If theres one thing that I regret from my undergraduate degree, its that I didnt take the opportunity to do a year in industry. A year in industry is where a student gets to go into the working field, whether at a research institute or a company, and work alongside experts for a year. This gives the student more experience of working in the field and allows them to gain skills outside of the undergraduate degree- something thats often advantageous when it comes to PhDs and jobs! So I asked those that have experienced years in industry for their opinions on whether they found that their placement did or didn’t help them with their future career, and what they gained from it. For those debating a year in industry and its benefits, heres what they have to say about it:
Nadia Hamilton, The University of Queensland, Australia.
I am the intern of the Visual ecology lab, a lab based at UQ in Brisbane which specialises in fish vision using behavioural experiments. I’m so grateful to have been able to do a year in industry as I’ve learnt so many skills that a 3-year marine biology degree wouldn’t cover. I’ve really enjoyed the practical side of my placement, being in labs, aquariums and being out in the field. It’s been so interesting to help with different experiments and get an insight to what it would be like to do your own research. I’m fortunate enough to now have my name on scientific papers due to being an extra set of hands to help with experiments. Everyone I’ve met here has been amazing and so invested in your development and how you can get more out of your placement year. The best way to get the most out of it is to be proactive and ask questions, ask if people need help, and if there’s anything you can do for them. Sometimes its easy to get stuck with textbook “intern” jobs that might not be so interesting, but I can guarantee every scientist has been in the same position at some point in their career. I’ve also really enjoyed the routine of working life and being able to switch off when you get home, rather than having the constant feeling of impending doom about the next assignment/essay/exam that’s due! I highly recommend anyone who is considering a placement to do it, I’ve made contacts with people I never would have met if I hadn’t come to UQ, and I’ve also had the opportunity to live in Australia for the year, which has been pretty sweet!
You can find Nadia on: Linkedin
Charlotte Jennings, IMEDEA, Mallorca.
I really enjoyed my placement and feel it benefitted me greatly. I worked primarily on a project called Jellypacts focusing on the socioeconomic impacts of jellyfish, in which we created an automatic detection system for jellyfish. I saw my section of this project from the start to the end, meaning I got a few days of field work, data analysis and academic writing- eventually resulting in a possible publication! Being an author on a published paper will put me in good standing for applying for post graduate courses. I’ve also been given the chance to work with other people at the institute on a variety of jobs, from removing fish stomachs to camera calibrations. Probably favourite part of this year in industry was getting to experience scientific diving. I learnt software I wouldn’t have had the chance to do during my degree such as CAL, EventMeasure (these software are primarily for the analysis of stereo camera imagery) and GIS. I feel that doing this placement has increased my confidence as I’ve moved to a country where I don’t speak the language and somehow survived. I strongly urge anyone considering a placement to do it! Even if you’re like me and can’t necessarily afford to go far afield- Erasmus funding for placements in Europe make it feasible. I feel this opportunity has increased my job prospects for the future, although it has been hard being away from friends and family, I know it will be worth it in the long run.
You can find Charlotte on: Linkedin
Alan Gaffey, Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, Bergen.
I work in the population genetics group as a lab engineer for the IMR in Bergen. There hasn’t been any negatives in terms of my future career, only massive positives. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my degree when I arrived but now I have more direction after gaining experience and useful skills in genetics. I’ve been taught and can now competently do the job of genetics engineer almost anywhere. I have gained lots of experience in lab techniques and also in the process of DNA isolation and analysis (by using PCR). I cant begin to imagine how many individual fish I’ve isolated and analysed – at least 20,000 individuals. Though I’ve also done lots of work manipulating data and creating complex graphs to demonstrate results. One of the best things about this year in industry, is that I’ve been given real responsibility. I was given control of a whole project where I looked at over 1200 individuals- Isolated and genotyped them all myself. Then presented the data in a series of graphs for a paper, which should be published with my name quite high in the list. To add to that I’ve also been given the genotyped results of another project with 20,000 individuals and I’ve been making graphs/writing reports for that. The takeaway message I suppose is that this placement has totally altered my career path- In fact its probably done 10x more for me than my actual degree.
You can find Alan on: Researchgate
Adam Chambers, Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
I secured my placement relatively late as I had reservations as to whether it was the best option for me, but I can now say that I am glad I went ahead with it. I have had the chance to develop my skills in time management, resource creation and communication, all while incorporating my taxonomy and species identification skills I have learnt from my Marine Biology & Coastal ecology course at Plymouth University. Although I have realised, I might like to pursue a different career path over my time at University. I am grateful for the opportunity to develop the skills I have been taught as part of my course as well as transferable skills in a research institute setting. Despite not necessarily wanting to remain in this industry, I would fully recommend taking on a placement year to learn those important workplace skills and potentially discover whether the industry is for you or not!
You can find Adam on: LinkedIn
Jessica Bailey, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), New Zealand.
This placement has taught me a lot about working in science, but arguably more about myself. As well as acquiring new skills, and building upon existing ones, I also surprised myself with qualities and skills I didn’t know I had. I have been given lots of responsibilities and freedom in my work here at NIWA, which has improved my self confidence greatly (but has also taught me to manage stress!). During my time here, I’ve been able to run my own research project looking at latitudinal variation in the litterfall and decomposition rates of NZ mangroves. I’ve also set up some plots at a couple of my sites as part of a global collaborative project run by Deakin University Blue Carbon Lab called Teacomposition. This involves lipton tea bags being used as a standard material for looking at decomposition rates in wetlands all over the world. This has enabled me to enhance both my practical fieldwork and lab-based research skills. I am so excited to put all of my learning into practice, and hopefully my experiences on this placement aid me in job searches and interview processes once graduation rolls around.
You can find Jess on: LinkedIn
Jake Edminston, James Cook University/ARC Centre of Coral Reef Excellence, Australia
I am currently coming to the end of my applied year in Australia where I have been working alongside researchers at James Cook University/ ARC Centre of Coral Reef Excellence. During my time here, I have been able to conduct fieldwork at Lizard Island addressing a variety of questions all under the umbrella of coral reef behavioural ecology. A large portion of this was working as Research Assistant to researchers from Canada investigating predator-prey interactions on coral reefs. More specifically, how juvenile reef fish (Pomacentridae spp.) learn about predators using chemical alarm cues and how this is being impaired by degraded coral environments. In addition to this, I was also involved in experiments investigating the effect of boat noise and micro plastics on the behavioural responses of coral reef fishes. From this work I was able to get my name on a couple of scientific publications which with a bit of luck, will be published throughout the next year.
This placement has benefitted me in my career by giving me valuable fieldwork experience as well as allowing me to get my name on scientific publications. Also, moving to the other side of the world has been an amazing experience
You can find Jake on: Researchgate