Third year is difficult. Everyone says so. It’s the year you have your final modules in which you have the last chance to boost your grades, the year you have to write a dissertation, the year you have to fit in all the last minute ’60 things to do in X city before you leave’. So obviously I decided that this year would be the perfect time to do a work placement as well.
Work Placements are essentially another way to say unpaid internship. The English department at my uni partners with a bunch of different organisations around the city and you have to apply like you would any job. Somehow my panic-fuelled insanity appealed to my interviewers and I started a placement at Writing East Midlands. I had a great time there and I learned a lot so I thought I would try and pass on some wisdom. It might be quite generic but I think it’s important to know anyway.
Disclaimer: I am just one person who did one work placement in a specific industry so this advice may not apply to your situation so listen/ ignore at will.
DO do a work placement if you can. You’ve probably already heard the spiel about work placements and internships giving you skills which will be useful somewhere in the future. This is certainly true for mine as the people behind my placement made a positive effort to allow me to try all sorts of new things. For example, I got to take part in the interviewing process for some volunteers. Did you know interviewers also get nervous? I didn’t before I actually had to ask someone a question and I began to overthink it. Do I sound encouraging enough? Did I smile enough? Did I smile too much? Wow, they sound like a cool person. Do they think I’m cool? Should I take more notes so they know I’m engaged in what they’re saying or will it look like I’m not paying attention and doodling? Now I’m not saying it was as bad as being the interviewee but it was more difficult than I had anticipated so the practice was good (also I apologise to all the interviewees, you were great)!
DON’T do a work placement in your third year. This is if you can avoid it. It was amazing while I was in the Autumn semester as I only had two modules and some dissertation research, so I had plenty of time to fill doing a day at my work placement. However, cut to Spring. I had three modules, my dissertation work which was becoming increasingly time pressured, and because of scheduling, I had to spread my placement over two days that meant instead of one day being lost, I lost two. Although it was manageable, towards the end I realised I was getting increasingly stressed about upcoming assessments and hadn’t seen my friends in forever. I don’t regret the placement at all but I would suggests for sanity’s sake doing one in your second year when you only have your modules and not the added pressure of a dissertation.
DO keep in touch with everyone. This is twofold. One, if your placement is in conjunction with a university department, keep the department informed of what’s going on. You don’t have to send daily emails with your progress or anything, just each semester send a little email to say that your still there and what you’re doing. This helps them help you and gives them something to tell the new people what they will be up to if they go for this placement. Two, keep in touch with the people you work with both while at the placement so they know where you’re at with projects and things, and after you leave as they are useful contacts to have if you want to get into the same industry.
DON’T sit around and wait for orders. This doesn’t mean you need to take the initiative 100% of the time (although its useful if you can sometimes) but literally just means don’t be scared to ask people if they have anything they need doing. Over the course of time I was given a lot of bits and pieces that needed catching up on each week, like admin for some short story competitions but at times I finished all of the tasks. Being unafraid to ask literally all the office if they have anything you need to do is very useful both for them and for you not being bored all the time. (Note: all the staff were in one room. There was only like 8 of us. It was cozy.)
DO ask about past projects. Show you actually paid attention! Also it’s good to see where your work went and to know it wasn’t just filed away somewhere but was actually useful.
DONT be afraid to speak up. We were in the first meeting I’d been in and I was taking minutes (which I actually don’t mind doing, I think I would be an excellent sonographer) and I thought of a point but because I had only been there a few weeks my brain was like ‘don’t rock the boat! These people have been doing this way longer than you, obviously they’ve already thought of this!’ But I spoke up and it wasn’t awful! Being the new person, you have a new perspective and can spot mistakes others overlook just because they’ve had to do these things a million times. Also this counts for break times when everyone is chatting about XYZ. Don’t feel like you have to just keep working and sit eating your lunch sadly. You are allowed to have an opinion.
DO offer to make tea. Even if like me you don’t like tea or coffee. They will soon realise you shouldn’t be trusted to make the tea and coffee but at least you made the effort so they can’t complain.
DON’T say no to free books. This is my work place specific but they were clearing out the shelves of the office and had SO MANY BOOKS they were giving away and that’s how I gained 4 new books which I would never have picked up otherwise.
Any questions, comments, advice of your own? Let me know!