Kick-start your engineering career with a student project

Joel Fryer, Ryan Thomas, and Kit Phillips are final-year Mechanical and Electronic Engineering students. Along with five other students they completed a student project, working with the Naval Weapons Group Team at Babcock International. 

Final-year Mechanical and Electronic Engineering students during their project with Babcock International.

Babcock International is a leading provider of critical, complex engineering services, which support national defence, save lives and protect communities. It focuses on three highly regulated markets – defence, emergency services and civil nuclear – delivering vital services and managing complex assets in the UK and internationally.

Babcock and the University of Exeter have been longstanding partners and this relationship has strengthened even further since Babcock’s acquisition of the Devonport Royal Dockyards in Plymouth in 2007. Having such a prominent and innovative partner on our doorstep is certainly an opportunity not to be missed!

The idea for a student project came to Mark Westcott an Exeter alumnus, now Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at Babcock. The project, coordinated by Professor Brownjohn, saw the participation of four mechanical engineering and four electrical engineering students in the final year of their integrated Master’s degree in Engineering. The students worked with the Naval Weapons Group Team and each had the chance to choose the project that piqued their interest the most.

During their time a Babcock, the team of students had a tour of Babcock’s factory and offices, as well as access to all facilities at Devonport Royal Dockyard. They could liaise with subject matter experts at Babcock and had funding available for building and testing prototypes. When the UK entered lockdown at the end of March, the students quickly adapted to working online, maintaining contact with Babcock through video conference calls.

All students worked to industry standards on a real R&D project, which was an incredible opportunity for them not only to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world engineering problems, but also to improve their employability as recent graduates entering the job market. Mark Westcott said, “I was impressed by the professionalism and commitment the team gave in supporting the projects.”

We had the chance to interview three of these students about their experience on this project.

What did you take away from your time at Babcock?

Joel Fryer: “Personally, having the opportunity to provide useful research for real-life engineering problems was exciting. The project briefs provided by Babcock were refreshing, and enabled us to complete interesting research that actually had real-world applications. Providing beneficial research for a company as prestigious as Babcock really leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, and is a great ending to my life at Exeter University.”

Ryan Thomas: “As a project it is more satisfying to know that what you are working on will have use to others in the future. Whist we were visiting Plymouth, we were able to see how our projects would be useful to structural health monitoring of the naval weapons they work with.”

Kit Phillips: “Creating a design from scratch for a system you will never physically interact with or know every specific detail is strange. It’s also rather exciting, the fact that I could create and simulate designs from the comfort of my bedroom which could be created and used on a real naval ship. Personally I found it very rewarding at the end, and a bit of a confidence boost in what I’m capable of.”

“Providing beneficial research for a company as prestigious as Babcock really leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, and is a great ending to my life at Exeter University.”

Would you recommend a similar experience to future student cohorts?

Joel Fryer: “I would definitely recommend this project to any students making their way into fourth year. Within the overall project, there are a number of varied and interesting parts that enabled us to put to the test our accumulated knowledge from the last three years. Bridging the gap between academic skills and professional work is key, and the experience gained during this project is something I’d recommend for any fourth year, not just those wanting to pursue an Engineering career.”

Ryan Thomas: “A better recommendation would be to choose projects that would be useful to yourself in the future. We were able to pick from around 8 different projects related to structural health monitoring, and we picked the projects we thought suited us well. This meant that we all enjoyed the project throughout the year.”

How do you think this experience will impact on your employability as you enter the job market as a recent graduate, especially during these difficult times?

Joel Fryer: “Personally, the experience was an important talking point during many of my interviews for graduate positions – I’ve been offered a graduate role and I owe a lot of the success with this application to my time working with Babcock. Employers are always looking for candidates that have experience, and providing research for Babcock International naturally comes in very useful. The personal experience was also really helpful. Our project supervisor, Mark Westcott, offered his expertise not only on the project, but also on any personal queries we had relating to our graduate application processes. Not to mention, liaising with a qualified engineer provides crucial professional skills.”

“I’ve been offered a graduate role and I owe a lot of the success with this application to my time working with Babcock.”

Ryan Thomas: “For the job I accepted I presented a 10 minute presentation on image recognition of circuit cards and explained how it is useful to Babcock. Companies like when engineers participate in group projects and it is good to show that you have participated in projects that work with industry personnel.”

Would you considering applying for a job at Babcock in the future?

Joel Fryer: “Definitely! During the project, we were invited to Babcock’s Combined Weapons and Electrical Workshop in Plymouth, where they showcased just a small part of Babcock’s cutting-edge naval weapons technology. This really demonstrated the exciting work that Babcock can offer.”

Kit Phillips: “I would consider and have applied for a job at Babcock, as it’s such a diverse company that the list of challenges to tackle must cover a lot of different fields.”

This student project has been an excellent exemplar of the fruitful collaboration between the University and Babcock International and is just one of the many ways in which students and recent graduates can get involved and kick-start their career with Babcock. The company offers industrial placements in Plymouth, Bristol and Leicester and multiple graduate programmes in Engineering and Science, Business Management and Project Management throughout the year.

We truly believe in this project and hope it will be the first one of many. Professor Brownjohn and Mark Westcott are already looking to create a new portfolio of projects and to recruit a new team of students for next year’s project, global pandemic permitting.

Grafters Only – Getting into the Beauty Industry

Maddie Davies graduated from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, with BA English in 2018. She’s currently Content Beauty Writer for online beauty retailer Feelunique. 

