How to gain valuable experience while studying

Written by Isabel Vernon, Geography and Environment Science student

While studying at university, it can be quite easy just to focus solely on lectures and assignments, but it is really important to consider getting other types of experience as well. When you start looking for work after university, employers will want to know what else you got up to besides your degree.

Three students sitting on the Palmer Quad in the summer

I recently attended a webinar run by the Careers Service all about how to get experience at university. It explained that experience such as paid work, volunteering, internships, placements, and work experience can all develop transferrable skills that employers will be looking for, e.g. teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills.

To get started, you need to ask yourself a few key questions such as:

  • What do you like doing?
  • What is important for you?
  • What are you good at?
  • What interests you?
  • What motivated you?
  • Where do you want to work?

These questions will help you narrow down what experience would suit you. From there, you can start to look for opportunities.

There are loads of opportunities available on campus. You can get a paid job through Campus Jobs, an internship through the Reading Internship Scheme or Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP). The massive benefit of this type of experience is that you can earn money to support your studies whilst gaining highly valuable experience.

I completed an internship with The Conservation Volunteers as part of the Reading Internship Scheme last year and would highly recommend getting similar experience. I developed so many skills which gave me a lot to talk about in interviews and my CV, and it was very fun!

Off-campus, you can find paid work using:

If you are looking for experience through volunteering, you can join the STaR Mentor scheme which you had the opportunity to be mentored through when you joined the university. There is also a university-run 10-week programme helping in local schools called Students in Schools that you can get involved with.

Further afield, you can find volunteering opportunities across Reading through Reading Voluntary Action, who often have drop-in sessions for students at the university. Closer to home, you can find virtual volunteering opportunities, which is great for getting started with volunteering during the pandemic. The Careers Service has put together a brilliant webpage full of interesting virtual and in-person volunteering opportunities to check out. I am going to look into the ZSL Volunteer role where you can watch live webcams and identify the wildlife that appears!

Here are some final examples of how to get experience:

Attending this session got me thinking about what experience I already have and what more experience I could get. I was amazed by the massive range of experiences – there really is something for everyone! It is particularly great that there are so many opportunities on campus, which for most students is easy to get to. I would highly recommend checking out some of the links provided in this blog and working out what experience might benefit you.

I found the session very easy to find and join. All Careers Service webinars are available to book on MyJobsOnline under ‘Search’ à ‘Events’. Then it is easy to access the session when it starts on the Careers Blackboard site. The sessions are often recorded as well, so if you miss one, you might be able to find it on Blackboard.