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PGR Journeys

Should you do a placement during your PhD?

21 January 2020

Have you thought about doing a placement during your PhD? It might feel like a big undertaking during such a busy period of your life. However, the right placement could really help to enhance your PhD experience. Alex Willcox (a South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership-funded PhD student based at Bristol University) recently completed a placement within the Doctoral Academy team. Here, she shares her experience and tells us why it was so beneficial.

Over the past three months, I’ve been completing a placement at Cardiff University’s Doctoral Academy. It’s a requirement of my PhD program to complete a three-month placement in an area outside of my research. However, as a penultimate-year student, I was a little worried about taking time away from my project

I completed a professional training year during my undergraduate degree, so I knew how valuable placements were, but I was still a little unsure. I was halfway through an experiment when I started my time at the Doctoral Academy and putting everything on pause for three months felt a little inconvenient.

Despite my reservations, however, my placement has been one of the best experiences of my PhD so far. Taking the short trip over the bridge from Bristol to Cardiff has not only given me an insight into a career as a researcher developer but has helped change my perspective and see my project as part of a bigger picture.

In complete contrast to spending all my time focusing on one topic in great detail, I’ve spent the last three months working on a variety of tasks. From conducting a survey and review of the usage and awareness of online learning resources in the PGR community to – spoiler alert – developing content for a new career platform for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and early career researchers at Cardiff. It’s been a great experience to be able to apply all the skills I’ve developed during my PhD like writing and data analysis to real-life situations. It’s made me realise that I have so many employable qualities valued outside of basic research. In addition, having the chance to look behind the scenes at the Doctoral Academy has made me appreciate all the work that goes into providing training and opportunities for PGRs.

What’s surprised me the most during my placement is the diversity amongst the postgraduates I’ve met; from fully-funded students like me, to self-funded, international, part-time, and mature students. The Doctoral Academy has different activities and approaches to ensure every student gets the support they need during their studies. This ranges from their broad catalogue of workshops, to the online training they offer and their larger events such as Images of Research. There’s something for everyone; even me, as I’ve taken advantage of the Doctoral Academy’s programme while in Cardiff.

Finally, I haven’t even had to put my research on hold! The Doctoral Academy have bookable rooms available to all PGRs, so I have been able to invite my participants along in the evenings and continue making progress on my project. My research focuses on how movement is affected by age and it can often be hard to recruit volunteers. However, far from interfering with my research, my placement has allowed me to reach more diverse participants and discuss my work with different populations.

Overall, I’ve had a great time in Cardiff and my placement has opened up a new career path for me to explore after my PhD. To the whole team at the Doctoral Academy – thank you!

If you’re interested in doing a placement during your PhD, get in touch with the Futures Connect Team or log on to your Careers Account to find out about current opportunities.

Keep an eye out for the Doctoral Academy’s ‘Bite Size PhD Placements’. We will be sending more information via email in due course.