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.
We reflect over the past year, the skills gained, the friendships forged and the memories made.
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- Justin Tabbett was based in a joint role with ISIS and STFC's Central Laser Facility (CLF) working on their Science Communications as he completed his industrial placement year as part of his degree in Physics from the University of Bristol.
- Laura Shafi is a biologist from Newcastle University who worked within the ISIS Impact Team in Public Engagement.
- Liam Panchaud is a Computer Science student at the University of Manchester and has been a control software engineer for the last 12 months.
“What was the highlight of your time in STFC?"
Justin: Making animations to promote science highlights of the week on twitter was a memorable one. It then developed into making animations for other uses.
Laura: My highlight was travelling to Washington DC to work as part of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) conference where I was part of the UK Research and Innovation stand. It was an amazing experience because I got to meet loads of different people and communicate with new audiences.
Liam: The people you get to meet. There's so much stuff you learn from them.
“Do you think that the skills that you picked up in your course have been useful during your time in STFC?"
Justin: I was writing highlights about solid state materials, magnetism and crystal. So for the first half of the year, I had to learn a unit from university which was solid state physics and once I had done that, a lot of things made sense. These skills will help me to manage my time better and stay on top of tasks.
Laura: Very useful. I am interested in pursuing a career in science communication. Developing strong communication and event organisation skills adds to my skillset.
Liam: I've definitely honed my programming skills and that is always useful.
“What are some organisational skills that you picked up in STFC that you otherwise would not have adopted in university?"
Justin: I adopted scheduling my day on my online calendar. Other organisational skills include me making to-do lists which helps me to prioritise work that I need to do first.
Laura: Prioritising lots of different tasks and organisational skills.
Liam: Time management and people skills.
“Would you recommend ISIS to future student?"
Justin: Definitely! It's such an interesting place to work partly because it's a world-leading research facility. You can't get better than that! Also, people here are really interesting to speak to. There's such a diverse range of people who come from different backgrounds and they're all really passionate about doing the science that they do.
Laura: Yes, one hundred percent! It's a really laid back environment. Which gives you space to develop in lots of different areas and pursue your own projects which is very unique.
Liam: It's definitely an opportunity for students to learn more about the workplace environment and how work is accomplished in that setting.
“Has a placement year been what you expected?"
Justin: No. I wasn't expecting to do as much as I had. The role that I had was split between ISIS and CLF so it's half and half. It has allowed me to pursue personal interests that fit into the wider strategy of work. For example, photography was something I was interested in and this developed into me being able to take photos for conferences and events on site. I wasn't expecting to do that when I read the job listing. I thought it was just going to be article writing and social media.
Laura: Yes and No. I was hoping to gain confidence in the workplace and I did, but I had no idea my head would be bursting with so much information about new science and future careers. And there's still loads to learn.
Liam: There was lot more independence and flexibility than I expected.
“How do you think your placement year has prepared you for your final year of studies?"
Justin: Personal management and time management. Learning how to speak to people, with confidence. Being able to communicate what you want and what you need. With the job, you get to see the scope of what happens. You can see what STFC as a whole are doing which puts into perspective why you're doing research.
Laura: I have definitely improved my work ethic, which will be really useful for lectures and revising for exams. Also, as I am doing a science degree I need to read papers. Part of my year here has involved writing articles about new research, so I have gained experience in understanding complex topics more quickly.
Liam: It's reinvigorated my drive for my studies because I can now see where it will lead me one day. It's the clarity of purpose that comes with the experience of doing a placement year that is going to be help me the most in my final year.
“What is the one advice you would give to future placement students."
Justin: Definitely take every opportunity you can; even if it's something you thought you'd never be good at. I think it's worth trying things once because you never know. Onsite, you have plenty of activities and events for students to join.
Laura: Don't be scared to make mistakes because they help you learn. Also, there's information everywhere: in your office mates, on the internet, in talks, and events and you can discover it all if you want.
Liam: Don't underestimate the challenge, but also the opportunities of doing a placement year.