always steal your milk and not own up to it
  2. You will often be faced with the choice of going to your 9:15am lecture or sleeping in
  3. You are going to spend most of your Christmas holidays studying for January exams.

Personally, the third one is holding true at the moment but this year I am also in the midst of applying for placements for my year abroad. As part of my International Management & Modern Languages (French) degree, or FIMML for short, I spend my third year in France. I have 12 months abroad and this can be spent in any of the following combinations:

  1. 12 months placement
  2. 12 months in a French business school
  3. 6 months placement / 6 months business school.

For anyone who is considering applying to France, it is worth noting that the French government has just brought in a law which restricts placements to 6 months maximum within any organisation. In order to spend 12 months in a French placement, it is now necessary to apply for two separate 6 month placements in different departments of the same company or different companies altogether. My cohort is the first to experience this new law and therefore it will be interesting to see how it all plays out!

Preparation

From the offset, our year abroad officer, Ninon, has been brilliant in preparing us for our applications. I will not get bogged down in the details of the preparation but if you attend all her presentations which will be scheduled into your timetable, you will be ready to start applying. In terms of learning to write French CVs and cover letters, this will be dealt with in your french seminars but it is coordinated between Ninon and the seminar tutors. For this reason, I would say it is crucial that you do not skip any of your French seminars in 2nd year.

Ninon's presentations have included:

  • A presentation on all the different business schools
  • Advice on applying for placements
  • Organised meetings with 4th year students who have just returned from their year abroad, and much more.

All of this information has helped me to make an informed decision on how I want to spend my year abroad and I'm going to attempt to apply for two 6 months placements. I've actually just submitted my first application and am now moving onto my second so let's discuss that and see how straightforward it was.

If you want to go to a business school, it acts like an exchange. Uni of Bath takes some of their students and in return they take some of ours. There are a number of prestigious French business schools which you can apply to including multiple ones in Paris, Strasbourg and Nancy. You'll be inserted into one of the business courses and complete your modules in French. These marks are then converted and added to your degree at Bath. I had the pleasure of visiting Nancy last June and it is a beautiful city in the east of France. I was also in Strasbourg train station however, I'm not sure if that counts.

Nancy Ville, France

Nancy Ville, France

Applying

Around November, companies will start making placements available to apply for. These will be sent to your year abroad officer and they will then post them on Moodle. Moodle is an online service which every university student has access to with their online login details. It also contains all your course and module resources. Once on Moodle, you can download the job advertisement, see the application deadline, see who you need to send your applications to etc.

My first application was to a company called Thales. They're a huge global company, specialising in defense, aerospace and security and all those sorts of things. Thales, like many other companies will have a good relationship with University of Bath because of our fantastic reputation. As a result, some of the placements advertised will be exclusively for University of Bath students which reduces the competition to your cohort.

Some applications will ask you for a CV and cover letter in French or English. I chose to send both in french because the next step will be a Skype interview in french. My logic is that if I have already submitted two documents in good French, my interviewers will already have faith that I can write well in french on the chance that I stumble with my french in the interview. It is worth bearing in mind that most companies will appreciate that you are not yet fluent and the point of the year abroad will be to become fluent in french so there is some leeway (apparently). Still, you want to impress them right?

Another useful tip is to try and get into contact with any Bath students who have either had a placement with the company or are currently on placement with the company. I am really lucky because I actually have a friend who is on her year abroad with Thales at the moment. Well, I use the word friend. To her I'm probably just the annoying Irish kid who is constantly begging for help with his CV at 2am (3am in Paris). If you're reading this, I'm sorry but also thank you. Yeah. Moving swiftly on.

So I typed up my cover letter which was one page long; I tweaked my CV to make it specific to the role I was applying to and I emailed it to Thales. It was right before the Christmas holidays so I don't expect a reply for a little while. However, I'm going to send another one tomorrow and hope that I get an interview for at least one of them. In the meantime, I'm going to go back to spending time with my dog. It is Christmas day after all. Happy Holidays!

My Dog 

 

Second year counts

  

📥  International student, Mirella, School of Management

In first year everything is fun and giggles. You find everything exciting, as it is your first year at university. Of course, not everything is so fun (see my other post “Rollercoaster” for more information on this). However, second year is a completely different experience.

