Every year, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) employs around 45 sandwich students, based at three sites across the UK. The Sandwich Student Scheme offers undergraduates the chance to take a year out from their respective degree courses in order to use and develop the skills they've acquired at university within a working environment.
As August arrives, the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source begins the transition period where previous industrial placement students are finishing up, whilst new students are beginning to settle in. What better time than this to sit back and reflect over the past year, the skills gained, the friendships forged and the memories made.
As a placement student who has spent the past year working in Science Communication, I have been exposed to so many fantastic opportunities, gained a lot of valuable experience and met some amazing people along the way. I've written features online, liased with national media for filming and press releases and even spent time helping with a research project in the laboratory – and that's only the beginning! By getting to know the other placement students I have gained such a wide perspective of the major contribution that undergraduates have made to the life of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.
Back in August 2017, I sat down with a bunch of new sandwich students to get to know them more, find out why they chose to complete their placement at ISIS and what they hoped to gain from the year ahead. Flash forward 12 months and I have now had the opportunity to sit down with some of them to discuss what they've been up to during their placements and to hopefully inspire the next cohort with their wise words. Here is what they had to say.
- Thomas Astles was based in the Detector Group of the ISIS Instruments Division as he completed his industrial placement year as part of his degree in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Bath.
- Elizabeth Glazer is a biologist from Bournemouth University who worked within the ISIS Impact Team in Public Engagement.
- Lea Obermueller worked on the ChipIR instrument, as she completed her industrial placement for her degree in Integrated Engineering from Cardiff University.
- Claire Wilde, a chemist from the University of Bradford worked in the muon group developing online learning tools.
“So – you have been at ISIS for a year now – what has been your career highlight?"
TOM: My highlight of the year was testing a GEM (Gas Electron Multiplier) detector I developed and tested using the HIFI instrument and the presentation of my results at an international conference.
CLAIRE: I really enjoyed the muon training school as I got to speak to the students who actually used my materials which was a really big highlight for me. I also got to go to the SINE2020 conference in Italy as SINE2020 partially fund my placement.
LEA: I will be presenting a paper at a conference (RADECS) in Sweden in September. I would call that a highlight!
ELIZABETH: My highlight of the year was having the opportunity to visit CERN while I was at a conference in Switzerland.
Lea Obermueller working on ChipIr (Credit, STFC)
“What's been the most exciting thing you have done this year?"
LEA: I had the opportunity to use one of the ISIS instruments (ChipIr) for experiments and I was trusted to run the beamline by myself. That was certainly exciting (but also terrifying; press the wrong button and you turn ISIS off!)
TOM: I had the most fun using the instruments, for example, performing my own experiments using the detector I developed.
ELIZABETH: The most fun part of this year has been all of the activities and events that I have helped out with, especially the ones off site.
CLAIRE: My role isn't lab based but I was given the chance to do a muon experiment on EMU, which was really fun. It was a muonium chemistry experiment and as someone in my department knew I was studying for a chemistry degree they asked if I'd like to help out. I got to do loads of sample prep and I was there when the experiment was running too.
Eilidh Southren and Lea Obermueller working as STEM Ambassadors at the Cornerstone Family Science Day (Credit, STFC)
“What's the most useful thing you've learnt this year?"
LEA: I have learned so much this year, pinpointing it down to one most useful thing is very difficult, but I think that one of the most important skills I have acquired is project management and how to use the resources that are available to me most effectively.
TOM: Throughout the year I have gained a greater appreciation for good communication between colleagues as well as in the clarity of my own work.
CLAIRE: I think probably project planning as I'd never really done that before. At university you're told what to do and given deadlines, but in my placement I had to plan the project myself and come up with my own deadlines which is a really useful skill.
“Would you recommend ISIS to future students?"
LEA: Yes! ISIS is a great place to work at. The work environment is relaxed and fun, and there are a lot of opportunities to meet people and learn things outside your job description.
CLAIRE: Yes definitely! One of the great things about it here is there are lots of other placement students, if you have any struggles there is a support system there. Placement students here also have a good relationship with their managers; I meet with my manager at least once a week. I would say it's a positive environment to work in too.
ELIZABETH: Yes I would definitely recommend doing a placement at STFC to future students! I've had a great placement here and STFC has offered a lot of opportunities that I wouldn't have had elsewhere.
Claire Wilde standing outside Target Station One (Credit, STFC)
“Has the placement year been what you expected?"
LEA: This year has exceeded my expectations on so many levels. I was able to glimpse into the world of research, I gained a tonne of technical knowledge and improved my 'soft' skills. This year was full of opportunities to learn and meet people, I worked with people who are experts in their fields and I had the chance to learn from them.
ELIZABETH: This year has been pretty much what I expected although I think I have enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I have been able to do a wide variety of things while being here which has allowed me to gain skills and knowledge in a load of different areas.
CLAIRE: It's been a lot harder than I thought balancing university and work (I was studying by distance for my final year during my placement)! But I've enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I was going to. As I didn't know very much about muons before starting I thought I would struggle a lot more than I did. I think I've surprised myself by how much I've learnt this year.
“How do you think your placement has prepared you for your final studies or first job?"
LEA: I have gained a lot of technical skills throughout the year that will definitely help me when I go back to uni to finish my degree. I am hoping that the project I worked on for most of the year has prepared me for my bachelors dissertation.
TOM: The experience I have gained at STFC is invaluable in terms of running my own experiments and understanding the inner workings of a research facility and collaborations between different facilities. I have also had the opportunity to develop many different skills which will inevitably help my future work.
ELIZABETH: This year has helped me develop a lot of skills in communication, organisation, time management and confidence, all of which will be useful for both my final year and future jobs. I also think this year has given me more drive to do well next year and work really hard.
Elizabeth Glazer demonstrating how to use a LEGO beamline at the Crystal School Prize Ceremony (Credit, STFC)
We'd like to thank the entire 2017/2018 cohort of Industrial Placement students for their contributions to the life of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source and wish them every success in the future.
If you've been inspired by this article and are interested in learning about the variety of opportunities that STFC offers undergraduate students, you can find more information by following this link.
To learn more about the innovating research undertaken at ISIS, please visit ISIS News.