My Year in Industry/Research Experience – Part 1

Since this is quite a long blog post, with lots of content, I decided to split it into parts. The first part (this post) will explain the trials and tribulations of applying for an internship and the highs and lows of the process. The second part will give you a glimpse of what my year was like and what it was like coming back to university in final year. Enjoy!

Last year, 2016-17 as part of my degree, I decided to do a year in industry/research. In short, it was one of the best decisions I have made in my life so far.

The story of a year in industry however, always starts well before the year itself (second year in my case). There are many hurdles that have to be jumped first; re-writing the CV for the thousandth time, perfecting the covering letters, applying to everything in sight, the list goes on. For me, I initially decided to do a year in industry to gain some work experience and hopefully secure a job at the end of my degree – it isn’t always that easy! When it actually came to deciding what I wanted to do for a year in industry, I truly just wanted a break from Imperial. It had been a pretty grueling first two years and I was looking forward to a much needed change of pace.

The first order of business of any internship/job search is actually deciding what it is you want to do. For internship years, Imperial gives you a set of guidelines which roughly translate to; do something that involves research, make sure you don’t just end up making coffees all year. For most the choice is pretty simple, go into a research lab and spend the year slaving away at the lab bench. For me, that would have been my worst nightmare. Instead, I opted to pursue the area of biology I enjoyed the most during my first two years – conservation.

DISCLAIMER: IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A PAID INTERNSHIP, CONSERVATION CHARITIES ARE NOT YOUR BEST BET – THEY OFTEN DON’T PAY INTERNS (because they’re charities and don’t have that luxury).

Once I had decided on conservation I started hunting on job boards, painstakingly narrowing the job search to find the relevant ones. Eventually, following much frantic googling, I found 3 ideal placements – two of which were at zoos. I must admit, I didn’t know anything about zoo life, let alone that they had active research departments! I decided to apply…

Then came the application process, the bit everyone hates. It involved the usual scouring of the website to find bits of info to mention in the covering letter, then re-drafting said covering letter because it was gibberish. Drafting a CV, taking it to the careers advisor, only to get it ripped to shreds and starting from scratch. The process continued in cycles until finally I had a covering letter and CV I was reasonably proud of and able to submit.

Following submission, the waiting begins. It’s a nervous time. You’ve put in all the effort, pretended to be interested in a sector you’d never heard of until you decided to apply, hoping they’ll take the bait and give you an internship. As a general rule, two weeks is the waiting time (unless stated otherwise). No news after that point and you’re highly unlikely to have been successful. You’ve got to pick yourself up and go again, we’ve all been there don’t worry.

If you’re successful you may be called to interview (like I was). Sadly for me, my interview for my placement – zoo-based research at Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust – was based in Devon. For those of you who don’t know Devon, it’s almost impossible to get to easily via public transport (more on that later). I opted instead for a skype interview. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. I had never had a skype interview before so I read up as much as I could about them. The key points: speak clearly, smile (all the time), have positive body language, ensure both you and your backdrop are socially acceptable and, for the love of God, HAVE GOOD WIFI SIGNAL AND A QUIET ROOM.

For my interview, I had everything prepared; possible answers swimming in my head, a freshly ironed (clean) shirt and trousers, a stable internet connection and a quiet room. What could go wrong? In truly nightmarish fashion, my computer decided to install Windows updates 5 minutes before my interview. Needless to say, it took well over an hour after my interview for the update to finish installing. So, I had to use my phone, I couldn’t see both of my interviewers on my screen but I didn’t let that detract from my performance. Luckily for me, the interview went well and after some waiting I was finally offered the internship – my year was sorted!

The rest of second year was spent working hard to achieve the grade requirements that would allow me to start my year in industry. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed telling people that I was going to work at a zoo for a year (many oohs and ahhs).

A new chapter of my university experience was about to unfold…

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