You have already made friends, you know your way around town and university and you already know you like to do with your free time. This should of course not discourage you to try out new things in second year or make no new friendships. In fact I have made some new and strengthened some loose friendships. The main difference is though that “Second year counts”.

Second year counts

What does this actually mean? First year is there to make it easier for us students to get into the vibe of university. You get to know your course, you learn how to write essays and you learn about plagiarism and more importantly how to avoid it. This is why your grades in first year do not count towards your final grade. It is one of the wonderful things university has to offer. It allows students to live a little bit. However, students should not forget that grades are still important if you want to secure a placement. Most employers are looking for a minimum of a 2:1, which means you have to get over 60%. If you attend regularly lectures and revise before the exams, chances are high of attaining a 2:1, even with experiencing Freshers' life to the full.

Second year counts 32% towards your final grade. What an odd number to be honest. As this grade might decide about your future, if you think about your employability after university, it is important what grades you achieve in second year. This puts a little bit of pressure on.

However, not only do you have to worry about your grades but you also have to secure a placement for your third year. Personally, this stresses me a little. While I am writing this, I am on my Christmas break at home. Unfortunately, it is not a real break like the summer holidays. I regard it more as three weeks at home, which I have to devote to studying. Obviously, I don’t revise all the time.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas everyone!

After all, I still have holidays and I want to celebrate Christmas and New Years Eve.  As a student you also have to relax after the deadline horror of courseworks before the end of the semester. However, I do spend at least an hour or two every day revising. Obviously, I will increase this devoted time in revision week because as you already know “Second year counts” and five exams are quite a lot to write within two weeks.

How to spend the holidays in second year

How to spend the holidays in second year

The rest of the time of my Christmas holiday I spent worrying about my placement. I am not too anxious about not securing a placement. The placement team is trying to be really helpful and there are a lot of opportunities to apply for placements but I would rather have one sooner than later. Furthermore, you still have to apply for these placements and it takes quite a lot of time to write a good cover letter. It does not help though if your grandmother is constantly asking you if you have finally found work or if your family just talks about you finding a placement during the Christmas dinner. So if anybody is reading this and wants to offer me a placement, just leave a comment. I would be really grateful, it just has to be 12-months long, be in the field of marketing and hopefully the paycheck at the end of the month can cover my rent!

Optimistic outlook

I hope I haven’t frightened anybody about university. I still think it was the best decision of my life to study at the University of Bath. However, second year and especially semester one of second year is not easy at all. Hopefully, second semester will be better. To be honest, I already know second semester will be better. I will have secured a placement and I will know where I will live. Most importantly though: I will only write two exams in May. This takes a lot of pressure from me as I prefer coursework over exams. Wish me luck!

 

Applying for placements

  

📥  Alex, Faculty of Science

After a four month break, it’s safe to say that second year has come as something of a shock. Just under two months ago I arrived back in Bath to a new house, the horrible feeling of having to pay bills on top of rent, thirty contact hours a week, new names to learn at extra curricular activities, and the dreaded placement applications!

I’m guessing that as an A Level student, there’s a chance that you’re probably wondering ‘What is this placement, anyway?’ A placement is usually a year-long (but sometimes six month) period of work experience in a company, attended between the second and final years of university. As a pharmacologist, my placement works a little differently to others at Bath.

For most people, a placement is a nice addition to a Bachelors or a Masters degree, and vital experience that will help you to land a job when you finally graduate. For me though, my placement year counts towards my Masters. My course is four years including a placement, but I still get a Masters (or at least, that’s the plan!) whereas my housemates will do four years plus a placement year to get their Masters, meaning that they’ll do five years in total at university. It’s a chance to see a working environment related to your degree, in my case, research in a pharmaceutical company and perhaps solidify your decisions about what you want to do when you graduate.

We’ve been talking about placements for at least six months now, but nothing really needed to be done until recently. In the summer when asked to upload a CV to Moodle (our online learning and file sharing type website), I didn’t think much of it. Then I started getting feedback on the CV, and five drafts later it was finally ready to send for placement applications. If only it were that simple! Since starting lectures again I’ve attended placement workshops, listened to speakers from major pharmaceutical companies, had a careers meeting and a mock interview, and filled in more placement application forms than I care to think about.

