This is a post dedicated to the placement student of the future. Most placements go off without any major problems, result in a good mark at the end and a good learning experience. The vast majority of people won’t be unhappy, but it is inevitable that someone will have a less than good experience. If, like me, you get demoralized with your placement for whatever reason… hopefully you’ll find this motivating.
My motivation for writing is that my past year – my placement year – has been packed full of stuff. Highs, yes, but a majority of lows. It’s difficult to describe in detail (a year is a lot of busy), but this post is hopefully going to provide good information for future MPhys students who end up in my position; not really happy, and unable to do much about it. It’s even somewhat extendable to BSc sandwich students. The aim of this post is that if anyone should need it, there’s a resource to help see them through a bit better.
I wrote a while ago about my placement and how it’s not really been what I’d hoped. I won’t go into detail, but let’s suffice it to say that it has all been challenging for me in ways it probably shouldn’t have. I’ve regularly been overwhelmed with stress, and I have to say that I wish I had someone or somewhere I could have gone to who’d have told me it’s not a unique situation.
You, the reader, might not be on placement (or even a student) yourself. In that case, I urge you to add to the following list by commenting, and try to send this to other people who you know who might find it useful. Hopefully this will eventually be seen by someone who’ll benefit from it. So here are the things I wish I’d been regularly reminded over the past year. Some of them are simple, even obvious, but I don’t think that makes them any less worth saying.
- Try to maintain your enthusiasm. Things get boring, dull, slow, difficult, stressful, or all of the above. Don’t let it get to you. What you’re doing is worth doing, and there are better things around the metaphorical corner.
- Stay in contact with your friends. Seriously, if it wasn’t for a couple of really good supportive people in my friends network, I’d have given up. I really would.
- Try your hardest to learn from every bad thing that happens. One of the things which I’m taking out of this is a new perspective on how to deal with other personality types at work. You might not need to learn that, but you’ll learn something useful that you didn’t expect to. That’s a very useful thing, even if it’s not really the reason you’re there.
- Luckily, it’s only ten months. You don’t have to be there for that long, so even if it’s bad you’ll get out of there. It might seem like a distant prospect, but worry not; the end is in sight.
- It’s never all bad. There have certainly been highlights to my stay, and you take those away with you too. I’ll never forget the feeling of knowing something nobody else has realized yet – the essence of discovery is one of the most motivating things I’ve ever experienced.
- Visit your department as often as you can. Being in a relaxed academic zone rather than a workplace is incredibly refreshing, especially when you get to chat about Carl Sagan with your peers. If you’re too far away to visit, then stay in regular contact with your University’s Visiting Tutor or use a convenient Facebook page (Physoc, I’m looking at you!).
- Try to be proud of your work. The morale boost of just understanding that what you’re doing is important and useful and above all good quality is huge. Do not underestimate it.
- You won’t regret it. Providing you work hard and fulfil your own expectations of yourself, you’ll come out of the placement without regrets. You might not have been happy there, but at least you’ll have done it.
Finally, and very importantly, please remember this; you are not alone. Although you’ve been unlucky, you’re not the first person to have problems. You have people’s sympathy and you have the benefit of a support network at your University, as well as your friends. You’re on the course for a challenge, and you will certainly get one. By pushing through, even just by coping day by day, you are showing that you’re the good person and good researcher/scientist that you want to be. Well done, and keep going!