I really enjoyed working at Dstl. Porton Down is a great environment with a real "uni" feel to it - you're surrounded by talented people and you get to work right at the leading edge of technology. The work was really rewarding, and I was given a lot of freedom to select a project targetted to my skillset and interests, but with room for development. Knowing that my efforts will directly lead to the UK being safer as a result was a great motivator too!
My team leader introduced me to the whole team on my first day, so I knew some friendly faces around site from the beginning. I was invited along to all their social events and to eat with them at lunch, so I felt very welcomed. The team were always happy to answer questions (technical or otherwise), and at no point did I feel like an inconvenience. As we got to know each other better, I found that people would actually ask me questions where word had got around that I had appropriate experience – this led to learning about some interesting new projects within Dstl, and was a good confidence boost being able to show off!
My team leader was really friendly and this made me feel able to approach him with any questions – or just when I felt like a break from the lab. He gave me some guidance in project selection, but crucially wasn’t too prescriptive: it was still my decision. My project supervisors were helpful, taking time out of their day to help me get some concepts nailed down more solidly, and checking in regularly. We have an internal instant messaging service, which is great in the “smart working” environment as it makes it easier to find whoever you want to speak too. This also enabled me to just drop my supervisor a quick note to update him, or ask for clarification on something. A conversation with my supervisor about what I wanted to get out of my internship really stuck with me – it demonstrated that he (and Dstl) really cared about individual development, which was great to see.
My work was mostly self-directed, so I could choose how busy I wanted to be each day. As is the nature with technical research, some days were quite slow as I grappled with a problem, and consisted of a lot of reading and Googling. Other days I found I really got into the swing of things and chose to work a longer day to reach a milestone. Dstl’s flexi-time policy is really, well, flexible, which was brilliant to let me fit work around the rest of my life (going out for dinner, getting on the road early on a Friday etc)/
For the most part, I was able to just ‘get on with it’ – I never felt that those above me were “pestering” me or didn’t trust me to get the job done. Being a defence organisation, you might find yourself handling sensitive information and are trusted to do so correctly – there’s e-learning which gives you the confidence to keep that information safe. This also has the benefit of letting you work on stuff with a high “cool” factor. The end of my placement saw me present to a fairly large audience, made up of several team leaders, the project technical lead, and the group leader – and I was just trusted to get it right!
I find industry experience shows you the relevance of material taught in your degree course, giving it a grounding in the real world. Using that knowledge in practice reinforces it, enhancing your understanding of the subject matter. You also gain an appreciation of how various aspects of engineering fit together, which comes in handy for later assessed project work at uni! Being able to get a real system working from start to finish is a real confidence boost too. I’m now able to operate some pretty complex test equipment with relative ease, which will prove invaluable for my third year individual project.
The office was friendly, although at times could get a little noisy due to the open-plan nature. A couple of people had noise-cancelling headphones, although there's a "Concentrate" space to which you could easily move if you needed more peace and quiet to focus on your code! There's a "hot-desking" setup, but I didn't struggle to find a desk - it's quite easy to find colleagues via IM too.
The first day was quite slow unfortunately, with a lot of waiting around. Dstl could improve this by having the IT induction scheduled earlier in the day - as without IT access you can't really do anything. My team leader had invited me to a meet-up day a week before the internship started, which I'd really encourage people to attend if possible - this would have allowed a chat about potential projects, and let me get started quicker on arrival.
A great deal - STEPS runs loads of networking events and subject talks, at which summer students are welcome. There's also a good chunk of online learning about the Civil Service and our role within government, and a well-stocked library on site; so you're encouraged to read around the subject. A lot of the interns were also being sent along to the DSEI trade show in September, which is a brilliant professional development opportunity.
Sports and Social Club
Above 25 days holiday
Working from home
Dstl operates a Student Talent Scheme, with a £2000 bursary if you sign up to work there as a grad. There's a real variety of work within the organisation, and the opportunity for secondments abroad or to other areas, so it's somewhere I'd love to go back after graduation. Although the pay isn't particularly outstanding, the pension contributions are far higher than in industry, as is the flexibility - leave for medical visits etc is a real "nice to have". Working from home almost being encouraged is great too.
Definitely - we all ate lunch together and tended to go for a tea break too. A weekly pub quiz in Salisbury went down well, as did a visit to karaoke at Southampton University Students' Union.
I commuted from Southampton, where student rents average around £350/month and a pint can be had for about £3. Salisbury is more expensive, but not too bad for a summer placement.
Salisbury is slightly lacking in nightlife, but Southampton has loads of nightclubs and bars. In Salisbury you're more likely to find a nice pub - although there is a Wetherspoons.
There's a good sports scene at Dstl, with football on a Wednesday afternoon as well as a load of societies similar to university. You can join the Civil Service Sports Council which lets you take part in events (provides you with the necessary insurance). There were also nature walks around the range at Porton Down, which is home to the rare stone curlew bird.
Internship (1-4 Months)
26th August 2019