Maddie Davies, Exeter Alumn and current Content Beauty Writer for Feelunique

Upon graduating from Exeter I went on to travel around Sri Lanka for a month and returned home to begin job hunting. In August and September, I started an internship with London Evening Standard supporting the fashion and beauty team in the run-up and duration of London Fashion Week. During this fulfilling (unpaid) experience, I began applying for jobs that centralised around writing in the beauty industry, which is now one of the biggest industries in the UK. One day I applied for the role as a Beauty Writer for Feelunique; the next day, I was being asked to attend an interview the following week. A month later, I started my first job as a graduate at Feelunique based in Covent Garden.

“My part-time job throughout University was working as a make-up artist for brands such as Benefit Cosmetics and MAC. As an English student, it made sense to combine my love for beauty and my enthusiasm for writing.”

My part-time job throughout university was working as a make-up artist for brands such as Benefit Cosmetics and MAC. As an English student, it made sense to combine my love for beauty and my enthusiasm for writing. I love that I am working for one of the largest industries in the UK, an industry that is creative and constantly evolving. It’s the first major industry to take a positive step forward in animal cruelty and the reduction of plastic. It’s also an industry that welcomes all ages and genders. We are also capturing a new generation – one that is actually interested in what goes into their products, what it does for their skin and how it impacts the wider environment. I am constantly learning in this industry and I am forever excited by what’s to come.

I loved the campus – it felt like a little student bubble plonked right on top of the hill that couldn’t be burst. I loved that I could do my work somewhere different every day and not get bored of it (even if 60% of my dissertation was written in Queen’s Cafe drinking flat whites and eating pastries).

I choose to study at Exeter because of its tremendous reputation for teaching, particularly for English. The syllabus excited me from the moment I saw it on the first open day in June 2016 – I just knew that I was going to study there. With my home being South Wales, the hills and greenery of Exeter didn’t feel too far away from what I was used to. So, I think the idea of a home-away-from-home had a bit of a part to play in my decision making, too.

I’ve learned how to interact with PRs and how that industry works so well with the world of beauty. I’ve had the experience of interviewing major leaders in this field, such as Charlotte Tilbury, Huda Kattan and Trinny Woodall. Throughout my time as an intern I was fortunate enough to be published in Cosmopolitan, Red Magazine, and London Evening Standard Online.

“Email as many people as you can for work experience – for some of my internships I emailed every address I could find (a total of 48) and only one got back to me. From there it snowballed, so don’t be afraid to do the same.”

Get as much experience on your CV as possible; this industry seeks grafters, if they see you’ve been working unpaid, that shows them how much you want to succeed. I hope to go on to be a senior beauty writer and from there I’d be excited to see where the industry takes me.

Email as many people as you can for work experience – for some of my internships I emailed every address I could find (a total of 48) and only one got back to me. From there it snowballed, so don’t be afraid to do the same. Appreciate that you will have to do the rubbish jobs. Mine included picking up dry-cleaning, making tea and cleaning fruit. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you, some like to see how much you’re willing to do – others are simply too busy to do it themselves. Make sure you’re on the pulse of newness in this field. Something new and exciting is always happening here and to show that you know that is a huge bonus.

Enhance your career with a GBP role

Jennifer Fox graduated from the University of Exeter in 2017 with BA Modern Languages. She’s currently a GBP working for the University helping with the transition to a blended learning environment. 

Jennifer Fox, Exeter Graduate and current GBP

 I completed my Bachelor’s degree in French and Italian at the University of Exeter; a four-year course with an Erasmus year studying in Italy, and a fantastic experience. In my final year, I felt like I wasn’t yet finished with studying and decided to enrol on a Master’s course in Linguistics at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. The first year of my Master’s was spent in Belgium and the second in southeast France, where I completed one semester as an Erasmus student and one as an intern at Université Grenoble-Alpes. By the time I’d finished my dissertation and graduated in September 2019, I felt ready to return to the UK, and to transition from student life to the world of work (plus I was tired of being poor!).

Why I applied for a GBP role

As a University of Exeter graduate, I received emails from the Career Zone about graduate opportunities and while I was abroad, I subscribed to the GBP Bulletin to keep up to date with the kind of positions that were being advertised. A Graduate Business Partnership (GBP) role enables you to make that first step into the job market without entering a graduate scheme or needing vast amounts of professional experience to apply for a job. I was attracted to the HE sector and although at the time I hadn’t completely made up my mind that this was the sector I wanted to pursue a career in, I knew that I could use the skills and experience I’d acquired as a student and could apply what I learned in a GBP role to future positions elsewhere.

“A GBP role is a developmental one, which means it is flexible and allows you to take control of what you want to learn.”

How my current role started and how it has developed

I started in my role as a Student Experience Support Officer in January this year. When it began, my primary responsibility was to provide administrative support for Exeter Law School with their Academic Personal Tutoring system. I scheduled and coordinated academic personal tutor meetings by liaising with academics and students. I monitored progress, collated feedback from both staff and students and presented a report to senior staff members. In addition, I assisted in Academic Personal Tutor training and helped run Senior Tutor forums, working alongside colleagues to enhance the academic personal tutoring framework in place at the University.

When all University staff were instructed to work remotely and all face-to-face interactions with students were ceased a week before lockdown, I knew that my work and responsibilities were about to change dramatically. Many of the projects I was working on could not continue and events I was organising would no longer be able to take place because students were returning home. I took the initiative to speak to my line manager and the line manager of the Technology Enhanced Learning team, who were based in the office opposite mine and with whom I’d worked on some previous tasks and I transferred to their team.

