Written by James Counter, final year Integrated Master’s Chemistry student.
For Part 3 I undertook a 12-month industrial placement at Ilika®, where I worked on thin film solid state batteries as part of the Stereax testing and characterisation team.
What made you choose a placement option?
I remember being distinctly unsure about doing a placement year when looking at university courses and was confident that I wanted to stay in academia and would rather spend the year learning. It wasn’t until the end of first year that I started thinking seriously about trying to do a placement year after a failed attempt at finding a summer placement in a relevant field. I was convinced I’d have nothing to offer a prospective employer, but everyone was encouraging me to apply so I did, worst case I was in Reading for my 3rd year. I wanted to stay in Reading and managed to find one I could commute to.
How did you apply for placements and what was the process for you?
I sent off speculative applications for companies which had no vacancies listed. My applications consisted of my CV accompanied with a cover letter addressed to the HR director at the company explaining that I was interested in what the company was doing and would like to undertake a placement with them. I only sent off 2 applications, the second at the start of February, and had a job offer within 3 weeks, only 2 days after my interview.
What did you do on your placement?
Most of my role was characterisation and analysis of materials related to thin film lithium solid state batteries. I’d spend most of my time in the lab or analysing data from work our 3-person team had done. I’d also feed this back to the wider thin film battery team. Alongside this I also did some risk assessment work and helped with routine lab maintenance.
How did the COVID-19 Pandemic impact your placement?
The last 3 months of my placement were disrupted by the pandemic. I went from commuting from Reading to Southampton daily, to being sat in my makeshift office (bedroom) in Reading. Whilst Ilika® continued some lab work I was told to remote work, analysing our backlog of data and working on my report for the university. I learned a lot about self-motivation, report writing, and data analysis during over this period.
How has this experienced helped you and what are your plans for the future?
Coming to university I thought the battery sector was interesting, but I didn’t really know whether I’d like it or be any good at it. I got a chance to see what it was like as a chemist, and even better, as a battery scientist. I loved it! This is particularly useful to know as the battery sector is set to boom in the UK over the next 5 years. At the time of writing, I’m currently touching up my CV and writing cover letters before sending speculative applications to a number of UK battery companies. I’m a lot more confident and have developed skills which are helping me in my last year, as well as feeling more prepared for entering industry.
Are there any things you know now but wish you’d known in part 2?
How much you have to offer a prospective employer. I couldn’t see what I could possibly offer an employer when I was applying in part 2 (part of the reason I dragged my heels). At Ilika I found I was making a material difference to the interesting work the company was doing, and I loved it as I was doing it. Also Reading to the outskirts of Southampton is not a practical commute by train.