How my experience with pro bono work has impacted my career journey

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Kashif Imambaccass, UWE Law Student, shares his experience of pro bono work at UWE

My interest in pro bono was initially piqued in my first year and I ended up joining in my second year, after using Blackboard to compare different pro bono opportunities and attending the Pro Bono talk. It was there I heard about African Prisons Project Pro bono group. I was immediately impressed by the work that they do and the impact that they have on the justice system in Africa. They teach inmates in African prisons how to access justice by assisting them in undertaking Law degrees remotely. I approached Kelly Eastham and Nakita Hedges, who were involved in the leadership of the group at the time, and asked if I could take a leadership role as I had had prior involvement in social activism in Mauritius. They agreed and at the start of 2019, I began having meetings with them on strategy and formed the three subgroups – fundraising, media and blogs and teaching. We also nominated leaders for each individual group and I was nominated to lead the teaching group.

Working with the group was amazing – our faculty contact Kathy Brown was the backbone of the organization and has motivated us to develop the organization further after handing over the group to us. We invited new members across the university to get involved and organized both a bake sale and a book collection for our students in Kenya.

In January of 2020, our group had grown significantly, with 70 new members. We had also started developing podcasts to support the learning of the inmates. We were also beginning to plan for the visit of Morris, one of APP’s graduates who had been wrongfully sentenced to life for aggravated armed robbery. We set up a visit at UWE on the 10th of February for him to give a talk, which ended up being so successful that we ran out of space in the lecture hall. Morris spoke about his fight for freedom and how he has freed over 300 inmates since.

His talk sparked a lot of interest and APP was invited to a dinner at Lincoln’s Inn in London, along with Morris. I was able to network with judges, barristers and solicitors who were intrigued by APP’s work. We also set up a fundraising event at a local pub a few weeks after, raising over £300.

And then Covid-19 hit. I had to leave the UK on the 16th of March. The borders were closing and the airports were insanely busy. Luckily, we were able to continue our work with APP and adapted our work to provide remote learning over Zoom. All of our current tutees passed with flying colours. With our fundraising money from March, we were able to make bail for four female minor offenders. We also received some sponsorship from the law firm, RPC, at this time.

Despite the barriers posed by working in different time zones and trying to navigate social activism in a new world, APP continued to thrive. In fact, we began to rebrand APP as EFJ – Educating for Justice, a completely independent non-profit. We broadened our offer as a group and began to work with inmates in more communities. We have been working with Justice Defenders and have established a subgroup at Oxford University. As chairperson of EFJ, I have been responsible for liaising with all of our affiliates, as well as assisting with launching our new initiatives, in particular our programme based in Mauritius working with juvenile offenders.

Overall, pro bono has opened so many doors for me. Through my work with EFJ, I have been able to secure a mini-pupillage with the Directors of Public Prosecutions Office under Mr Santokee. Through this role, I have been involved in research work, bundling and court prep and juggling EFJ, a pupillage and university feels like great preparation for a career as a barrister. I could not recommend pro bono work enough to any Law student looking to develop skills for a career in the legal industry.

For more about EFJ, go to https://educatingforjustice.org.uk/.

How my placement at UWE has been a transformational year

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Jennifer Yau, Law with Criminology Student shares her experience of undertaking a placement year within the UWE Careers and Enterprise Department

Whilst looking to undertake a placement year, I never thought to look at internal roles within the university. I was surprised to find that the Careers and Enterprise Department had recently started recruiting placement students. But it turns out, this is the position that you should really want – to acquire all the skills you learn, the flexibility to embark on your own projects and genuinely transform yourself into a confident individual. 

I loved my placement year- everything was well balanced whilst I was working simultaneously on two teams – Study Abroad and Placement Management. The teams were very supportive and were accommodating, giving me the freedom to carry out my own projects and collaborate with others- such as promotional and marketing ideas. I was able to develop my employability skills; for instance, enterprise and digital competency whilst creating Sway workbooks, website updates and blogs. It was great to work on a team which was friendly and very inclusive- even though we were temporary staff, I had set daily goals; for example, carrying out reporting and sending data to the marketing team on Thursday. 

Through my own initiative, I got involved with the “Mentorship” and “Reading Buddies” programmes run by UWE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity team for the charity Ablaze. The mentorship program included developing workshops and learning materials to support students from 12-15 years old in local schools, helping them to understand their options and keep engaged with school and allowed me to work collaboratively with colleagues from other departments at UWE. I mentored for the first time ever – this was an incredible experience in helping young adults open their eyes to a wide range of careers and skills available. One highlight was running the “minute meditation” and the silent wave in the room as the students genuinely concentrated. The other program focussed on one-to-one reading support to primary school children, helping to achieve Bristol’s ambition of ensuring that all children can read fluently by age 11. This was also a first for me, it felt great to support pupils and help them improve their confidence and ability to converse with someone out of their normal social circle. Their experience deeply resonated with me as I come from a Chinese household where English was rarely spoken and it felt great to give back by helping a child to develop their reading and speaking skills. 

