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.

My journey with UWE Equity Mentoring

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Mamadou Sow, Politics and International Relations student shares his experience of getting a BAME mentor and how it led to a dream internship

Through UWE Equity, I had the opportunity to be mentored by the Policy Advisor for the Mayor of Bristol, who provided me with a great deal of insight into how the mayoral office in Bristol functions and helped me to secure a placement with the International team.  

The International team promote Bristol throughout the world and liaise particularly with twinned cities, such as Hannover and Bordeaux.  This resulted in great opportunities to be involved in meetings within and outside the Mayor’s office where real issues were being discussed and decisions made.  I also had the opportunity to shadow the Mayor several times – particularly during his meetings with the UNHCR Ambassador and during visits to deprived areas.  The team allowed me to contribute as well -  I conducted research into events in Bristol and twinned cities to help with the promotional effort. 

The placement allowed me to develop, both as a professional and an individual. I now have a strong understanding of international relations and have developed an aptitude for research. I have found that I learn well in a business environment and am quick to understand new subjects.  I also discovered areas of weakness, such as my knowledge of how local government is involved internationally.  Another aspect I was unfamiliar with was the difference between academic and corporate styles of written communication.  I worked hard to correct these weaknesses and build on my strengths.

Apart from the opportunity to see real work in action, the primary benefit of a mentoring and placement programme is the acquisition of skills that are applied in that real environment, rather than those learned in just an academic environment.  Now the placement has ended, I can see how I have gained truly practical real career skills that are rarely considered, like the appropriate distribution of resources, how to manage my time effectively, project management and how to adapt my approach by shadowing others. I have also strengthened my language skills, adapting to use both English and French when collecting data from various sites. This technical skill will benefit me greatly in future work within international relations, as will the other transferrable skills I acquired.

When I first met with my mentor, I explained my career goals of entering international diplomacy and ultimately run for the presidency of my home country (Guinea).  I further explained that I had only started speaking English – as a third language – three years ago.  He was impressed by this and my ambitions.  Clearly, he had a strong idea of what would help me on this path because the placement has substantially increased my awareness of this dimension of politics, has granted me extraordinary opportunities to witness and to participate in these efforts whilst continuing to improve my language skills.  I have gained new contacts as well – people who are happy to support my continued development and will be useful in my career ahead. Overall, the placement really highlighted the value of good leadership.  Seeing how the Mayor and the councillors dealt with issues has made me even more certain of my career aims. 

The Kickstarter to my Career in Illustration

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Tomoko Nishida undertook an internship for Ying Adviser (Linkelite) as a Creative Marketing Intern.

The UWE International Talent Scheme has been a great opportunity for me. It was formative in kickstarting my career as a professional illustrator. My tasks were realistic and achievable, and I was able to make a real difference to the company. I learned how to conduct business in the UK, and developed marketable skills.

Pale pink Chinese lanterns in the background with the outlines of two pandas in the foreground, with the title Ying Advisers

I was placed at Ying Adviser, a start-up consultancy. Ying Adviser provides information about China and its culture, to businesses wishing to expand their presence in China. Prior to my assignment, their online presence was under-developed.

My brief as a Creative Marketing Intern was to help develop an online brand to their specification. The brand would demonstrate their business’s understanding of China. 

Following a successful video interview: the supervisor and I arranged to meet in a cafe to discuss the placement. She was one of the company’s two directors, and told me the story of their company. We were interested in each other’s culture, and so I was excited to draw Chinese illustrations for use on their website. My working hours were flexible: I would work 3 days per week, for 4 weeks. 

I characterised the company’s directors as pandas. I worked on the general idea of pandas having fun, and provided a range of sketches. I had a lot of freedom to decide what to make and how to make it. The brief specified that I would work in red and greyscale watercolour, to evoke a traditional Chinese style. 

Tomoko talking to other students at the Celebrating UWE Talent Awards

The use of humour was the core theme of the illustration. For example: pandas being fried in woks, or riding paper planes or hugging one another. I had to develop techniques for Chinese watercolour in a short time.  Adding elements of Chinese calligraphy helped me to give my illustrations an authentic feel. I tried to depict humour and a sense of momentum by using strong brush strokes. Combining these new techniques broadened my perspective of painting and brushwork.  

This work experience gave me an opportunity to develop Photoshop skills, which directly improves employability. I have gained confidence in using Photoshop in a professional way. 

Once a week, I would work with my supervisor at her house. The rest of the time, I worked from home. This developed my self-management – a skill essential for any illustrator. I would write a daily report on what work I’d produced, and what my plans were for the next shift. The directors emailed me regular and useful feedback. 

I recognise that I would benefit from pursuing experience in a creative team, to complete my professional profile. It is important to learn from a teacher or fellow professional. 

The creative techniques and organisational skills that I honed during this internship, are already proving useful for my 3rd year personal project, and I have confidence that they will help me toward my dream of illustrating children’s books professionally.


The International Talent Internship Scheme provides you with a paid short-term work opportunity over the summer. Internships are a great way to experience the professional workplace and develop your skills.  

If you would like to find out more about International Talent Internships, then do get in touch on InternationalTalent@uwe.ac.uk.

Learning Science Ltd

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Ryan Cornwell, Biomedical Sciences at UWE Bristol, reflects on his internship for Learning Science Ltd as a Learning Resource Development Intern.

My work varied from Beta testing learning science resources, to reading and expanding my knowledge on scientific techniques and even creating my own learning science resource that will be seen in multiple universities across England. 

This is one of the best things I could have done to support my degree. I was met with interesting and varied work daily with the added benefit that no two days were the same. Work was never overwhelming as I had a solid support network provided by my work colleagues. I can’t recommend Learning science enough and the same for the internship scheme.