The work I do now is completely different. I assist with transitioning teaching and assessments online; producing support materials and advising academics, and professional services staff on a range of software and technologies. This required a lot of self-training, as I had to familiarise myself very quickly with software I had never used before, from Microsoft Teams and SharePoint to screencasting and video applications like Panopto, because I needed to teach other members of staff how to use them. I have also been teaching myself how to navigate the University’s virtual learning environment, ELE, as an administrative user and have built online courses and exams. In the coming months, I will be closely involved with Project Enhance and Enhance Internships, where my team and I will be providing advice, support and training for the SCP Digital Learning Assistants and GBP Graduate Digital Learning Developers, which are really exciting opportunities to assist with blended learning.

“I would highly recommend a GBP role to start a career. Not only does it help you to identify your professional ambitions but it also lays the foundations to achieve them.”

My greatest success and how a GBP will help me progress in my career

I would say my greatest success has been learning to take initiative and adapt in times of uncertainty. I was nominated for an Above & Beyond recognition for overcoming challenges in a new team during the high-pressure Covid-19 situation. Moving to the TEL team was the best decision I could have made; it has given more security and value to my work and strengthened my self-belief – I would never have thought I would be able to do a technology-based role, let alone succeed in one!

A GBP role is a developmental one, which means it is flexible and allows you to take control of what you want to learn. When I first started, my line manager asked me what skills I wanted to acquire and improve to bolster my CV and we tailored my tasks and projects to achieve this. I have used the role to familiarise myself with working in an office environment within a large organisation and across different teams, often meeting and collaborating with different types of people. I have improved my confidence in communicating with senior stakeholders and learned skills in team working, problem solving and resilience, all of which will be indispensable for the next steps in my career.

I would highly recommend a GBP role to start a career. Not only does it help you to identify your professional ambitions but it also lays the foundations to achieve them. It has allowed me to work alongside a range of different people, with different outlooks and knowledge, to hone my transferable skills and to build valuable professional relationships.

From GBP Intern, to Business Manager to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education)

To mark the launch of the ENHANCE internships Jonnie Critchley shares how his career has progressed since beginning as a GBP intern at the University of Exeter. 

Jonnie Critchley, Business Manager to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) and former GBP Intern

As Business Manager to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), I’m fortunate to work closely alongside senior educational leaders across the University, and with the Officers and Student Representatives of the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union. I have played a role in developing the University’s new Education Strategy, as well as other important projects such as a recent review of Wellbeing. Now, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges and pressures it brings, it’s a privilege to work with so many inspiring colleagues, all focused on doing the very best by the students of Exeter. It’s also exciting to see the number of Graduate Business Partnership (GBP) and Student Campus Partnership (SCP) opportunities available to get involved in this work – a perfect example of the kind of impact ambitious graduates and students can have in such roles.

“…the GBP opportunity stood out to me…in providing a solution to that frequent problem of ‘need experience to get a job, need a job to get experience’”

I’ve progressed through a series of roles within the University, but my first was as a GBP Administration and Projects Assistant working in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences (CEMPS), in 2014. I’m not an Exeter graduate; I had just finished a Master’s Degree at Warwick, was looking for my first job, and was particularly attracted to a career in Higher Education. HE, by and large, isn’t a sector that you enter via graduate schemes like Finance or Law, so the GBP opportunity stood out to me. It was also perfect, in providing a solution to that frequent problem of ‘need experience to get a job, need a job to get experience’ by offering a graduate-level role structured around specific projects and training opportunities.

In my GBP role I took on a range of administrative duties as well as specific projects such as organising two academic conferences and a series of public lectures. I used the role to learn the basics of working in an office environment, to benefit from as many training opportunities as I could, and to start to build my understanding of how a University worked and to build relationships with academic and professional services colleagues within CEMPS which I’ve maintained since. The networking events and workshops organised as part of the GBP programme itself were also beneficial, for learning team working, problem solving and leadership skills. I should also say that I met my now wife at a GBP training event!

“I spent just under 8 months as a GBP, and it provided a fantastic foundation for my career since. The experience gained could have been translated into any number of careers; I was able to progress within the University into roles which have always had students and education at their heart.” 

I spent just under 8 months as a GBP, and it provided a fantastic foundation for my career since. The experience gained could have been translated into any number of careers; I was able to progress within the University into roles which have always had students and education at their heart. I worked in Student Recruitment, and then in industrial engagement roles where I was fortunate to be closely involved in the launch of Exeter’s first Degree Apprenticeship programmes. All along I was building skills and knowledge that have helped me to where I now find myself, including leading high-level discussions with senior management and external stakeholders. I was also really fortunate to have the opportunity to represent the University externally, including building a successful relationship with employers such as IBM and BT, and working at an international Mining Industry conference in Toronto, Canada.

 “I’m still early in my career journey, and believe that the success and opportunities I’ve enjoyed to date have all stemmed, in various ways, from the start which the GBP scheme gave me.”

I began my current role working with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) in August 2018 after spending some time as Student Recruitment Manager in CEMPS. I’m still early in my career journey, and believe that the success and opportunities I’ve enjoyed to date have all stemmed, in various ways, from the start which the GBP scheme gave me. In particular, when I look back, it was the respect with which I was treated as a GBP, often by senior colleagues in the College that made a big difference; as a GBP and in roles since I always felt I had a contribution to make. That couldn’t be more true of the GBPs and SCPs who’ll get involved in enhancing education for Exeter students in response to Covid-19, through the Enhance Internships.

