Independent of the degree you choose to study at university, we all have a reason for committing to the three year struggle of deadlines and exams – even if we may not know it straight away! A major part of university is the social life, meeting new people and the overall experience, but you do have to get a job at the end (unfortunately!!). Whilst ‘The Future’ might seem a distant thought, it is vital that you plan for after you graduate. Jobs are becoming more competitive, so it’s becoming increasingly important to stand out from the crowd – especially in sport and exercise science (just my luck). Therefore, the opportunity of working in our desired industry should be considered as second nature to us and fortunately enough it is something that the University of Essex offers!
So… what exactly is a placement year?
The simplest explanation is that it is a year of working within a professional company or organisation. This might not sound as exciting as the thrills of university, but it gives you a chance to apply academic knowledge into a practical environment – whilst getting paid (hopefully)… I know the prospect of applying for these positions is daunting, however the careers team are able to support you, so it really isn’t that bad! Also, the many benefits of completing a placement year mean it would be ridiculous not to try.
Placement years – they aren’t an overnight process…
Applying for a placement year is something you do in your second year, but realistically you need to be preparing for longer. Gaining work experience is vital and fortunately for me, Essex offer work at the Human Performance Unit (HPU). During my second year, I was given the opportunity to assist with the hydration status testing and fatigue monitoring sessions, for the performance sport teams at the university. Specifically, I was responsible for analysing the osmolarity of urine samples, in order to work out personalised hydration strategies, as well as performing neuromuscular testing to ensure training load was correct. These were two weekly positions, completed alongside my studies, with the results of large implications for the sport science support provided to these athletes.
Identifying the area of work you want to go into early on is important, as it allows you time to gain the skills needed to achieve your goals. Once again, the university offers lots of support when it comes to gaining this experience, such as CareerHub and the Frontrunners scheme – the careers team are also only an email away!
Surrey Human Performance Institute – the perfect placement?
For my placement year, I work at Surrey Human Performance Institute, or SHPI for short. This is a very similar organisation to the HPU at Essex, so it was the perfect match! SHPI is an exercise physiology laboratory based at the University of Surrey, acting on the forefront of scientific research, as well as providing sport and exercise science support to external clients and delivering educational services to the local area and university students The placement wasn’t actually advertised via Career Hub, instead I proactively emailed them to find out if they were recruiting – something I would seriously recommend! When it comes to placement years, you have to ensure the position is 100% right for you, because there is no point doing it if this isn’t the case.
So… what did I get to do as a Sport Science Intern?
The job description listed above obviously sounded great on paper, but one of my concerns was “how much would I actually be allowed to do as an intern?” The unfortunate truth is that as we are still students, some placements will be limited – mine definitely is not though! Working alongside two other placement students, I have been responsible for leading many of the services provided. I’ve been able to gain experience of applying sport and exercise science in a practical environment, by carrying out various physiological tests, such as body composition assessments, as well as lactate threshold and VO2MAX tests. I have been involved in all the research projects conducted in the laboratory, with many of these working with pre-operative cancer patients – an extremely rewarding experience! To further this, I had the opportunity to work in a hospital setting, performing pre-operative exercise screening sessions for patients of all ages, as well as assisting with the delivery of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Surrey. Finally, but by no means lastly, I was given the chance to design and conduct my own research study, which was probably the best part of the whole placement (and was fairly good practice for my dissertation…). Overall, I’ve loved every moment at SHPI; it truly is an experience I never want to end – still, I am excited for the future!
Placement years – my recommendations
I think I have made my stance on placement years pretty clear – they are the best thing you can do as a student! Therefore, my top tips are: 1) start looking early – don’t leave it until the end of second year, 2) gain relevant work experience, to increase your likelihood of getting that placement you want, 3) make sure you work alongside the careers team – their resources really are second to none and 4) be proactive – don’t settle for a placement you aren’t completely happy with, there is always a position out there to suit you!
All the best finding the perfect position and remember – your future starts now!
Written by Will Gurton, 3rd year Sport and Exercise Science Student
Will is a 3rd year Sport and Exercise Science student, currently on his placement year in Surrey. He is a keen sportsman, with Tennis being his main sport. Throughout his two previous years at Essex, he has represented us at BUCS level for Tennis, as well as being strongly involved with other sport clubs, during his position as the Sports Development Frontrunner for the SU. Away from Essex, Will enjoys travelling, most of the time within Europe, as well as comedy TV shows and of course, watching sport!