Back to School Special: One thing I wish I’d done as an Undergrad…

…by Bérengère / from France / PhD Psychiatry / 5th Year

In case there are Undergrads out there reading this blog (unrealistic expectation), this post is for you.

**Read the following post with an old lady’s quavering voice**

You’re starting a new year of your undergrad degree, and you think you have all the time in the world before having to figure out what you’ll be doing in the next chapter of your life.

Oh, sweetheart, you’re so wrong.

And so was I (I mean I’m still very wrong regarding so many things, including my life choices like…you know…“Doing PhD seems like a brilliant idea”).

If you’re like me, you’re majoring in Procrastinating about the Future.

One day I was a naïve student in the middle of my undergrad, the next I got slapped in the face by the end of the Master’s degree and the non-existent plan for my career.

(And that’s how you end up doing a PhD. See how dangerous this can be?!)

Don’t let this happen to you.

Do not repeat my mistakes.

Do a placement.

In most Universities around the UK, undergrads have at least 4 months of holiday each year. 4 — F*cking — months. That’s more holiday than you need (To give you an idea, currently in 2018 I’ve had 2 weeks of holiday) so make the most of it!

If there’s one thing I regret from my undergrad, it’s not having done placements. In my training, the first mandatory placement in a lab was in the 1st year of the Master’s (which lasts 2 years in France). Before this placement in Master 1, I had virtually no idea what it was like to do research. In my Uni we “just” had 2 months of holiday in the summer, so each year I worked for a month (one day I’ll tell you about my former life as a lingerie sales girl) and holidayed for a month.

Would I be doing a PhD now if I had done placements in companies related to my interests? Probably not. Would this path have been better? I will not answer that.

Of course you need money, of course you need time off, but believe me, you also really really need to get relevant experience for your post-uni life.

If you know what you want to do, try it out! Even by just observing what it’s like to work in the field, and just interacting with people who have the job you’re interested in, you’ll be able to tell if this idea is worth pursuing or if it’s clearly not for you.

(For most of my childhood I thought I wanted to become a vet. Five days at the vet clinic when I was 14 were enough for me to understand I would never be a vet.)

The point is, you can’t know for sure before you try it out, and it’s better to try it out with something nice and consequence-free like a placement.

If you don’t know what to do, don’t postpone that decision and try everything while you can! Even if it’s just to cross potential leads off the list, every experience counts.

This internship experience can take many forms. You could intern in something obviously linked to your field, a company or a lab, but you can try so much more. Charities, NGO, governmental structures, think wide! You could even find something abroad to also travel while doing your placement. These positions probably won’t be paid, but they are often the necessary 1st step towards a paid internship.

It goes without saying, these holiday placements will bring you so much more than just the knowledge of whether you would enjoy working in that field.

You will learn skills that will be extremely useful for the rest of your degree, you will meet people who can help you define where you want to go, and help you get there. Also, this little line on your CV will be proof that you are truly keen to try things and learn.

Whatever your goal and your interests are, you can get there. University is helping you, but not just with its courses. Between the societies, the network, and the large amount of time it leaves you outside of your courses, it gives you the tools and space for you to find your own way. You just have to give it a go.

(Even if it means giving up some holidays.)

Be generous to your future self, do a placement.

Sincerely,

-Bérengère


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