My experience as a placement student

A young woman smiling looking at a laptop with a headset on.

Placement students, Persia and Martina, describe their time as a Communications Coordinator and Student Outcomes Coordinator in the Student Success and Engagement Team.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role?  

Persia: My name is Persia and I have been working as a Communications Coordinator in the Student Success Team for the past year. Before I joined the team, I used to be the secretary for the University of Reading Women’s Rugby team. As secretary, it was my responsibly to run their social media channels, communicate with any prospective and current players and take minutes in all committee meetings. The skills I learnt during this role really helped me within my role as Communications Coordinator as I was able to refine the skills I was already using as Secretary and build upon them. I’ve always had an interest in Diversity and Inclusion, one of the main reasons I chose my degree – Philosophy, Politics and Economics. My placement year has allowed me to explore this passion and put into practice ideas to create a more inclusive and celebratory environment of the University of Reading student community. As part of my role, I am responsible for helping to manage various social media channels, a blog, and a website. As someone with a strong interest in the creative industry and social media, this has been a valuable opportunity to develop and learn digital marketing and design skills. Overall, I have found my time as a Communications Coordinator extremely valuable. Not only have I had a chance to develop key skills that will benefit me in the corporate world, the welcoming and supportive environment of the team has allowed me to express my creativity and peruse projects that I’m passionate about. 

Martina: My name is Martina, I´m a third-year Politics and IRS student and I came to Reading from Spain three years ago to pursuit my dreams. I applied to become a Student Outcomes Coordinator because it tackles what I´m mostly interested in: systemic inequalities. When I first read about the role, I immediately saw the relations with my degree; politics are not solely found in the traditional environments i.e. government, NGOs etc., there is also a lot of political work in higher education.

How did you find the placement opportunity?  

Persia: I found this placement opportunity through a weekly placement opportunities list that was sent to me via email by one of my placement coordinators. Find out more about the role this year. 

Martina: I found this opportunity thanks to my placement coordinator; I had no idea that the university provided placement opportunities so I didn´t even consider looking for one here. I found out about it around this time last year, so quite late.  I spent the whole year trying to look for opportunities in massive private companies, where the recruiting processes are highly competitive and I think I was failing to think outside the box. My biggest advice is to not think in the traditional sense, look for roles that really interest you rather than by the company´s name or reputation. When you look for what you love, you will find the right position, which is what happened to me.

Tell us about a project you worked on?  

Persia: One of the biggest and most enjoyable projects I worked on during my time as Communications Coordinator was Black History Month. Diversity and Inclusion is a passion of mine which the team allowed me to explore and create content on during my placement year. For Black History Month, I worked with teams across the University, including RUSU, our Student Engagement Ambassadors and Martina (the other placement student in our team) to organise events, plan relevant content and start projects which extended beyond Black History Month. One of my favourite things to be part of organising was the Open Mic event Martina (Student Outcomes Coordinator (Professional Placement)) and I hosted alongside Vocal Networking, Untold and RUSU. This event brought local community groups and the student community together to celebrate Black excellence and talent. This was very special for me as I felt I was able to create a platform that gave Black students a voice as well as creating an event where people from all backgrounds can come together to celebrate – the type of event I’ve wanted to be part of as a student myself. 

Martina: I have worked on a lot of different projects but the most recent and biggest one has been our team of “Inclusion Consultants”, I co-designed this project with my line manager with the intention of increasing ethnic minorities and underrepresented groups’ sense of belonging by giving them more voice and capacity to take action in areas that matter to them i.e. better and more praying spaces, inclusive messages across campus, inclusive teaching etc.

One of the biggest areas of our work is student engagement, which is focused around sense of belonging because it´s one of the main reasons why the awarding gap exists.

What advice would you give to this year’s applicants?  

Persia: I think as a placement student you worry that because you don’t have the same experience as others in the team that your opinions aren’t as valuable. During my placement year, I’ve learnt how valuable an opinion of a student is to the team as ultimately that is the audience they are trying to reach! So, my advice to this year’s applicants is don’t be scared to voice your opinion when you have a suggestion that you think would benefit the team as they will always appreciate it. 

Martina: Bring all the energy and the enthusiasm that you have! The nature of this role will teach you a lot of things you did not know about regardless of how much experience you have, so be proactive, bring new ideas and new perspectives to the team! You will be talking about social change and topics such as race, culture, identity etc. all the time, so it´s important that you´re passionate about it.

What have you learnt from your time as a placement student?  

Persia: One of the most valuable things I have learnt is how to work effectively in a team. During my placement, I learn the value of hearing a variety of opinions as it expands your creativity and people often suggests things that haven’t thought of. This worked both ways. Working as part of a team also meant that a lot of the skills I learnt developed quicker, for example my design skills were massively improved by people in my team mentoring me and offering suggestions on how they would present the same information. This is invaluable skill that will help me in the workplace in the future. 

Martina: I have learned a lot of things in this role, especially skills wise but overall, what I would take from it is that if you surround yourself with the right team, you´ll be able to achieve what you want, especially in this field. Social change in politics requires a lot of enthusiasm and passion but also the right action takers and influence makers. My managers and my colleagues have been crucial in this journey, team work has been one of my essentials.

What skills will you take forward into the world of work? 

Persia: I have learnt such a wide range of skills during my placement year, it’s hard to narrow it down. By helping to manage a team of Student Engagement Ambassadors, I have improved my communication and team building skills, which are both key transferable skills that are necessary in the corporate world. By managing various social media channels and contributing to websites, I have been able to learn and develop digital design skills alongside improving my copywriting, both crucial skills in the creative industry. Most importantly I have developed my confidence, which will be important when applying for new roles and starting new teams.

Martina: Some of the skills I´ve learned these last 10 months have been:

  • Project management: I had to create the structure of some projects and in some cases lead them
  • Networking across all levels: a big part of the role entails influencing staff members and academics to make sure the university is on board with the Awarding Gap strategy
  • Training and presenting: since it’s a recent team and not everyone is aware of our work, we have provided presentations to academics and staff and training to our Inclusion consultants
  • Recruiting: I participated in the whole process of creating our team of Inclusion Consultants, which was a good opportunity to learn how to shortlist and interview. We also recruited students for focus groups interviews and research.
  • Handling datasets and analyzing data: the more administrative side of this role requires making research and providing support to the line manager with reports and other writing pieces. Some of these required the analysis of data related to the Awarding Gap, not just within the university but also from other universities across the UK (national statistics).
  • Interpersonal skills: the nature of this role requires talking with people from all backgrounds and active listening, so thanks to all the student engagement projects and the workshops we’ve done with staff members, I’ve been able to improve my verbal skills and my ability to deal with people at all levels.

These are some of the skills I´ve learned but I have a whole list of them and with more details, so if you’re interested or curious about it, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll be more than happy to have a chat about it!

If you are interested in applying for the Communications Coordinator role or Student Outcomes Coordinator role this year, read our recent blog to find out more about this role and how to apply.

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