The most well-known type of placement is the year-long undergraduate industrial placement, sometimes called a sandwich placement as it is ‘sandwiched’ between the penultimate and final year of an undergraduate degree.
Industrial placements are considered the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of placements. This is because they link education theory to practice and develop other important employability skills over an extended period.
The range of placement opportunities available to undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates is now much greater. While placements such as sandwich years and CASE studentships (funding for PhD students incorporating a work placement at the co-funding industrial partner) are established parts of the educational landscape, other types of placement are possible.
Placements can range from a day or two of work-shadowing, to more complex opportunities involving job rotation across diverse technical and commercial roles, to shorter internships (e.g. 8 to 26 weeks) focused on developing specific expertise and skills.
What to consider
When considering the type of placement that is most appropriate for you, think about:
- The length of the placement types in relation to your own availability.
- The financial implications of different placement types. For example, a one-year sandwich placement at a large pharmaceutical company may pay £15,000+ per year while some university-funded graduate internships may pay around £200 per week to cover your basic subsistence expenses. A shorter shadowing type of placement might be unpaid.
- Your learning objectives for the placement and whether you think particular types of placement can support your technical and personal development.
Longer placements can allow for more significant learning outcomes but shorter intensive placements can also be very valuable.
For example, if you want to develop an understanding of commercial imperatives in the biosciences (rather than grow your portfolio of laboratory skills), a week spent shadowing a biotechnology company’s business development team will be interesting. Similarly, a three-month placement focused on high throughput drug screening or cell culture may be enough to prove to future employers that you have the appropriate skills for work in these technical areas.
Once you have decided to undertake an industrial placement, it is important to determine what kind of placement you want to do.
Benefits of Industrial Placements
From gaining work experience in your chosen industry to learning how to compose yourself in an interview; there are a huge number of benefits to carrying out an industrial placement. Here are just a few:
- Stand out from the crowd – In today’s increasingly competitive graduate job market, it is important to differentiate yourself. Work experience in the industry you want to go into will really help you to land a good graduate job.
- Gain industry specific skills – Apply your academic knowledge to real life situations.
- Earn a wage - A typical industry placement will pay around £15,000 per rata. This can help you learn to manage your money for when you graduate, or save up for that travelling trip you’ve been looking forward to.
- Experience real responsibility in a workplace – working in industry will allow you to develop work-related “soft” skills such as time-management, organisation and communication skills, all highly sought after by employers. It will also give you a real taste of working life – so it won’t be such a shock to the system after graduation!
- Improve your final year at University – Placement students often perform better in their final year, by giving inspiration for dissertations.
- ‘Test run’ your preferred career – A placement is the perfect opportunity for you to test whether your preferred career is actually for you.
- Develop contacts and network. This could lead to you being offered a graduate position in the same company!
- Gain experience of applying for jobs and attending interviews – The more interviews you go to, the less nervous you will be and better you are at them. Even if you do not get the job, this practice is excellent experience.