A virtual internship during lockdown

Georgia Humbert is a 2nd Year Business and Management with Industrial Experience (at Warner Bros). 

Georgia Humbert, 2nd Year Business and Management with Industrial Experience (at Warner Bros), working from home on her internship.

I’m on my 7th month of an internship with http://spoton.net a web design company with whom I started in October 2019. I found the marketing internship through My Career Zone, and the experience has been amazing for developing my workplace skills, and has shown me where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I would really recommend everyone to consider doing one! I have the aim of working in either the fashion or the entertainment industry, so wanted to explore if marketing would suit me as a potential long-term career. My time with http://itseeze.com/ (subsidiary company of Spoton.net) has been really valuable for this and, as a result, have just secured a third year placement in marketing. Furthermore, it has provided me with clarity that creativity is one of my strengths and something I enjoy applying to my work, so I intend to pursue creative roles moving forward. Prior to the internship I had started a hand painted wall art business

and have subsequently found my own ways of marketing it, so it’s been great to push myself to go about things slightly differently, and I have learnt skills I will carry over to my personal work.

For everyone doing a term time internship, we all know that juggling lectures, assignments, societies, as well as this regular commitment can have its challenges. But now, working from home due to the Covid-19 lockdown is a new one to overcome. As I started the internship a while before lockdown, I have had to change from working in an office once a week to homeworking, a change that seemed a bit daunting. I have a desk at home which I work from and I structure my day as I would if I was going to the office. Despite the big adjustment I would say it’s nice to skip the long commute to Torquay! This means I wake up with time to get ready so I can start at 9am and take a lunch break as I would normally. I find that I tend to take more breaks in the day at home because my family is there, so I usually make up for it by working a bit later into the early evening. I find this actually helps my productivity because breaks help me to stay motivated and alert.

Luckily for me, the team at http://itseeze.com/ are really supportive and as a web-based company, pretty much all my work can be done remotely. The marketing team is very small with just three of us so it’s easy to stay in contact, mostly through email or Trello. Because of the nature of my work, which is often content creation or routine tasks, plus how we use online task managers, we didn’t often have meetings in the office so this hasn’t been a problem since lockdown measures.

The original plan was for me to work in the office for a whole week in April, after which I would finish my internship, but since lock down we have decided it would be more useful for the company if I stuck to working one day per week. It will be strange to finish the internship remotely after working in the office for a few months, but the change has been another learning experience in terms of being adaptive and organised to work independently.

If you are currently doing a term-time internship from home, here are some things I’ve learned from the transition which might help you:

Make sure you have all the resources you need

One of the main things to consider if you’re used to working in an office is transferring all the files, passwords you’ll need etc. It’s probably a good idea to ask your manager to do the transfer of essential data to you; for me that was email passwords and social media logins. I had a bit of a struggle to set up my work email from home but once it was managed it has been a lot easier to stay in contact with the rest of the company (Thunderbird is a great desktop app for this).

You might need to change how you are allocated tasks 

Since I started at  http://itseeze.com/ we have used Trello as a tool for my managers to give me tasks online, allowing us to all see my progress. If you are used to chatting to your supervisor about being given jobs to do, suggesting this could be a good idea as it is really clear and easy to use plus you can add attachments and messages. It will probably be useful to your manager at this time in particular, if you can get on with your tasks without having to constantly communicate, and this is a great way to do that.

Get used to working independently 

As said before, every working environment is different, but if you run out of jobs to do it’s a good idea to have a list of other things to be getting along with without needing to be asked. For example, I have set up a Pinterest account for  http://itseeze.com/ so I can spend time managing that. If you’re stuck for ideas, competitor research and new marketing ideas never go amiss! We have a routine of procedure for my colleagues to give me feedback, via either email or Trello, the week after I send it; this way we all know what time frames to expect and I can access all the feedback online.

Don’t worry too much and keep in contact 

Checking in with your supervisor regularly with any questions or concerns is great for everyone, so they know how best to support you and can get a heads-up if things aren’t going to plan. It is understandable that the transition can take a bit of time to get used to, but the more you work independently the easier it becomes!

My Experiences on the Civil Service Early Diversity Internship Programme

Joshua Peters is a second year Politics and International Relations undergraduate at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. 

Joshua Peters, Politics and International Relations student, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

Last year I made the decision to apply for various first year schemes on offer by many companies. I applied to companies in Law and in Banking but being a Politics student, and someone whose family has had a history in the Civil Service, I also made the conscious decision to apply to the Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP). Fast forward 6 months, an application process and a telephone interview – I found myself at The Oval cricket ground in South London attending the opening ceremony of the EDIP scheme.

On the train journey to The Oval I had no idea what to expect from the opening ceremony. I felt nervous, excited, anxious and curious all at the same time! When I finally arrived, I was greeted so warmly by the staff that I quickly lost all the anxiety and nervousness that I came there with, and instead I felt eager to hear and see what the opening ceremony had to offer. A quick scan of the room and it was almost impossible not to notice the diversity that existed. This certainly helped me feel more at ease. Everyone on the scheme had been allocated places to sit at a table. It was great talking to the other people partaking in the scheme. Speaking to the other interns showed me diversity in terms of degrees being studied. One person studied PPE, another was studying Law and someone was studying Finance and Mathematics! This showed me that anyone from any background can have an interest in a career in the Civil Service. The opening ceremony itself was really illuminating. We heard from a number of motivational speakers who detailed to us the trials and tribulations they had gone through and how they had overcame them to be where they are today.

