Making the most of your summer…

…by Emma / from Leeds / studies Medicine / 5th year (UG)

Part of my placement with the Medical Research Council in Nottingham

The summer holidays of students have long been coveted and it’s easy to see why when we have anything from a three to four month break each year. That being said, a season spent in front of the TV isn’t necessarily the most productive occupation and loses its appeal by the time you’re a month in. Making the most of your summer break is actually really important in providing you with an opportunity to show potential employers that you’re interested in working in their sector, as well as providing you with a great experience. If you have no idea what you want to do as a career, it can also give you the chance to explore different industries.

Now in my 5th year of study, I’ve had plenty of vacations to fill and I’ve packed my summer with many different experiences. A few years ago I had a placement with the Medical Research Council in Nottingham where I worked as part of a team of scientists who were studying learning behaviours related to audition. Luckily I secured funding and so spent a summer exploring a new city and making new friends, without being out of pocket.

In this month’s blog I’ll be giving you some advice on how to snag the best research placements! I hope through this post that I’m able to inspire you to both try something different and enjoy a jam packed summer that you won’t forget!

So why not try an internship/ research placement?

By the time I reached the end of my first year summer break I was already planning what to do with my second year vacation. In truth, during my first year I was so busy getting to grips with uni life, making friends and trying to get into the swing of exams, that summer crept up on me. It’s a fact that if you hope to secure a summer research project that comes with funding, you do need to start looking early. Many funding deadlines are scheduled between December and March so doing your research in the first semester can ensure that you get a fair shot at them. Whilst I missed out during my first summer, I was ready and prepared for the next. To find out how I did it, listen up!

Firstly you need to do a bit of research. What topics interest you? Is there an area of your degree you’ve wanted to explore in more detail? When you have a subject matter in mind, get googling! Look for researchers who share your passion, find their academic/ professional profiles and start emailing them/tweeting them/in-boxing them on LinkedIn. Most of the time such professionals will be so thrilled that a vibrant young mind like yourself is engaged with their work and so they’ll do everything they can to tailor-make a great summer project for you! That being said there are a few things you can do to make that a realistic outcome.

  1. Keep an up-to-date CV. Include previous experience in project work inside and outside your degree.
  2. Schedule a meeting with the University Careers Service. Ask them to take a look over your CV, they know what makes a good CV outstanding! They may also offer a mock interview if you’re trying for an internship.
  3. Read about the experts that you’re hoping to work with. Not only to look like you know what you’re talking about, should you be offered an interview, but also to make sure you really like the projects that they are involved in.
  4. Tailor the email to the supervisor/employer. If you’re applying for a research placement this is particularly important. Tell them why you like their work, why you want to work with their organisation (I.e. Specialist techniques that they use or sectors that they target) and what skills would make you the best candidate.
  5. Don’t limit yourself. It’s easy to restrict yourself to Edinburgh or your home town when looking at potential summer placements. If you want to maximise your chances, be open to looking at different universities and different countries. Edinburgh is a global university and that’s one of its greatest attributes, so why not continue the diverse experiences you can have as a student during your summer break too?
  6. Apply for external funding. Sometimes you may secure a great placement but the organisation/institute just doesn’t have the funds to support you. If this happens, don’t give up hope. Look to charities (I.e. Action on hearing loss, British heart foundation etc.) and governmental organisations (I.e. Fulbright) for opportunities. Often you need to have secured a supervisor/placement at the time of application but not always! Edinburgh University also have a great Go Abroad Fund which supports students if they take part in any internships/ placements abroad, as well as the national Erasmus+ scheme that the university is allied to.
  7. Make a great impression. If and when you secure a summer placement, make the most of it. It can lead to great opportunities if you shine during your time with the company or institution. Speaking from personal experience, I was offered a PhD based largely on my performance and the work I produced during my summer studentship with the Medical Research Council. In the end it wasn’t for me, but it was a fantastic honour to be selected!
  8. After your placement it’s important to think about what went well and what didn’t. Doing this at the time will also provide a more honest account and help you when deciding future experiences. It’s also okay if the placement didn’t go as expected. Ultimately it’s better to find out that something’s not right for you now than when you graduate!

However you choose to spend your summer, use your time wisely. This is just one way you can sell yourself to future employers. Of course there are a range of experiences waiting for you out there and in my blog post next month I’ll be looking at how to get yourself involved in volunteer trips and cultural exchanges. Stay tuned!

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