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. 

Confidence, Coding and Challenges: My NMI Placement

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Rob Barclay, Computer Science student from UWE Bristol, talks about his placement year at NMI

Throughout university, we are constantly told by tutors and professors that a work placement offers the most valuable experience of working in the ‘real world’, along with all the invaluable industry knowledge it brings. I’m happy to say that they couldn’t have been more right!  

I was aware of the close links NMI had with our university via previous students having had both fun and successful placements there, so it was highly recommended as a great place for me to get this valuable ‘real world’ experience. I saw that the company was creating real impact within the payment industry, processing millions of transactions yearly. 

How I went about finding a placement

First and foremost I had to show the company I wanted to work there. I sent in my CV and completed an online ‘code challenge’. The final stages of the process was a phone interview followed by a face to face interview.  

I would say that the best tip for an interview is to be as prepared as possible, this shows that you have a genuine interest in the company and learning new skills. I did loads of research and made sure I could really express why I was so keen to seize the opportunity!  

When I was offered the placement I immediately accepted the offer. Like all new jobs it seemed daunting at first. However, the company couldn’t have been more welcoming.  The team made me feel really relaxed along with a buzz that made me feel I wanted to work there.  From being able to dress casually to free fruit, and breakfast on a Wednesday.

What I did at NMI …

I joined the platform team, a group of 6 people; a team lead, four developers and one tester. All focusing on developing the central processing layer which is the fundamental server powering all our products and services. 

After some initial training, I was assigned my first task. This involved setting up the CI (continuous integration) for one of the company’s new flagship products. This is widely used within the software development industry as a whole is not touched at university. This experience has shown that it is necessary to have for my future career.  

I always felt in control of my workload and whilst the work was challenging, I always knew I was only ever expected to work to the best of my ability and I was able to ask for assistance.

Working life at NMI… 

Being surrounded by industry professionals helped increase my coding skills exponentially and complemented what I learned at university. I felt extremely supported by the team. It was also satisfying to be able to work on other projects where I could take the skills that I had picked up in my lectures and practicals, adapt them to the scope of the problem in front of me and create a solution that will potentially be used by thousands of people. It was an unexpected but great experience to know that I was making such a difference from the get-go. 

I have also had the chance to partake in company-wide presentations, cross-team meetings and representing the company to future candidates at UWE careers fair. All helping me increase my confidence and communication; both vital skills required in any industry.  

By adapting to a full-time job, focussed specifically on the field that I study, has given me a massive confidence boost for my final year, and future jobs to come. As previously mentioned, doing a placement is an invaluable experience and I’ve really enjoyed my time at NMI so far.  

I thoroughly recommend anyone considering doing a placement year to just go for it! 


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Placement Life at the Green Party

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By UWE Bristol Geography Student, Monique Taratula-Lyons

I debated about doing a placement for most of my first year of university. When I began my second year, I was determined to find one. There is a mix of reasons why. I wanted to throw myself into a new experience to give myself time to research ideas for my future.

My first day…

The first day of my placement at the Brighton & Hove Green Party was very special as I meet Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP in the UK. When I met her, I felt very honoured and excited. I supported her and the Young Green society at Sussex university fresher’s fair. It turned out to be a very memorable first day.  
 
Not such a typical day…

The most unexpected event that has occurred was the sudden rush of organising for the General Election. We only had five weeks to prepare so there was a lot of work to be done. I mainly helped out with a Crowdfunder campaign, in which we raised over £18,000, and organising volunteers for polling day. Both of these tasks were integral to ensuring that the general election went smoothly on the day. The importance of the task was exciting, but also required patience as they were time consuming and therefore required a lot of focus. 
 
My learning curves…

Pretty early on in my placement I was given the responsibility of drafting and sending our monthly update email to tell our members and supporters what we had been up to. This was a great responsibility and an opportunity to represent the party in the best light. I did research for the content, chose the layout and selected the pictures. I made sure to have my draft email reviewed by colleagues and took on board any advice or comments they had. Once the email was approved it was sent to roughly nine thousand people! I was definitely out of my comfort zone in doing this task but ended up really enjoying it in the end as it taught me to have confidence in my writing and research.   

I would say the biggest challenge is answering the office phone. It sounds like such an easy task, but I am not used to speaking on the phone in a professional context and the phone typically rings when I am not expecting it. I have not had previous experience of this kind of work, but with each new call I am overcoming my fear and increasing in confidence each time. 

Finding my placement..

At first, I felt overwhelmed about applying for placements; I was not sure if I would be able to find one or not and was uncertain in which sector that I wanted to gain experience in. I decided to try researching and applying for a variety of roles before I decided whether to commit to a placement year. I started my search by speaking to lecturers, doing research online and emailing any companies that worked in areas that interest me and hoped for a reply. In January I received a reply from The Brighton & Hove Green Party asking questions about what sort of placement I was looking for. This for me was a turning point. However, the whole process of actually confirming my placement didn’t happen until summer as it was important to ensure that the role the party offered me would fit with the requirements of a placement year.   

I sent over my CV and offered to send over any university work I had done. I also had two telephone interviews. I was asked a few questions about what skills I could bring, my passions and also a general conversation of what the placement may look like. Before my placement began, I popped into the office to say hello and ask any questions. 

My advice would be

It is worth trying and exploring placements as an option. Just send out a few emails; you never know what could happen. If you really want a placement, don’t give up. Speak to lecturers, ask about what past students have done and if you can speak to them. Remember not put too much pressure on yourself as trying to balance assignments with placement searches isn’t easy. Most importantly, you aren’t alone in the search so never be afraid to ask. 

There have been many times which I felt daunted by the prospect of doing a placement but now I am very glad that I went for it; sometimes it is important to take a different path to enjoy the reward of that experience. 


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