Many degree courses provide students with the opportunity to spend a year on a research placement. Such placements give students a chance to work alongside scientists, gaining practical experience of what life is like in a research environment. But how can students go about getting the placement that they want? Here, 3 placement students from the EDIT lab discuss their tips…
1. Choosing your placement
Sarah: It’s so important to choose something that genuinely interests you. The reason I’m saying that is because I think interviewers can tell.
Ellie: When you’re writing your application you need to sound like you have an actual passion for whatever you are applying for.
TIP 1: Choose a placement that genuinely interests you
Alicia: It can be hard if you’re faced with a lot of placement choices, I know at Bath University where Ellie and I study we had hundreds of placements on offer. I’d say start by narrowing down your search to the area you are interested in working in, whether it’s clinical psychology, genetics or psychological research.
Sarah: For your favourite few, really look into what the placement is about, what will be expected of you and the ethos of the organisation. I based my choices on what modules I had enjoyed in first year, I was particularly interested in anxiety.
Ellie: If you’re interested in a few different things, and you’re not sure if your interests lie in research or clinical psychology, placements like those at the IoPPN are great for getting experience in a range of areas, with a bit of clinical contact as well as many research based tasks.
Sarah: And if there isn’t anything that grabs you on offer from your university, you can start by looking at researchers whose work interests you, and contact them about potential projects. I emailed some researchers who were working on new studies that I wanted to learn more about, most people are keen to help students who are eager to gain experience in their field.
Ellie: It’s something you’re going to be doing for the whole year so you need to enjoy it!
2. Application – CV and cover letter
Alicia: Most applications will be made up of a CV and a cover letter, and you’ve got to remember that they are very different things that you should use to show all of your abilities. A CV is more general, it’s about showing what skills you have gained from previous work. Whereas your cover letter is about your passion for that specific placement and why you would suit working there.
TIP 2: Use your CV to show skills that will be needed for your placement
Ellie: If you have a lot on your CV you can pick the examples that display the skills your supervisor is looking for. Jobs like waitressing can show you are hardworking and committed.
Alicia: When you write about previous work, don’t just describe the job, talk about examples where you used the skills needed for the placement. For example:
“Teamwork was required to ensure efficient communication between the two bars and the kitchen and, at times, to deal with difficult customers.”
Sarah: Your cover letter is your opportunity to translate your voice into your application. You should definitely research your placement first.
Ellie: Yes! Research the placement!
Alicia: RESEARCH THE PLACEMENT.
Sarah: Look into the research that has been conducted by the team you’re applying to work with and show that you’re passionate about the same topics.
TIP 3: Use your cover letter to show you have researched the placement and have a passion for the work
Ellie: It’s also important for your application to look professional. Don’t use abbreviations and make sure you check your spelling and grammar.
Alicia: You don’t know exactly what you’re going to be asked in your interview, but there are some things you should always prepare for.
Sarah: If you’re confident that you know enough about what they could ask you, it really helps to calm your nerves on the day. If it’s an area that interests you, your enthusiasm should show through.
Ellie: Though you shouldn’t just prepare for psychology or research questions, because most interviewers will also ask competency based questions.
Alicia: It’s good to prepare by writing down examples of times that you’ve displayed teamwork, good communication and other skills that will be important for your placement.
Ellie: Also be prepared for creative questions that require you to think more about your response. For example, something like this:
“Tell us about a time when you made a mistake, explain how you fixed it and what you learnt from it…”
Sarah: Make sure you’ve got plenty of time to get to your interview, just giving yourself some time to calm down before you go in can make all the difference.
Alicia: Overall, as long as you have an interest in research, whether you know what you would like to do in the future or not, and you convey this interest through your application and interview, you’ll definitely be in with a shot!