“On the train journey to The Oval I had no idea what to expect from the opening ceremony… When I finally arrived, I was greeted so warmly by the staff that I quickly lost all the anxiety and nervousness that I came there with, and instead I felt eager to hear and see what the opening ceremony had to offer. A quick scan of the room and it was almost impossible not to notice the diversity that existed.”

When you gain a place on the EDIP scheme you are allocated a government department. I was assigned to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Within this department I, along with another EDIP intern, was assigned to a civil servant, Mel, who worked in the food section of the department and even more specifically, the ‘food labelling’ sub-group (I didn’t know this was a thing either!). Shadowing Mel for the week was great and extremely insightful because I was able to see first-hand what working in the Civil Service actually looked like. I attended every meeting that she attended and saw most tasks that her and her sub-group were working on. I felt as though I came at a bad time as quite literally all work in the department was related to Brexit and creating contingencies if we left the EU with no deal. However, seeing how the Civil Service dealt with an issue such as Brexit was very interesting. Also, during the week, we were given a talk by Fast Streamers on different streams. The Fast Stream is the graduate scheme within the Civil Service, which offers many different streams, including a diplomatic stream, and an economic stream. I’d recommend paying a visit to the Fast Stream website to find out more about this.

I would highly encourage first years to apply for the EDIP scheme. The scheme allows for a first taste of networking at the opening and closing ceremonies and also a unique insight into a workplace as varied as the Civil Service. If you’re having trouble deciding on whether you’d be more suited to corporate employment or public sector employment, EDIP can certainly be a great starting point in helping to figure this out!

Insight Weeks Explained

My name is Maxine and I’m a 3rd year Business and Management student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. In April 2018 I participated in an insight week at KPMG on their ‘Women in Deal Advisory’ programme. This summer I completed a summer internship at KPMG in the same department and in 2020 I’ll be joining them as a graduate. 

Maxine Mukunga, BA Business and Management student, University of Exeter

What are insight weeks?

Insight weeks, also called spring weeks, are short internships offered to early year university students so that they can learn more about a company. They are intended to give students an ‘insight’ into what a company does and what career options they offer. Despite the name, they vary in length depending on the company, with some being a full week and some only a couple of days. Insight weeks are often used by companies as recruitment channels for future internships and placements.

What time of year should students apply for them?

Applications open from as early as August up to around January but the exact dates do vary from company to company. On many company websites, there will be the option to sign up to be notified by e-mail when their applications open. Application deadlines also vary, with some even closing early.

Some people I know who applied to many spring weeks found it useful to create a spreadsheet with the opening and closing dates for all of the companies they intended on applying to, and the stages they were at with each application.

Most insight weeks will be for first year students if they’re doing a three year course or second year students if they’re doing a four year course. Some companies will accept penultimate year students, so it’s still worth doing your research if you’re a second year student on a three year course, or a third year student on a four year course.

Where did you find out about your insight week?

I wasn’t aware of insight weeks until I attended an employer event on campus where they talked about the one they ran. After the event, I did a Google search of other companies that did them. Google directed me to websites like e4s which list opportunities from many different companies, and also official recruitment pages on company websites. I was mainly interested in consulting so I looked at consulting and professional services companies.

When I first started looking, I planned on applying to management/strategy consulting but as I had (surprisingly) enjoyed the accounting module I had done in my first term, I decided to also apply to the KPMG Women in Deal Advisory insight week as a wild card. I applied for 4 insight programmes but decided that KPMG was the one I wanted.

What was the application process like?

The first stage of the application was completing a form with information about myself, work experience and education. The next stage was completing a situational judgement test and a numerical reasoning test. In preparation for these tests, I practised with ones I found online and through My Career Zone. After that, I was asked to record myself answering set questions related to why I was interested in deal advisory, and why I was interested in KPMG.

The final stage of the process was an invitation to their London offices where I had to complete a case study exercise on one of their laptops in a room with the other candidates. The case study involved reading through a booklet of information with written sections, graphs and tables, and financial statements about a company. After given time to read the case study, I then had to answer questions and make recommendations for the company based on the information provided. Spellcheck and autocorrect was disabled on the laptops during the case study exercise. I tend to type quickly and hope that spell check corrects me, so not having that safety net did make me a bit nervous. So, if you type like me, I would recommend getting comfortable with typing without autocorrect and spellcheck in case you encounter something similar!

Was it paid?

I was paid for the duration of the internship which was great. Luckily I was able to stay with family members which meant my costs weren’t too high anyway, but lots of companies understand not everyone is that fortunate which is why many insight weeks are paid. If you find one that isn’t paid but the travel/living costs would be affordable, I would recommend doing it as the experience is worthwhile.

What did you do during the week? Who did you meet? 

During the week, we had presentations from various employees, from recent graduates to partners. They talked about their career paths and the projects they had worked on. Throughout the week, we were given group activities to do related to the roles available. One of them was working together to come up with a solution to a problem and then presenting our ideas to senior members of staff. We also got to shadow employees at various levels of the business.

The final day was an ‘assessment centre’ style session where – if successful – led to a summer internship offer. The first part of the assessment was a group exercise with several stages. The assessors swapped tables for each stage so we were judged by a different person at each stage. The second part of the assessment centre was an interview with a senior member of staff asking us more about our motivation for deal advisory, our career goals and also some competency questions. Having spent the week learning about the work employees did, the interview was much easier than others I’d had in the past as I had lots of information to draw on for my answers.