I have really improved my transferrable skills and I am really ecstatic to have improved my communication skills especially proactively speaking in public whilst running the stand at “Meet the employers fair” and “Placement Week”. I had the freedom to attend the wide range of learning and development courses where I also made further connections with wider UWE staff network- this has been amazing! The team were very trusting, especially Frances and Rachel where I was the lead point for the marketing of Placements’ Week, the “Covid-19” student comms also the Study Abroad resources project- these projects all helped me diversify and improve my skills- from tech to communication. 

This placement year has helped me transform into a more confident and enterprising individual, mostly I enjoyed helping my peers embarking on their own careers in search for placements through coordinating weekly drop-ins and answering questions consistently for hours at the “Meet the Employers Fair”. 

Many students have embarked on a placement year within UWE in a range of departments and now the Library, Careers and Inclusivity service. I felt honoured to be one of the first placement students within the Careers and Enterprise department and special thanks to my team for always being wonderfully helpful and flexible.  

For anyone looking for a placement opportunity, these are extraordinary transition points in your life – you transform into a more productive and resilient individual. This is a year to not only gain professional experience but also an opportunity to network and to get involved. Remember to take the initiative and get the most from your placement year! 

My work with Bristol Parks

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Dodeye Omini, Environmental Consultancy MSc Student from UWE Bristol, shares his experience of undertaking a Placement with Bristol Parks during a pandemic.

As an MSc student in Environmental Consultancy, a placement is a requirement for the award of my degree. Therefore, after completing the compulsory coursework, it was time to get a placement. I applied to as many places as I could, but they would always have a reason to turn down the application. I got frustrated, but I remained hopeful that I would find the right placement.

I attended events like the Bristol City Green Mingle on the advice of Ian Brook and Joe Barnes who supported me through the process and encouraged me to network. I attended one of the mingles and networked with employers and employees. Luckily, I met Katherine Philips whilst I was there, the Learning and Development Advisor for the Climate Change Department at Bristol City Council. She recommended a couple of organisations and opportunities that I should look into. One of these organisations was Bristol Parks who had a voluntary conservation position available.

The internship was focused on forestry conservation, particularly the conservation of the Ash tree. I was responsible for assisting in surveying the Ash tree, a species which has been marked for extinction in the future, as a result of the disturbing ash dieback disease. Bristol Parks are aiming to protect the Ash trees present in reserves and parks throughout the city to prevent the complete eradication of this species in Bristol. By surveying the trees, we will assess the status of the tree canopy to see if the disease has affected it or not before the tree officers will advise the council on the appropriate action to take.

The next phase, and most interesting, is the green area survey. Most of the green areas in Bristol are used either as parks or as growing areas for hay production. This survey will assess the species richness of the sites under our jurisdiction, consider the habitat type of the sites and send in a report to the City Council. This will inform the council if the surveyed sites need improvement and what steps can be taken to improve them.

Throughout the placement, I was able to develop my understanding of ecology, specifically UK habitat classification. After I’d completed it, I felt far more competent in classifying the type of habitat by the grass and tree species on site. I am also more aware of which species are local to the UK and which are from different regions and have found that I can name plants more quickly. After working in the parks, I decided to focus on the Ash tree for my dissertation and feel that, although I had studied it prior to my placement, I am now able to include a practical view in my writing.

I feel very fortunate because I managed to secure my placement prior to the lockdown. However, I could not start because we could not meet for a proper briefing of my role and we also were not able to gain access to parks because of government restrictions. Overall, there was a slow start and travel restrictions affected the pace of work. 

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my placement. I feel that my understanding of ecology is stronger now than it was before I undertook my placement and that I have gained a stronger sense of community whilst working in different areas of Bristol.

What Happens After Graduation?

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Opus Talent Solutions share their insights on how to get your first graduate role

You’re finally a graduate. You’ve completed your studies and, as someone’s bound to tell you, the world’s your oyster. Yet oysters can be tricky to get into, even if you’ve done your research and come to the table prepared. 

Finding your first graduate role can be challenging. Whether you have a highly specific career path in mind, or you’re simply overwhelmed by the options available, it’s not unusual to feel a little lost at this stage. 

Fortunately, once you find your feet, the prospect of searching for your first ‘proper job’ will quickly become a lot less intimidating. Ultimately, you need to play to your strengths, be proactive in your search, and be prepared to acknowledge and challenge your weaknesses. 

Focus on what makes you uniquely suitable for the role in question – don’t be afraid to talk yourself up!

Your degree will form a huge part of your CV, so it’s important to highlight the key elements of your studies that will showcase your skills, particularly those that may not be immediately apparent.  For example, a mathematics degree may demonstrate your ability to handle complex problems with abstract reasoning, while pharmacology might imply attention to detail and a methodical approach. 

You probably have a limited work history, likely in unrelated areas to your studies, but if you can write a few lines that show development in each role, i.e. “I learnt how to X, Y and Z, and took on extra responsibility for 1, 2, 3”, you’ll be setting yourself apart from the competition. 