“We have gained hugely from having a student on the team who can provide real insight into learning needs and challenges.” Ryan’s manager found his knowledge and support invaluable. Following his internship, Ryan has been asked to continue working for Learning Science on an adhoc basis.  

You can read more about Ryan’s experience on the Learning Science Blog


Taking part in the UWE Bristol Undergraduate Scheme 

The UWE Bristol Undergraduate Scheme 2020 has now launched and is a brilliant way to gain work experience for your CV and earn some money over the Summer. This year internship opportunities will be offered online. For more details visit the Internships website

My Volunteering Journey into Public Health

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Whilst studying Biological Sciences at UWE Bristol, Emma Sheeran has used valuable volunteering experiences to shape her career goals

My experience with the Royal Voluntary Service as a Befriender has been invaluable, not only due to the friendship I have formed with my client Gwen, but also by developing my skill set and helping me to focus my goals towards a career centred around improving healthcare services. 

I was drawn to working with the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) when I learnt about the history of the organisation, which was previously known as the Women’s Voluntary Service. They are committed to tackling social challenges by supporting hospitals and communities nationally.

How did your volunteering journey begin?

I initially supported as a Home from Hospital volunteer with Gwen, an elderly woman to support her re-adjustment to life following one month in hospital with Pneumonia. I then moved in to a Befriender role so I could continue visiting Gwen, as we had developed a strong bond. We have been seeing each other weekly ever since. 

Gwen lacked confidence to go out alone on shopping trips, or to doctors appointments. My visits ensured she would leave the house at least once a week to get essentials, lift her mood, and exercise.  Her health was a common obstacle to her independence, on one occasion I had to call an ambulance and remain with her in hospital for the day as she became suddenly unwell before making it to the shops.

Especially around the time of her poor health, my support gave her reassurance and encouragement to leave her home. Working with Gwen improved my communication skills, as well as emotional resilience as I learnt not to dwell on or take home concerns about Gwen from our visits.

My experience of the NHS with Gwen, like the consequences of their successes and failures in her particular case, inspired me greatly to commit to pursuing a career in public health. 

Where did your volunteering experience take you next?

The RVS was the first organisation I had volunteered with in Bristol, so taking encouragement from the impact and enjoyment of my work with RVS, I began furthering my volunteer experiences.

I became a mentor for refugees and asylum seekers with Borderlands. I designed and conducted a study into student experiences accessing sexual health services with Healthwatch. And I wrote strategy plans for the African Health Organisation. 

I had a long time ambition to learn Arabic to aid my career in global health; focusing on Middle Eastern regions. Last year I was accepted onto an Arabic course at Tel Aviv University. To fund the course fees and accommodation, I applied for, and was granted, the WRVS Benevolent Trust Youth Bursary. (Volunteering over 50 hours with the RVS meant Emma was eligible to apply for this fund towards her career development.)

This greatly contributed to further opportunities, including a successful application to a Global Health Summer School with IPPNW/Charité in Berlin:  Health Between Ethics and Economisation.

What’s your next steps?

Both by building my skills for the future and experience within my own community through volunteering, my role as a Befriender and the Arabic course work as examples of my commitment to a career in improving health. This has now led to an opportunity extended to a position on the organising team of the next Global Health Summer School: Migration and Health 2019. 

Celebrating UWE Talent Award winners on the stage
Due to her fantastic efforts to develop her career goals Emma was runner up for the ‘Volunteer of the Year Award’ at Celebrating UWE Talent 2019

So, you’re studying towards a career in construction…

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UWE Student, David Slade, talks about his placement experience at Midas Group

Whether you’ve found it to be a weighty decision or you’ve always known that it’s for you, there’s no better way to refine and gain confidence in your short term career plan than securing a promising work placement with a reputable company. 

David talks about the experience he’s gained so far at the Midas Group, one the UK’s largest independent construction and property services companies. 

Midas staff and students sitting around a table doing a training exercise.
Midas training session, photo by Neil Phillips

“My time at Midas has been a great experience where I feel I have learnt a vast amount. I’ve found it really beneficial to have worked at different stages within a project that I may not have had exposure to elsewhere. I’ve also been lucky enough to work for different companies within the group, including Midas Construction and Mi-space.”

“I recently visited the site of a new Jaguar Land Rover dealership in Bristol and I got to see the scale of a large project with more than 200 people on site. I am currently working for Mi-space, where I have been able to gain insight into the residential and property services side of the business. This included a recent visit to our award-winning Primrose Park project in Plymouth, where I learnt a great deal and got a glimpse into the future of housing schemes in terms of sustainability.”

“I look forward to learning more in my role at Midas.” 

Joe Exley, University of Plymouth student, is also completing a work placement year with Midas: “For me, this first-hand experience has been invaluable. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I look forward to continuing my placement and applying what I’ve learned so far in the workplace and in my final year of uni.”

Midas placement student learning the role, photo by Neil Phillips
Midas placement student learning the role, photo by Neil Phillips

“I’ve visited five sites and completed a lot of practical training so far, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet colleagues in health and safety, operations and HR.  I’ve gained good insight into how Midas operates as a company.”

Many students who complete a placement year with Midas have gone on to be offered a graduate trainee position upon completion of their degree, providing the confidence to return to university with the security of a job offer with a company they work well with. 

Midas is always looking for graduates to join its growing business in fields such as Quantity Surveying, Site Management, Estimating, Planning and Design Management.  Look out for work placement opportunities on the Midas website.


If you are inspired by David’s experience come find out about your placement options .