After the assessments, there was a networking drinks session with employees we had interacted with during the week and others. They were all happy to answer any questions we had and keen to find out more about us.

Was the insight week useful? 

I found the internship to be very useful. As it was an area of business I hadn’t had much exposure to, I learnt a lot from hearing the experiences of current employees, getting to ask them questions and shadowing them. Getting to see what they did day to day made me feel less nervous about going into work after graduating as the tasks were not as complicated as I had imagined them to be.

Has it influenced your career choice? 

The insight week led me to choose a completely new career path. I was set on going into management consulting before it but now I have accepted a graduate offer from KPMG in deal advisory. I am very glad I took a chance on something new and started thinking about my career early on.

Which professional services and consulting companies offer spring weeks in 2020?

 To find out if a company offers insight weeks, head to their careers website. Here is a brief list of some of the most popular insight weeks:

KPMG

Deloitte

PWC

EY

McKinsey

Internships Demystified

Bethan Watson is a third year BA English mature student on the Streatham Campus, currently pursuing graduate schemes in the UK and graduate opportunities in Australia. 

Bethan Watson, current Exeter student and explorer of internships

University is already tough – a careful balancing act between part-time work, societies and additional responsibilities; all on top of your degree. Just when you think you’re catching a break, final year rolls around, bringing with it the stress of securing graduate employment.

We’re told we need an internship to impress graduate employers, but they’re also an opportunity to help students at every stage of their university career. They help you narrow your options; they also help you practice skills in a formal workplace setting. At their best, internships function to alleviate rather than intensify the stress of graduation.

The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”

Beyond traditional routes offered by public sector routes or multi-national private sector employers, which follow a linear path of application form, aptitude tests, interview and then assessment centres, there are plenty of options available.

In an effort to explore every sector that interested me and develop a practical understanding of the career routes I would be entering – beyond the glossy marketing material – I threw myself into every opportunity. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and as a first year, my interests were more inklings than fleshed-out plans. For example, I was interested in a media career (I had always liked the idea of working for Sky News), the public sector (I’d heard other students talking about the Civil Service Fast Stream), and business and technology-focused careers (I’d listened to a lot of tech podcasts). I used my next three years at university making sure I’d thoroughly explored my options, and internships were my vehicle to do so.

The journey is arguably as important as the internship itself. In my experience, securing any work placement requires discipline, engagement and commitment. It’s not a question of intelligence or connections, as long as you’re determined to “make your own luck.”

Firstly, I spent some time researching the schemes offered by the Career Zone. Access to Internships allows students to create their own fully-funded internships. Pathways would give me a one-week paid internship in several different sectors, depending on the stream I chose. The Career Mentor scheme would allow me to build a professional relationship with an industry professional. These were the schemes that interested me the most, so I set myself the goal that I would engage with each at least once in my university career.

The career pathways I decided upon pursuing in my third year were a direct result of the experience I gained over my internships; both positive and negative. I want to discuss my journey towards securing internships, and then how these internships shaped my future career decisions.

My first interest was in television. Paid media opportunities are difficult to secure, with a focus on practical work experience. I started with nothing. To further this interest, in my first year I became involved in XTV, a media society at Exeter University. I was elected to committee position in my second year, as Alumni Coordinator. I scheduled events and talks with alumni who were successful in the industry. I found an alumna on LinkedIn who interested me. I organised an event for her to speak about her career to our society members and I expressed a genuine interest in her work. She kindly introduced me to the recruitment team at her company at my request – Alpha Grid, a media company affiliated with the Financial Times. Due to the company’s size (250 employees or less), I was able to arrange a fully sponsored internship over the Easter holidays through the university, where the university reimbursed the company for my wages. I was also able to secure a travel grant of £250 of Widening Participation funding which paid for my living costs whilst in London. I stayed with a friend at her apartment in North London for the duration of the internship.

Secondly, I wanted to experience working in a multi-national company with a formal graduate entry route. I researched companies extensively in my first year and found that the values and strategy of Aviva aligned with my own, and loved the global structure of their graduate scheme. Whilst I knew nothing about insurance (why would I, as a first year?), I was attracted to how the company portrayed themselves across their social media platforms. I read their news bulletins, posts, blogs and read their annual reports. They were firmly in my mind as a potential graduate option.

A 10-week internship in London was an unattainable option for me; as a student from a low socio-economic background, I would struggle to cover living and accommodation costs.

Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture.

With this in the back of my mind, I started attending Career Zone networking events. Everything from visiting speakers in law and finance to interview and leadership skills workshops. I eventually met a second year student when I was in first year, who belonged to a social mobility charity called UpReach. She encouraged me to join. As well as many professional development events and workshops, UpReach offered an internship opportunity with Aviva, which was 6 weeks long with fully covered travel expenses. I completed a multi-step interview process and was accepted onto the scheme, which enabled me to afford to do the internship. Even for students who don’t qualify for these charities, there are other organisations that run similar partnered internships, such as Wiser Academy.

I had inklings about career routes I might be interested in, but wasn’t sure if they were for me yet. For example, I flirted with law briefly as an option and attended a Women In Law society event about in-house legal services. I met an individual who worked for Plymouth County Council’s legal team. She invited the students attending the event to contact her about organising a one week work experience placement. I recognised this as a unique and unconventional law experience opportunity, and whilst it was not a paid placement, there were opportunities for graduate employment with postgraduate study accreditation. I had always been interested in law, but hadn’t thought about this kind of route previously. Whilst I did not pursue this opportunity, I know that students who did felt it was well worth it.

