In the beginning of the year, I 'sat down' (over Zoom) with some industrial placement students to ask them about their role and how they're settling into ISIS. Once again, I reached out to hear what their experiences have been like (this time in person) and what advice they have to pass onto the next batch.
- Matilda Rhodes was a material characterisation method developer who's completed her 4th year of Integrated master's in Chemistry from University of Southampton.
- Paige Stevenson was the ISIS Public Engagement (PE) Student that will be returning to University of Leeds to complete her Neuroscience BSc.
- Jasmine Lawton has finished her 4th year of her Integrated Master's in Chemistry at York and was working on developing catalysts for deuteration
- Arianna Wintle was a part of the Neutron Detector Development group and is now heading into her final year of her Physics MSci at the University of Bristol.
What was the highlight of your placement?
Matilda: I've been working on a code that has improved signals on the instrument I was working on to help with ferromagnetic resonance data collection. My manager was quite impressed and even called it “publication-worthy." That's been a highlight for me because I had no idea how the use the software when I started the placement.
Paige: The best part of my placement has been designing an event around the biological applications of ISIS and delivering it to a group of A Level students. The event was very well received and we've done multiple iterations of it since. Aside from working on that event, I think learning about a huge range of interesting projects from our scientists and engineers has also been a highlight for me.
Arianna: Running tests on the beam during the ISIS' experimental cycle was the highlight of my placement. They were long exciting days where I had to learn how to operate everything very quickly. I was lucky to have time on ALF, LOQ and Emma to perform the vital tests I needed to perform on detectors.
Jasmine: I think the highlight of my placement has been all the people I've worked with. The amount of knowledge I've gained working in a research group is unlike anything I've experienced at university.
Has the placement year been what you expected?
Matilda: I don't think I had any expectations when I started, especially with COVID. I think I've tried to make the most of the placement by picking up as many skills as I can.
Paige: I came in with the expectation of doing events in person, but my whole placement had to be adjusted to cater to an audience remotely. I was quite lucky that the PE team and my line manager had some experience in running events online, so they helped me through the transition. In fact, within the first week, I had been part of a PE Event that ISIS was running.
Arianna: I think it's been what I expected, and I've enjoyed working the role. It feels amazing to be completing work that is so purpose driven, so I think transitioning back to university life is going to feel bizarre.
Jasmine: I think it's been more than I expected because I feel like I've gained more out of it than I thought I would. Because of COVID, I felt like my start was a bit tricky, but now that I look back at what I've achieved and the things I've learned, the year has far exceeded my expectations.
What's the most useful thing you learned on placement?
Matilda: Although my project is quite 'physics-y', my background is in chemistry, so learning to ask for help has been the most useful thing for me on placement. It was useful having people around me that would answer some of the questions I had, as it helped me pick stuff up in a foreign environment much quicker. I enjoyed the challenge so much so that I will be doing a Ph.D. funded by ISIS and the University of Edinburgh starting next year.
Paige: Learning how to present effectively online and developing high-quality resources has been very useful. Before, if you were delivering a presentation, your slides would be supplementary to the work you do. However, with the shift in running events online, there is a greater emphasis on developing extremely good resources and finding different ways to engage with the audience you're presenting to. I think a significant proportion of public engagement activities will remain online post-pandemic, so I'll continue to use the skills I have learnt going forward.
Arianna: Before my placement I'd never had the chance to work through any fault finding tests on devices before. I now feel much more able to be to locate what the problem within a device is.
Jasmine: The skills I picked working in the labs has been the most useful, so things like working with and around people in the research group. I've also been able to work with a lot of new equipment this year and I feel a lot more confident working with it. Lastly, this year has allowed me to significantly develop my presentation skills, which was extremely beneficial for my dissertation viva.
How do you think your placement year has helped you prepare for your studies or job?
Matilda: The placement has taught me how to efficiently keep up with the experiments – whether it's by doing things like generating data very quickly, figuring out the write-up or, more generally, managing different responsibilities.
Paige: I think it's taught me how to most effectively manage my time. Although working from home has had its downsides, I have found having the set workday hours has boosted my productivity and improved my wellbeing. I'm going to try and implement a similar balance when I go back to university!.
Arianna: The coding skills that I picked up are very applicable to any setting I'll be part of in the future. I've been able to appreciate how important it is to think creatively when problem solving. Working at ISIS has also allowed me to work on real challenges, where I've had to figure out different ways to approach a problem or find ways to work on a solution independently.
Jasmine: I have been accepted onto the NHS Graduate Scientist Training Programme, which I'm looking forward to starting after my placement. The role is quite different to the one I am doing at ISIS, but I think the placement year has prepared me well for adapting to different work styles in a team and how to step into the unknown and pick up new skills.
What advice would you give to future placement students?
Matilda: Make sure you're organized and log every single measurement that you make – Excel will be your best friend!
Paige: Jump at every single opportunity that comes your way – whether you enjoy it or not, it will shape your development. However, if opportunities you want don't come your way, work out exactly what it is you'd like to achieve and ask people for help. More often than not, they will be very accommodating.
Arianna: Always attempt to solve a problem yourself first and try to try and understand it as much as you can. That way when you ask for any help you'll be able to direct your questions in a much more useful way. Make sure you understand what you want to know before asking any questions.
Jasmine: Make the most of every opportunity that you're given, whether that is meeting a new group of people or learning a new skill, you never know when it will come in handy!