I can’t quite believe my year-long professional placement at the Sussex Innovation Centre is at its end. It only seems like yesterday arriving at the centre, feeling both nervous and eager (as can be expected), and starting my first full time job.
It was in my initial induction where one thing stuck with me and that was to ‘own the responsibility that comes with the job’. This was my first full-time job with real responsibilities that would make a genuine impact on people. So, I took this piece of advice on board and now one year later, I’ve been responsible for helping to deliver business-related projects to over 20 different small-to-medium sized enterprises.
So, what exactly did I do?
My long-term client was the University of Sussex’s Careers and Employability Centre. I was tasked with research and data projects to enable them to improve their service to employers and ultimately enhance the student employability experience. When not in the library, I helped to provide administrative support to SINC’s Business Research and Academic Innovation Network (BRAIN) project. Amongst my other duties, I’ve aided in design-based work for SINC and its members – the highlight being using my own ideas and IT skills to help design and build a property-based app with Agile App Co. I’ve also been given the opportunity to complete tasks in content creation, marketing, PR, market research, blog writing, administrative support, event support and much more. Some of my highlights have been:
Providing event support for the Brighton Chamber’s Annual Summit, as well as the UK Research Integrity Office’s Annual conference in London.
Conduct various market research reports, one example being conducting a competitor analysis for a car cleaning product manufacturer in Newhaven.
Creating content and managing social media accounts for an engineering & telecom company.
Provide and recommend user feedback on a new website for the Sussex Film Office.
The list could go on. But it’s fair to say I’ve been given a comprehensive experience into what business is like and what roles and responsibilities can be expected from a graduate student.
What have I learnt?
I think it’s fair to say I’ve gained a substantial amount of practical work experience and have developed some of the necessary skills that employers look for in workplace. I have understood how my strengths can be implemented in the tasks I’ve been given and appreciated where my weaknesses lie and what I can do to improve my employability skills.
This experience has also given me insight into what kind of job I may want in the future. The beauty of being on the Catalyst team is that the nature of the job requires you to work on various projects, each requiring different uses of skills and knowledge, and any day can be different from the last. I’m hoping to head into a career that follows a similar pattern.
Moving on from SINC and back to university for my final year, here are the most important things I will take away from my experience:
Be open-minded. Approach tasks and situations with an open mind and be genuinely willing to listen, learn and try new things. A good analogy is to think of your mind like a parachute – it doesn’t work if it’s not open. This was a crucial requirement for working on the Catalyst team as the nature of the work is all about being flexible to provide on-going business support to numerous clients. If you’re open, you will be able to tackle anything that is thrown at you.
Think long term. Of course, be mindful of what you want to do now, but also be considerate of how this experience will benefit you in the future. Particularly for placement students, graduating with a professional placement year will be an extremely appealing prospect for many employers. Which will be useful when it comes to searching for references for jobs!
Be clear. Amongst other things, being a university student taught me to explain things in copious amounts of detail (mostly in 3000+ word essays). But in the world of work, (most) people like to be told things as clearly and simply. From talking directly to people, to email, through to writing blogs, I have learnt to be concise in my communication and realised how easier it is to reach a mutual understanding when things are made clear.
Network. Appreciate the value of the people you work with. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to new people. Most people will appreciate taking the time to have a chat and learn a bit about what it is they do.
Don’t worry. This was a big thing for me, especially since I had very little work experience before coming to the Sussex Innovation, so it’s not surprising I came in feeling slightly anxious and worried about what lied ahead. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by an extremely supportive and friendly atmosphere and this helped to alleviate my worries over time. I often doubted whether or not I had done the right thing (simply because most of the tasks I was given, I had not done before), but I was fortunate enough to be given the support and reassurance from the senior team and the clients I worked with. Be willing to accept that you may not always be right 100% of the time, but don’t go the extent of doubting everything you do. Be confident in your abilities and never be afraid of asking for help.
To end of one of my favourite quotes, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”