My third potential option was heritage sector work. The Career Zone offered a scheme called Pathways to Arts, Culture and Heritage, which gave students a week of training and a week’s paid internship. I applied for the scheme at the end of my first year and was successful; the process included an assessment centre-like group workshop interview, which was great practice for future applications. I networked with the professional speakers during Pathway’s training week; I added a heritage consultant on LinkedIn whose was in the middle of creating her own start-up and I expressed an interest in her work. I then completed a week’s paid internship at the Eden Project.

Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills.

From working in the sector and speaking with professionals and learning about their careers, I realised that I didn’t want to pursue heritage. However, I spoke to the coordinator of the Pathways scheme and expressed my interest in a graduate employer who I also could’ve applied to work for on the internship. The company I asked about was a television production company, Two Four, owned by Channel 4. The coordinator kindly helped me organise work experience, and, upon its successful completion, I approached the company and proposed an Access to Internship-sponsored placement over the summer of my second year. Their recruitment team accepted my proposal, but funding had unfortunately elapsed at that point.

Each internship gave me a different perspective on the industry I was interested in applying for. It was only by being in those work environments that I was able to develop a sense of the progression opportunities, the day-to-day work and the company culture. My options narrowed organically. I realised that I wanted to work for a large company after graduation because of the investment in training new graduates, for example, and that if I were to work in television, I would want to work for a large public broadcaster and outside of the London area. I really enjoyed my placement at Aviva, so that has compelled me to apply for their graduate scheme and I will apply with a strong understanding of their expectations. It’s difficult to get a sense of your preferences until they are tested.

I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you.

Equally, internships do provide a genuine opportunity to develop soft skills. These are the skills that are difficult to quantify – networking, resilience, leadership, collaboration and communication skills. They make sense when practically applied, and are all key to securing any form of employment. When I “networked” to get my internship at the Financial Times, I was genuine in my interest in the individual and her work whose connection helped me secure that placement. I was resilient when I realised I could never afford a 10-week internship and dedicated myself to finding alternatives. Leadership, collaboration and communication skills were all demanded of me when I: gained a committee position in XTV and organised and hosted events: attended employability events and became aware of UpReach: asked the Pathways coordinator to introduce me to the television production company: proposed to use Access to Internships to undertake an internship after my work experience. These situations developed my confidence and give real world examples of where I practiced the competencies that employers are looking for. Beyond employability, they made me more independent and capable as a person.

It is only a minority who come to university with a strong idea of where they want to be at the end of three years. I was intimidated by the concept of internships and graduate employment, but I approached it methodically and was honest with myself about what I wanted, what I liked, what I was good at. There’s something for everyone after graduation, and internships are the ideal opportunity to find what works for you. I would encourage everyone to look beyond what is advertised to you and pursue opportunities – even if you have to make them yourself – that you are genuinely interested in before dedicating yourself to a career pathway.

Getting into Radio

Annie Tricks graduated from the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, with a 1st in BA Drama in 2018. She’s currently working as Campaign Executive at Global, and hosts The Grad Pod  

Annie Tricks, Exeter alum, Campaign Executive at Global, and podcaster

Whilst at University I threw myself into the societies. I always loved learning new skills and meeting new people, and many of the societies at Exeter provided this. In my First Year I remember throwing myself in perhaps a bit too much, but that’s always a good thing as you can work out what you’re truly interested in. One of my big loves were the three Xmedia societies, particularly Xpression, the student radio station. While growing up, radio was always in the background, but in my life Drama had always been in the foreground which is why I chose to study it at university. Nevertheless, the thought of getting involved in radio intrigued me, so I signed up to Xpression at the Freshers Fair.

Joining Xpression was one of the best steps I took during my time at Exeter. Not only was it great to learn how to control a radio desk and make my own radio show, but I also met so many interesting and exciting people from different degrees, who have now become my best friends. In my First Year I mainly worked on Xpression because I found it really enjoyable. I loved music, so got involved in the music team conducting interviews and helping out at various events. However, at the end of First Year I realised that I loved it more than a hobby, and began to consider it becoming my career.

“…there are parallels in terms of creativity and organisation which I learnt from my course. However the biggest contribution towards where I am now from my university life has to be Xpression.”

I knew radio was really hard to get into, and thought I had better start early, so I emailed a lot of local stations asking if I could get some work experience. This was really key in terms of getting to where I am now, as I threw myself into lots of different roles: promoting on the streets for Radio Exe, volunteering at events for the BBC, shadowing shows, writing bulletins, and editing interviews for Phonic FM. I tried to do as much as I could, as well as doing a lot for Xpression itself whilst being on the committee. I was then very fortunate to be given the contact details of a producer at Heart, and after getting in touch with him I landed a four month internship beginning at the start of Third Year.

The internship was extremely useful in terms of gaining experience. Not only did I learn how Global (who own Heart) worked in terms of programming, but I was involved in coming up with show ideas, editing promotional trails that went on air, and event managing when I helped out at their big Christmas Fair. I made many great contacts also, which enabled me to get where I am now; working for Global in Birmingham.

Although I’m not on the programming side yet, I’m very fortunate to be working for such a big radio company, especially straight out of University. I found out I got my job two days before Graduating which was incredible. I currently work as Campaign Executive, which involves helping coordinate various campaigns on air and online e.g. competitions, sponsorships etc.

Despite my job perhaps being far from my degree, there are parallels in terms of creativity and organisation which I learnt from my course. However the biggest contribution towards where I am now from my university life has to be Xpression. The support was amazing, and I would highly recommend anyone to join and throw themselves into such an incredibly encouraging environment.

