How to survive a student placement.

The few months following graduation and beginning my MA have been hectic to say the least. However, now things are beginning to calm down I have begun reflecting upon my final year and how I can make use of my experiences. I have written and posted about my sociology dissertation and then about the research trip I had to Chile as they are very visual, they are obvious blog posts. I was fortunate enough to have a range of different irons in the fire across the year that I didn’t blog about; including a dissertation in criminology on sex work and the Mersey model, and a year-long work placement.

I was on placement with Staffordshire West Midlands Police. This was the first intake formed out of a partnership between Keele University and the Police. This meant that things did not always go as smoothly as they may have done in a more established programme. However, despite the teething problems, I found that I still learned an awful lot, but perhaps it was not necessarily what I though I would learn.

Here is some tips or things that I wish I had known before or during my placement.

1. Be open to different experiences – It is easy to have preconceived ideas of what you will do on placement. If you remain flexible and open to different activities and the diverse range of people you will meet, you will have a richer experience. Remember, the idea you have of a particular job, such as the police, is not necessarily informed by experience of the police first hand. Unlike CSI, it is 95% risk assessment, paperwork, red tape and only 5% drug raids, arresting individuals and solving murders.

2. Get involved – It is easy to get ‘work experience’ mentality. This is standing on the sidelines observing like a spare part. This can happen through lack of confidence in a setting you are not used to, often without you realising it. Offer to do activities that you know how to do, such as photo copying, and then ask to be shown how to do the things you don’t, such as using the in-house computer program. This way you will feel like part of the team and it will give you a chance to use what you have learned in university, in your formal work or through things like clubs, societies or volunteering.

3. Things go wrong sometimes – Dont be hard on yourself if you find that things go wrong. It goes without saying that we all try to be punctual and not take any time off when given an opportunity for experiences such as a placement. However, sometimes the car breaks down or your ill. Its ok, try your best, plan for the worst and hope for the best. As a mature student and mum of four there were a few occasions when the kids were ill and I couldn’t attend. I dealt with this by keeping in communication. I sent an e-mail, called in or text depending upon who I was due to be with that day. Find out the arrangements for when things go wrong on day one and then follow the procedure, this ensures that nobody is left waiting round for you.

4. When things go really wrong – Sometimes placement may not be what you thought or communication can break down. In this situation talk to your supervisor or university contact. Placements have the support of the university through either the academic school or the careers and internship office, you are not alone, there is plenty of support available.

5. Communication is key, as is being proactive. If sessions are cancelled or communication breaks down, email suggesting alternative sessions or asking if you can be more involved. If there is an opportunity to do so, suggest a project that you can organise yourself such as creating a campaign, social media page or info booklet for staff. This will give you skills that you can relate in your CV and interviews after graduation.  Plus it will give you an opportunity to create something unique, boosting your confidence.

Above all else, remember to enjoy your placement. This will be one of the first steps that you will take in to your chosen career. Aim to get as much out of it as you can, but also realise that it is a learning curve.

Good Luck and feel free to comment if you have any questions!

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