If you’re coming to Manchester University (or hoping to!) to do a science-based degree you may have had to decide whether or not you want to do a standard 3 year course or whether to opt for the 4 year version with a year in industry. This can seem like a daunting decision to make, especially when you haven’t even started the course yet! I completed my undergraduate degree with a year in industry (granted this was at Liverpool University though the experience is the same anywhere!) and now that I’m here in Manchester doing my PhD I’m so glad that I did as the experiences I gained were so valuable, not to mention I was able to skip the Masters 😉 The placement year is often something you can opt onto (or off!) once you have started your degree, as you only start applying for places in your second year so if you’re thinking about it even at this early stage and want to find out more, here is my story…
For me I always had in my head that I wanted to do a placement and only actually applied to universities which offered Biochemistry with a year in Industry as a course. At the age of 16, in my first lab job, someone told me about someone they knew who had done a placement year in the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca; I was told there was a gym and a pub on site it was so big, that there were lots of students and fun social activities and that it was a great experience to have on your CV. Well I was sold! I would get a placement at AstraZeneca if it was the last thing I did! In reality the competition for a place was EXTREMELY competitive, (especially as the money was so good!) but I managed against all odds to get the place.
But I did all this without really thinking about the implications. Before I went it dawned on me that friends from uni will have left by the time I return, and I was to be living in Macclesfield (where even is that??) with some strangers I’d found on Facebook (psycopaths??). Was this really such a good idea??
However, all anxiety was INSTANTLY expelled when I met my housemates for the year (also AZ students), now friends for life. We got on so well and even ended up going on a wild girls holiday together! The same can be said for all the other students in the company (about 60 of us!), and as we all had money and no uni work to do, it was rather like being a fresher again, but with more partying 😉 My placement year was genuinely the BEST year of my life and I’d give my right arm to go back and do it all over again!
So here is my list of 10 reasons why YOU should consider doing a placement year based on my experiences…
- Fantastic practical experience of labwork (or whatever it is you do) and project management– University practicals, particularly in life sciences, are NOTHING like what happens in the real world, or even in your final year research project. Working for a year in industry allows you to see what life is really like in your chosen field, get hands-on experience and most likely make your final year project seem really easy! Also gives you experience in managing your own time and your own project, a valuable skill employers look for!
- Practice writing a dissertation before the real thing-For my placement year I had to write a 30 page scientific report on the project that I carried out. Having never done one before this was a little tricky, but with my industry experts on hand, I got 85%! This made my 5000 word limited dissertation seem simple in comparison and I was well used to the format of a scientific report!
- Get a taste of corporate/industrial life – Working for a big company is a lot different to working in a university. Academia and industry work in very different ways and I’m glad I had the chance to see both before deciding which is best for me. Industry has a lot more of a ‘team’ feel, whereas academia can be more individual and isolated. During my placement year there were always things going on within the company, be it tai chi in the mornings, to the time we had a casino night in the restaurant, the huge Venetian-themed Christmas party and the Olympics event in the summer, which included fancy dress rounders and ‘It’s a Knockout’ obstacle course! You worked hard and you played hard!
- Money £££ – You will probably get paid quite well. I earned more as an undergrad placement student than I do now as a postgraduate and most of my furniture in my flat was bought with money I managed to save up from placement year, even with
Champagne Friday as a weekly tradition…
- No coursework or revision = Free Christmas/Summer– Best feeling ever to see everyone on facebook complaining about revision while you’re going to parties and enjoying the festivities. Of course, this is reversed the next year, but you can enjoy it while it lasts!
- Wild Parties– 60 students in a small town meant we had lots of house parties, and lots of nights out! As we were all earning, people weren’t adverse to going to more expensive cocktail places either, so it’s like fresher’s but with a LOT more class!
- Go and explore things– It wasn’t just parties though there was lots of culture too; Weekends free from work and more income meant we went on quite a few road trips, to the theatre, Ladies’ Day at Aintree Racecourse and even on holiday (twice)! Make the most of having time and money while it lasts and spending time with adventurous, like-minded people!
- Made friends for LIFE– People often worry about the friends they leave behind at uni when going on a placement year, but what about the friends you’re going to MAKE? We were all in the same position of not knowing anyone so everyone was really
friendly and making friends was easier even than at university! Now that we have all gone our separate ways, I am left with friends all over the world and I look forward to reunions with my old housemates to remember the good old days!
- You might even meet The One– Happened to me. Could happen to you. Just sayin’ 😉
- Because you’ll never know how great it could be until you jump in and go for it!
I’m not saying my experiences of placement year are the same as everyones, your
year will likely be very different from mine, in a different place with different people. You may well dislike your company, miss home or find it difficult to make friends, but what if you don’t? It’s up to you to decide whether to take the plunge and embrace what could be the best year of your life, if you give yourself a chance…