Apply for everything, even if you don't believe you will get it. You'll never know if you don't try
Why did you decide to do a placement?
Initially when I started my course, I didn't want to do a placement, but as I got further with my studies I realised I wanted some experience and a chance to apply my knowledge before graduating, to make it less daunting and become more employable.
It is also to get some inspiration for my masters thesis and to know what type of jobs I would like to apply for after graduation. It helped that most of my friends on the course were taking an Industrial Placement Year too, so now we can all graduate together.
What was the application process for your placement?
It was one of my first applications and, at that point, I had little experience, so I was re-writing my CV and cover letter every day!
When I applied I didn’t think I would get it in a million years, I thought of the application as a practice round. To start the application you had to upload your information, CV, grade transcript, cover letter, reference and write a few answers to questions, such as why do you want to work here and what experience do you have which makes this position right for you.
After that they sent me a link to complete pre-recorded video interviews, where you have to answer certain questions within a time limit and record yourself. The questions were not technical, they were more general about the experiences you have and what achievements and obstacles you have encountered.
One question I had to answer in French, and at that point I was sure they would not accept me, so I was very relaxed and was joking about how bad my French is.
Then I did not hear from them for nearly 2 months, and they emailed me to say I have a meeting with a potential project supervisor at CERN the next day.
I thought this was an interview, so spent the whole afternoon preparing for any questions they may ask. It was just an informal meeting, telling me what the project is and if I was interested, which meant I had been accepted!
How did the the Industrial Placement Year team help you in your application process?
The team would send weekly emails with placement information, before I knew I got my placement I would use these and apply to the various placements suggested. They also suggested I have a look at the Gradcracker careers website for STEM students, which is where I found my placement. I booked many appointments with Galina, who helped me write and rewrite my CV and cover letter many times.
They were incredibly helpful!
What did you do on your placement?
I worked as a technical student at the CERN cryolab, where we did research and development on all things cold. My project was to try to enhance the cooling power of a helium capillary remote cooling cryocooler system with counter flow heat exchangers.
The coldest point of my system is at 4.5 K when I am cooling (this is around -269 degrees Celsius).
I was given a lot of autonomy and was responsible for managing and running myself and the project, relaying information to my supervisor, managing the experimental set up with its various pressure, temperature and water needs, recording and analysing important data from the experiment, development of python coding skills, asking colleagues for help when necessary and to learn as much as possible.
As the placement was abroad I also had to adapt to a new country, language, people, environment and culture.
What did you enjoy most about your placement?
I really enjoyed the environment. CERN is such a friendly, open place where people not only want to learn, but want to help you learn. It is inspiring to be in an environment where people are interested in their projects and the physics of the universe.
It has been nice to devote so much time to one project. I have learnt so much. To have scientists and engineers at the top of their field ask me about the project in detail – and to know the answer – is highly rewarding.
The people are so social. I have made some amazing friends and had the best experiences. At the weekends, I would drive into the alps and go skiing or do a via feratta on a mountain edge in Switzerland.
The location, experience and people have vastly exceeded my expectations.
What did you gain from your placement?
I have gained a lot of knowledge about cryogenics, thermodynamics and physics. I have also learned patience: doing research and experiments takes time and the results don't always come, but you learn something, good or bad.
I have gained confidence in my abilities, not just work-wise, but by moving to a different country, not speaking the language and building a community whilst working has given me life experiences that I wouldn’t have had.
How has your placement influenced your plans for your future career?
I am still unsure what career path I want to go down, however I know for certain that the work culture and environment is so important for productivity and happiness.
I am looking for a job which has the same welcoming and friendly environment as CERN! I have mainly focussed on research and experimentation – the next stage would be practical implementation and project management, so I would like to find a job which is at that stage in the engineering process. It would also be great to get into a career which can have a positive impact on climate change.
Do you have any advice for students thinking about doing a Placement Year?
In terms of the applications, just apply for everything, even if you don't believe you will get it. You'll never know if you don't try!
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