Returning to the University bubble after a placement year was always going to be an interesting challenge. After an enjoyable year working as part of the Catalyst Team at the Sussex Innovation Centre I have returned to the University of Sussex to complete my final year studying Business Management. Alongside my studies I have continued to work as a member of the team on a part time basis supporting both the Centre in its operations and a client I worked with last year. When I started my placement in September 2014, I had some idea of the benefits it would bring; future employment prospects, independence and improved workplace skills, but I had not foreseen the extent of the impact it would have on my final academic year.
It was immediately clear as I returned to University that it was going to be a different experience to that of my first two years. With regards to time management and self-motivation my time at the Centre has revolutionised my academic career. I was interested in my subject but found myself focusing more on the social side of university, struggling to prioritise work and playing catch up at the end of every term. A year on, my attendance is dramatically improved and I am up-to-date with my University work having completed the January set of final year exams. I now spend time ensuring I stay ahead and am motivated not just to do what is needed to get by, but to get as much out of my final year as I can and much of this stems from my experience as a placement year student.
The practical skills that my year in industry taught me have also helped me to develop in several other areas. I am using my project management skills honed with various clients to successfully run the University Cricket Club as President and to work cohesively in group projects to create work that is insightful as well as presentable. When discussing topics, ranging from strategy to entrepreneurship and small firms, innovation to non-profit management, I can draw on real examples of work I undertook to support arguments and provide clarity. Having worked under a variety of bosses due to Catalyst’s flexible nature, our leadership module has been relevant and my experience has contributed greatly to my understanding of the styles and theories that surround the subject.
The benefits of a placement year with regards to future employment have been extensively documented, but the personal development aspect is one that is often underestimated. With my year in industry complete, the experience I gained at the Catalyst programme is the gift that keeps on giving, not only in terms of continued part time work but in its contribution to my final year studies, propelling me towards the closing stages of my University tenure. I would recommend anyone considering a placement year to consider the Catalyst programme as a great way of gaining a wide range of experience and as a stepping stone into many different career paths.