Rachel @ WPREU

Rachel shares her experience whilst on placement at the University of Sheffield's Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit (WPREU).

Three of our WPREU PlaceME@SMI interns stood outside New Spring House

About the placement

Within my placement at the University of Sheffield's Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit (WPREU), I am tasked with analysing data about the 2017 undergraduate cohort. Specifically, I aim to explore and identify the proportion of students with various characteristics, at an institutional, faculty and departmental level.

My placement provides an opportunity for me to gain real-world knowledge and experience regarding widening participation to higher education. For example, I will gain knowledge about the proportion of students from disadvantaged areas, the proportion of Black Minority Ethnic (BME) students, and the proportion of undergraduates who study whilst simultaneously supporting dependants. 

This project is my first opportunity to analyse a large-scale, real-world data set in SPSS. I anticipate that the skills and experience I develop over the course of the placement will be highly useful across my career path. The opportunity to utilise industry software with the analysis of real-world data will hopefully prepare me for similar projects on a professional basis. Furthermore, the placement will complement my academic work within the Sheffield Methods Institute, where I learnt about the philosophical underpinnings of research, and how to conduct rigorous research. I will be able to put what I have learnt within an academic setting into practice.


One benefit of placements is that they allow people to test the waters before fully committing themselves to a certain career or role"

Rachel

WPREU intern


I am looking forward to having the opportunity to work with social and educational data, as it may guide the direction of my career. I will be able to get a real sense of the research industry, and see if I thrive in this particular environment, or whether I should rethink my current career path. Overall, due to my upbringing, the issues of widening participation and ensuring that access to higher education is fair and equal are very close to my heart. I am looking forward to the dual opportunity to hone my employability skills, whilst simultaneously learning more about and working within a cause I am passionate about.

What Rachel has been working on

At this current stage in the placement, I have used SPSS to analyse the dataset at an institutional level, exploring a wide variety of widening participation indicators. My next task will be undertaking analysis at a faculty and departmental level.

I feel like I have got to grips with the basics of SPSS, and analysing descriptive statistics, providing me with the building blocks necessary in order to use the software in my future career. This new experience has made me feel more confident in conducting research and analysing data. Such skills will be crucial when undertaking my dissertation.

I have also written reports which summarise and explain my results. I have had to try to make the information accessible, interesting and visually appealing. It is hard to find the balance between providing sufficient detail, without making the volume of data overwhelming or make the report look cluttered and overloaded. Although this report is quite different to my academic work, the skills gained will be highly useful to me across my degree, as being able to present results in an interesting and accessible way for the general reader is often a requirement for assessed work.


I feel that if I was set a similar task now with the knowledge and experience that I have gained, I would be capable of completing the assignment in around half the time it has taken me"

Rachel

WPREU intern


One benefit of placements is that they allow people to test the waters before fully committing themselves to a certain career or role. I have heard from other placement students that completing this placement has guided them in regards to their graduate aspirations. Undertaking the placement has cemented my plan to work as a Social Researcher, as I now know that I enjoy doing this on a day to day basis.

Spending my summer preparing for my future career has been much more productive, and enjoyable than simply having a regular summer job, such as in retail. Not only is it more impressive and relevant for my Curriculum Vitae, but it is much more interesting and engaging. 

Reflecting on the placement

As my placement comes to a close, I have begun to reflect upon my experiences at WPREU. One of the biggest things I will take away from the experience is increased speed and efficiency. Trial and error of what worked took a lot of time while I familiarised myself with the process. For example, at first I heavily relied on the Mouse commands in SPSS. But now, I am much more comfortable utilising syntax, which is a much faster and more effective method. I feel that if I was set a similar task now with the knowledge and experience that I have gained, I would be capable of completing the assignment in around half the time it has taken me. Increased familiarity and efficiency will be incredibly useful when I undertake my dissertation and within my upcoming career.

One aspect of the placement that I appreciate is the opportunity to present and explain my findings at a dedicated workshop session. This will give me the opportunity to gain crucial feedback which I can implement during future research. Additionally, I will be able to increase the visibility of my work and provide interested individuals with further information. It will also help boost my presentation and communication skills, which are key in many jobs.

Something that I have learnt over the course of my placement is how much further there is to go in terms of making university accessible to all. Before my placement, I knew that certain types of people are more likely to go on to Higher Education, whereas others are underrepresented. However, seeing the figures first-hand really helped me understand. I was always passionate about widening participation to university, but completing this placement has made me a lot more aware of the nature of the issue. I will definitely be more mindful of issues surrounding widening participation as a result of completing this placement.

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