The 7 Most Valuable Things I Learned On Placement

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After a one year professional placement with the Lifetime Service working as a Honorary Assistant Psychologist I bid a tearful farewell to my colleagues (and received some amazing flowers as a thank you). Since then, I have started a summer job as a Personal Care Assistant for a PhD student with physical disabilities and a voluntary Research Assistant role at the University of Bath.

Here are some of the most valuable lessons that I learned while on placement...

#1 Question master

During your first few weeks at a new placement or job you may feel slightly disorientated and unsure. Don't worry! This is perfectly normal and employers expect you to ask a lot of questions during the first few weeks (and even after that). 

You can only learn and get better at your new role if you ask! Don’t worry about annoying anyone!

Try to schedule times to ask your questions instead of just popping into their office every time as your supervisor and colleagues are likely to be quite busy. Even though they are happy to help it can be a bit difficult if they are answering a new question every few minutes after your first few weeks.

I met with my supervisor once a week and then for the odd five minutes throughout the week to answer any questions about my tasks and only spoke to her or other colleagues when I was really stuck.

This leads me right onto the next bit of advice...

#2 Buy an organiser

When I first started my placement, I recorded all of my meetings on my iPhone calendar, an ideal way to keep track of things as a student but not so much in the workplace. Accessing your virtual calendar can not only be slow but it can also come across as rude or unprofessional.

So, buy an academic diary or planner for your placement year, you can get basic ones on Amazon or if you’re feeling adventurous there are some funky ones available from Paperchase. I've found having a diary to be so handy that I have ordered one for next year too!

#3 Find a mentor

One of the best sources of support whilst on placement is your placement supervisor. In your first and second years at university you may have turned to Personal Tutors, Peer Mentors or Lecturers for support. On placement they will not be able to help you anywhere near as much as your placement supervisor.

Try to meet with your supervisor at least once a fortnight to discuss any concerns you may have, or even just to talk about tasks you have been given or personal goals. Before you meet make a list of all the things you would like to ask, and of the tasks you have completed that week; this way you will be able to lead the conversation.

Don't be afraid to say to your supervisor if you are struggling with the workload. Your supervisor wants to make sure you get as much out of your placement as possible, so unless you let them know that you want things to change they will never know!

#4 Your placement bible

Once you have started your placement, as a student at the University of Bath at least, you are asked to confirm your initial placement details. Once you have done this you are sent what will be the equivalent of a placement bible! I was given a tailored handbook for my predecessor's placement year providing me with all I needed to know about the year's assignments in addition to generic advice for my placement.

If your university doesn’t offer a handbook, the information may be available online, on your e-learning platform or placement pages, so give these a read before contacting your Placement Officer.

#5 To do...

A handy tip that you will read about on nearly every university blog is to make a to-do list. This simple habit takes so much weight off your shoulders!

I spent a lot of my time at the beginning of my placement with little to do, then suddenly I was being given 10 different tasks to complete at once. At first this was overwhelming, but I soon adapted to the varying workload and managed to plan my time accordingly.

To become a professional list maker, take a dedicated notebook everywhere and write the tasks you need to complete on one page each week. This way you can keep track of allocated tasks and will always have something to write on. You never know when something might come up!

#6 Save it to your trusty floppy disk

Just in case your lecturers haven't drummed it into you enough, SAVE EVERYTHING in a personal folder and another relevant folder/memory stick if necessary (NOT TO THE COMPUTER) and DO NOT DELETE IT!

After I had completed a task and months had gone by I sometimes felt that it was safe to delete something, however I soon learnt that an old audit questionnaire can make a surprise reappearance months after it has been completed. So, do not delete anything without backing it up somewhere else. It also can help you to see what you have accomplished during your time on placement, making writing those placement reports that much easier.

#7 Always think ahead

A placement year is a great opportunity to discover yourself and develop your professional and personal skills. But, relying on your placement alone to provide you with all the experience you need for a graduate job isn’t a good strategy.

A pessimistic truth of the era where the number of graduates is increasing with not enough graduate-level jobs to meet demand. Gain as much experience as you can whilst at university through volunteering and paid work, no matter how small the opportunity may seem to help you get that dream job after university.

If you can't see any jobs or volunteering opportunities being advertised, contact the organisations you would like to work with, you never know what they might say!

As cliched as as it sounds, I learnt so much whilst on placement and it was an amazing experience, even if it wasn't quite what I expected. I really enjoyed my placement and would recommend placement year and summer placements to everyone.

Good luck with your placement!

The 7 Most Valuable Things I Learned On Placement was written by Charley Harris from the University of Bath, on the back of a year-long placement with the Lifetime Service.