Honesty about your ability and achievements demonstrates that you’re capable, forthright, and confident in your strengths; all attractive attributes as far as employers are concerned. 

From my experience of talking to thousands of grads, I’d say 90% of them never once visited their university careers office… why?! 

Trained professionals are sat, waiting for someone to knock on the door, so they’ll be super keen to impart their wisdom and point you in the right direction. Make the most of them while you still can!

While you’re at it, don’t forget to toggle-on “open to new opportunities” on your LinkedIn account. You can find this under the privacy tab of your account settings. To make it easier for recruiters to find you.

Seek out your ideal opportunities and directly approach organisations – even if they’re not currently advertising for graduates. 

Critically, you should not expect a graduate role to simply fall into your lap. No matter how talented you are, employers also want to know that you are passionate, driven, and independent. Show your initiative by actively pursuing internships and placements.

Your ideal role may not exist at the time you go looking for it. However, this does not mean you can’t create it. By taking control of your search, and being open to a range of options, you give yourself a far greater chance of getting your foot in the door. 

Then you can begin to accrue industry experience, build trust with your employer, and crucially begin to carve out a niche within the organisation. Over time, this may enable you to develop your role into one that is more in line with your ambitions, or use it as a stepping stone to the next stage of your career. 

The confidence, professionalism and sense of achievement you feel after completing a placement is incredible. It gave me an insight into opportunities and inspired me to reach my highest potential.
Eleanor Jayne Elizabeth, OPUS placement student.

The fundamental thing to remember is to tailor your communications to each individual company, showing you’ve done your homework, have a clear understanding of their business, and are serious about making a good impression. 

Foster Connections 

Not every application can be a success. However, every attempt is a learning experience, and a chance to add to your professional network on LinkedIn. 

For example, if you’re turned down due to a lack of available opportunities, or your role is only temporary, encourage these connections to get in touch if something suitable comes up in the future. Similarly, you might ask them to recommend you should they hear of someone else looking for a graduate with your skillset. 

Don’t be afraid to give something new a shot

Remember, this is just the first stage of your career, so don’t lose hope if the perfect role doesn’t immediately materialise. In the meantime, everything you do will increase your experience, enabling you to develop new skills and expand your portfolio.   A varied background demonstrates your versatility, and willingness to adapt. Plus, you may even discover a new calling along the way. 


Why not check out the international graduate scheme offered by Opus Talent Solutions? The two-year intensive training program provides opportunities in London, Bristol, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, New York, and Sydney. 

51 Months Later – back in the life with Zircon…

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By Juan Acosta Fisco, Graduate and Software Engineer at Zircon Software

My name is Juan and I am a software engineer at Zircon Software. The title of this post is related to my previous blog post for Zircon (Ten Months in the Life …, available on the company website). As one might expect, a lot has changed in that time, not least my academic progression from undergraduate to graduate and making my way back to Zircon. The focus of this post will be to compare my perspective from back then with the one I hold now. 

As a placement student at Zircon, you spend a lot of time learning. Concretely in my case I learned the languages Python, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and SQL; got to grips with object oriented programming and threading; and acquired skills in web development and database management.

As a graduate, the training-working balance is shifted somewhat towards the latter, but I am pleased to report that I am still learning, having now also added Java & C# to my repertoire as well as developing experience with messaging patterns and Xamarin Forms. Furthermore, Zircon takes a proactive approach in ensuring you are continually improving your skillset, building in time for training and suggesting development routes. 

The cohesive and supportive work environment at Zircon continues. Some faces have changed, due to the period of time I was away to finish up my degree. However many are still here and the office culture that has proved so conducive to Zircon’s success prevails, curated and maintained by all those privileged to form a part of it. 

In my previous post I touched on Zircon’s tangible ambition and hunger for success, well it seems like once you have a taste for it nothing else will do. Zircon has roughly doubled in terms of staff numbers and turnover since then, and continues to aim higher. Regular in-house communication and coordination ensures that we are all striving for, and ultimately achieving, this common goal. 

Coming back in a graduate capacity has offered up fresh new challenges which I didn’t experience as a placement student. I work much more closely with clients, auditors and project managers to deliver high quality software. I have had excellent guidance in navigating these new challenges and have not just acquired new professional skills, useful in any context, but have also become a more complete software engineer. 

As a placement student I discussed the excitement and motivation that comes with the opportunity to work on a product to be deployed and used regularly in the real world, by real users, for a real application. Upon graduating I wanted to return as Zircon is always keen on acquiring new customers and breaking into new markets. I have also had a chance to do something I didn’t predict; revisit a past project. 

The product I worked on as a placement student is live and stable, with continuing enhancements as new requirements come in. The opportunity to revisit this work was very gratifying, like catching up with an old friend. As I come to the end of this post, I feel like this is perhaps the best and closest metaphor to how I feel about my experience here as a graduate versus a placement student, a feature enhancement.