Multiple Choice

James Bradbrook is Vacancy Co-ordinator for the Career Zone. 

You’ve fired off several applications, smashed the interviews and assessment centres and you’ve had a job offer from Umbrella Corporation. It’s not necessarily your first choice, but it’s not too bad and you haven’t heard back from that marketing job you were hoping to get with  Weyland-Yutani.

Having to choose between job offers is great. And confusing. And Stressful. But great.
Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

Umbrella are wanting to hear back from you, so you accept their job offer. After all, you think, you can always pull out if Weyland-Yutani come up trumps, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

What does the law say?

Contracts of employment are just that: contracts! Like all contracts, they signify all parties’ acceptance of mutual rights and obligations and there are penalties for failing to fulfil them.

When an employer makes you an offer, they can only then withdraw it under very particular circumstances. This is why most employers will only make conditional offers, for example, the offer being subject to references. This means that if one of your referees points out that you happen to have been fired from your last job for stealing, the company can withdraw their offer perfectly legally.

If an employer makes an offer and you accept but then the company withdraws it without good reason, you would be able to sue them for breach of contract.

The same applies the other way around. If you accept an offer and then pull out, the company is perfectly entitled to insist that you fulfil the terms of the contract and, if you don’t, they can pursue you through the courts. (It is important to note that accepting an offer verbally has the same legal force as an agreement in writing – the only difference is that the latter is easier to prove.)

“If you accept an offer and then pull out, the company is perfectly entitled to insist that you fulfil the terms of the contract and, if you don’t, they can pursue you through the courts.”

Assuming the company won their action against you, the gains would be minimal because the losses would be limited to the terms of the contract that were violated.

This wouldn’t mean that your losses would be minimal. The damages you’d have to pay for the actual breach of contract itself would be insignificant compared to the risk that you’d have to pay your own legal costs, plus the company’s legal costs as well. That could easily amount to many thousands of pounds, not to mention a large part of your life being swallowed up for months or even years of legal action.

That’s really not the best way to start your new career.

Would they really try to enforce the contract or sue me?

This is difficult to determine – much would depend on the specific circumstances. However, such actions are rare.

Firstly, in terms of forcing you to honour the contract, you’d only be obligated to work out whatever notice period is specified in the contract of employment. With most graduate schemes you’d have barely started the training before you could leave quite legally.

Secondly, it is rarely in an employer’s interest to have a disinterested, unengaged employee working for them.

Thirdly, they will probably believe someone who pulls out of a contract in this way is, at best, unreliable and possibly even dishonest. Most companies don’t want that sort of person working for them.

All-in-all, it’s probably not worth their time and investment to force you to take the job, when you’re going to up and leave in weeks or months.

As for legal action, the direct losses a company could recoup from you would probably be minimal – this would depend on notice periods, training costs, etc. or any other loss the company could demonstrate arose from your breach of contract. By far, the worst scenario for you would be covering their legal costs.

The employer would have to balance the effort in staff time required to pursue an action against the concrete return. They may also wish to avoid long-term damage to their reputation that might arise from pursuing such an action.

But … if the contract is short-term or a further delay in recruitment would harm the company’s business, they might be far more insistent that you honour your commitment. Things would also greatly depend at what point you pulled out – retracting an offer a couple of days after accepting is far less to trigger action than doing so the day before you’re going to start.

In conclusion, the risk of a legal action is probably small, depending on the circumstances. This doesn’t change the fact that a risk remains – you need to think very carefully about your situation before making such a serious decision and consider taking legal advice concerning your specific circumstances.

Other possible consequences

Recruitment costs companies a lot in terms of time and money. They take the process very seriously and don’t make offers to candidates lightly. They expect candidates to act professionally and with integrity. Make no mistake: they are going to be very, very unhappy.

“So what?” you might say.

True, you may not suffer any immediate problems if you decide to pull out. But, you could well burn your bridges with that organisation completely, scuppering any chance of working with them in the future. That might not be an immediate worry, but who knows where you’ll be in five- or ten-years’ time.

The personal circles in some professions are surprisingly small. People have long memories and reputation matters, especially in occupations where honesty and integrity are vitally important, such as law and accountancy. No-one likes the players on reality TV and they don’t like them in professional life either.

“The personal circles in some professions are surprisingly small. People have long memories and reputation matters.”

And, if you’re the sort of person that cares about other people, you might want to think about this. Employers might not be willing or able to take action against you, but they can (and do) complain to us! Take it from me, it’s very uncomfortable to have an employer phone up complaining about the poor conduct of a student.

Employers also take these sorts of things into account when they’re making commercial decisions about what universities they want to work with. If they have a poor experience with an Exeter student, they might well reconsider how much they want to work with us in the future, damaging opportunity for future students.

Last, but not least, there’s the matter of your personal integrity. If you value ethical conduct in the world, from other people and organisations, then you shouldn’t be too free with your own.

So, what’s the right thing to do?

If a company makes you an offer and you’re either not sure or waiting on another offer, tell them you need time to think. You don’t need to tell them exactly why.

Most companies don’t rush their recruitment decisions and they shouldn’t expect you to either. If you feel they’re trying to pressure you into a quick decision, then that tells you something about the culture of their firm and you may need to reconsider whether they’re right for you in the first place.

Only you can decide what sort of time frame is reasonable to you, although you can’t expect a company to hold an offer open indefinitely.

Need help making a decision?