Each and every placement is different in terms of application. Some require a lengthy online form, others are more simply a CV and cover letter, but all require your time, effort, research, and most of all, enthusiasm! It’s not easy either – you can’t expect that you’ll get the first placement that you apply for! I’ve had to answer everything from my strengths and weaknesses, to my favourite parts of my course, my greatest achievement, give an example of a time a team I was in didn’t work well, and potentially the hardest of all, ‘What do you predict that a year at X would be like?’

What about when you get through the forms? You’ve spent hours spelling out your mind to a potential employer, and then it goes one of three ways. A) You get an interview (yey!), B) You get rejected, or C) They invite you to take part in an online test. So far, I’ve done three of these tests, all for one company, and they’re rather disheartening. You’ve spent hours and hours compiling the perfect picture of yourself only to realise that you’ve got to complete all these tests before anyone even reads your application. If you fail, they won’t even consider you, and worst of all is that these tests may be maths tests, but they’re just as likely to be those horrible non-verbal reasoning, or worst of all, a personality test.

Truly though, despite time consuming, the application process isn’t all that bad. Speak to any fourth year and they’ll tell you that their placement was worth every hour they spent applying and attending interviews. Of course, I haven’t got that far yet so I can’t tell you first hand, but everyone I know says that they came back from placement feeling much more independent, experienced, and confident in their subject.

Definitely, definitely look for universities that offer a placement in your course. I’ve only heard good things about it so far, and I’m beyond excited to get started on mine! It’s a lot of work, but you get better at everything with practice, so each application process helps the next, and the placement as a whole will be absolutely invaluable when applying for jobs.

In my next post I will write about placement interviews!

 

Should I do a year in industry?

  ,

📥  Alex, Faculty of Science

Yes. That’s the simple answer, anyway. I presume that you want to know why though? Over the last few months I’ve watched my younger brother deliberate apprenticeships or university, the BSc or the integrated masters, the placement year or not?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do an integrated Masters degree, and that of course meant a placement year. Surely to be more highly qualified means better job prospects? Even so, if you decide not to do a Masters or a Masters simply isn’t offered at your university or for your course, you should consider the BSc with a placement year anyway.

Okay, maybe it seems like I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m only a first year, after all. But I’m not getting ahead of myself at all. For me, industrial placement applications are just around the corner, and whilst of course coping with exams and coursework are my top priorities right now (you can see a post on tips for that here) I do still have to write and submit a CV by May 4th and be thinking about preparing for interviews and writing applications from August.

CV writing

CV writing

It doesn’t matter how pressurised university can be at times, the other things just don’t go away and with placement year being such an important part of my degree, I can’t help but let it spin around and around in my head. While my first year grades don’t count towards my degree, they will be seen by the companies where I apply for placements. And that in itself is the first reason why you should choose a university where a year in industry is possible. I’ve always enjoyed working hard and have kept myself motivated, but if you’re someone who struggles to do that, keeping on track during the first year can be hard. Surely it has to be easier if you know those grades count for something, and will be seen by someone?

Second, it’s a good way to earn some money, get involved, and work out what you want to do. Although some people do end up on self-funded placement years, most placements are paid and it can be an excellent way to save money for your final year when your student loan is smaller. Not only this, but for those people who don’t know exactly what they want to do or what area to focus on when they graduate, a placement year can be an excellent time to work this out. You may find that you don’t like the sector in which you do your placement and choose to work somewhere else, or you may love it and end up working with that company for the rest of your life.

Third- you’ll learn skills. Somehow, somewhere, you’ll get better at something. You’ll attend interviews and gain confidence, learn lab based or computer skills, communicate with a workforce and become part of a team. All of these skills are important for university as well as employment, and the break from university based work means that students who take a placement year come back ready and excited for their final year.

Fourthly, you’ve got experience behind you for when you graduate. You’re much more employable if you have experience as it means that the people who employ you have less training to give you. If you do really well, you might even get a job offer from the company at which you did your placement.

Finally, number five, I’m told it’s when you really grow up and see who you are. The jump from home to university can be strange, I’ve already said that I think the jump from halls to second year housing will be strange, and then there’s the jump from the university safety net and into the real world for a year. It’s a chance to really grow up before you come back for the massively important final year. It’s the time to make mistakes before you have a house and a family as well as a job.

There’s just five reasons why you should consider a placement when making those final decisions about which university to go to. I’m sure there’s a hundred more if you think hard enough. Sadly, I’ve not been there yet, so there isn’t much more that I can say. What I can say is that I’m excited, and I hope that the real world is ready for me!