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Student Research Assistant
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

I think that the more experience I have now of how my academic learning applies to the real world, the more motivated and well informed I will be through the last few years of my degree.

How did you find your placement/internship?

Whilst looking for placements my tutor suggested sending my CV to some companies who have connections at the university. Following this, I distributed it to many suggested contacts to show an interest in working with them, even where no placements were necessarily advertised.

Application process

I sent my CV to my (now) supervisor speculatively without a specific position open and having read this, he asked if we could talk on the phone to learn a bit more about me. This developed into many phone calls over several months with people from across the company, to determine if there was a suitable project for me to get involved in. My first application was in November whilst the position was confirmed in May not long before I started, so it was a long process but definitely worth it.

Main responsibilities

As a research assistant, I helped the food materials science team to characterise powder properties to resolve production issues found in factories for infant formula globally. I was responsible for data analysis and management and for safely carrying out bench and pilot plant scale trials before communicating my findings across different teams, suggesting a suitable way to progress.

Typical day

My day very much depended on what needed prioritizing for each project I worked with. I would generally be communicating with different departments to arrange getting samples and putting requests in for lab tests. Otherwise I would be getting the raw data back and analysing and interpreting the results. I had a lot of meetings with subject experts to discuss findings and would regularly present what I'd found to the project teams of interest. I even carried out tests myself and was involved in trials at pilot plant scale when available.

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

I enjoyed applying what I've been learning in Sheffield to real world problems and having the incredible opportunity to witness and integrate into the internal workings of a major international company. I have had the opportunity to work with experts and discuss their opinions on subjects that I would have previously just have accepted as fact, teaching me the importance of an opinion in science and despite my age, I feel like mine has been respected. Outside of work, Switzerland was an incredible place to live and spend my weekends exploring and the people were so welcoming. I have met people here from all over the world: I've floated down the River Aare with Peruvians, made pizza with Italians, climbed mountains with Germans and eaten a lot of chocolate with Swiss people. It has honestly been the most incredible experience of my life and has only made me more excited and confident in the career I hope to follow.

Challenging aspects

It was sometimes difficult to be confident when I had an opinion or interpretation of a result knowing that I was far less qualified than my peers. It was an irrational feeling but this could make presentations intimidating. I did feel very welcome by everyone I worked with and as people began to trust me with more responsibility, I realized that although most of these people knew far more than me (which was why I went in the first place), I had been invited for a reason and my input was still valued.

Did you use any skills learned from your course?

Other than using my academic skills from relevant modules, I have constantly needed to utilize my presentation, communication and teamwork skills which are regularly practiced throughout my course.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

My experience has only made me more confident in my future career choice and has massively motivated my studies as I now feel that I can much more clearly see the purpose of my academic content, rather than simply to pass exams.

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

As cheesy as it may be, as scary as it may be to start with, try and jump right in to every opportunity you can both at work and socially with your colleagues. I've had the chance to make friends from so many countries and explore their languages and cultures, but also it makes work easier to have people you have fun with and feel comfortable around as colleagues. It's always good to have a life outside of work and I've with friends I've made at work, I've got to travel across the country getting to experience much more in my summer than just my lab.

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Form completed: 31 Aug 2017

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