Types of work experience
Many large companies offer paid summer internships, which last between six and twelve weeks, predominantly targeted at penultimate year students. However, some companies will consider students from other years if they demonstrate the right skills and aptitude. Spring internships or insight days for first years, are increasingly common within the financial, banking and IT sectors. In some career sectors, companies offer unpaid work experience placements, for example within the advertising and fashion sectors.
Studentships for science students
There are multiple organisations which offer funding to work in a research laboratory over summer. Society of Biology , UK Centre for Bioscience and the Institute of Physics are some useful places to begin your search.
Finding your own work placement
You may want to search for a placement yourself, as some companies won't advertise vacancies but may want a student for a specific project. Contact companies directly to find out if they can offer you a period of work experience - perhaps for a couple of weeks or longer. These work placements are less likely to be structured.
Work shadowing involves spending some time; perhaps a day or two, observing someone at work to gain a flavour of their responsibilities and job activities. Networking and contacting companies directly will help you identify possible people you could shadow.
Over the recent years the number of graduate placements available to graduates has increased. Some companies will take on a graduate for one to 12 months to work on a discreet project.
Part-time jobs and casual summer work
Part-time jobs during term time or summer casual work can also offer you the chance to gain experience and develop your skills whatever you do.
Industrial and sandwich year placements
These placements, usually lasting between 12-15 months normally take place between the third and fourth year of your course, so it would take you an additional year to complete your degree. They are normally integral to your degree, are assessed and count to your final degree classification. You should contact your individual department for details.
Make the most of your experience
There are a number of things you can do to help you make the most of your time on an internship/placement. Some things you'd probably do without thinking but others may not come naturally so you need to plan them into your time with your host. Feedback from returning interns indicates all these can help in future career planning.
Take time to reflect on what you are getting involved with and work out if you enjoy what you are doing and whether you have the necessary skills to make things successful. Do you think you could work in this environment in the long term?
The more involved with the work and your colleagues you become, the more you will get from the whole experience
Ensure you get to know lots of people in the host organisation as you never know when you might need to contact them after you the placement
Shadowing and visits
Ask those in slightly more senior positions if you could shadow them for a day or attend one of their client visits so you can see how other parts of the organisation operate
Consider looking at the skills you have before you start the internship/placement and rank them out of one to ten. Half way through revisit the list so see if there is anything you can add and re-evaluate your ranking to see where you've improved. If you find any gaps or low scores, ask your host for their views and see if they can help you through training or a mentor.
Make the most of any training opportunities that arise and if they don't arise, why not ask if things could be made available to you.