Heading into your placement year can feel like an absolute whirlwind. For many, this will be the first experience of full-time employment, working five days a week and for some it may even involve a significant relocation. With all things considered, during the period leading up and the first few months on the job, your mind is bound to be elsewhere as you start learning your new role and responsibilities with University just a distant memory. Even though you may be physically absent from the four walls of the lecture theatres, University is still a key importance during your year in industry with your placement year assignment making up the entirety of your third-year results. Whilst a year to get this completed may feel like a stroll in the park, it is amazing how quickly that year, and looming deadline, will creep up on you.
In general, most positions will not require any preparation from you beforehand with all the required training being provided once you start your role. Therefore, if possible, taking a bit of time before starting in the world of work to familiarise yourself with the placement assessments and what will be expected of you in the academic side of things is a great way to begin preparing yourself and relieving some of the stress further down the line.
Getting a head start on your placement assignment as soon as your placement handbook has been made available to you is a tip that I think all final year students wish they had listened to. Whilst your focus is understandably going to be work and concentrating on your new role, leaving your entire assignment until the last month or two before the deadline will only cause a mountain of work further down the line, creating an unachievable workload to handle alongside your working hours. Start by dedicating manageable chunks of time around your working hours to your assignment, this way you’ll begin making progress without burning yourself out and feeling too overloaded. For example, if your assignment requires an essay or literature review, you could possibly use your lunch break at work to read one article a few times a week so to keep your evenings free, or perhaps schedule in an hour each evening so that your weekends can be completely work-less. Whichever way works best for you, employing this little and often approach right from the beginning will ensure you do not fall behind and end up over-working yourself as the deadline gets closer.
Alongside this, many placement assignments ask for either regular reflective logs or a reflective summary created towards the end of the year. Keeping up to date with writing these reflective logs or notes on what you have been doing within your role is vital in order to produce a good quality, coherent reflection for submission. Again, leaving all of this work until the last minute will not only mean you may have forgotten many important goals and targets you reached or issues you overcame, but also will cause you to rush and most likely miss the reflective element that can provide the higher assessment marks. Keeping track of these experiences as they happen allows you to really reflect on the positives and negatives of the situation, broadening your skills within the area whilst simultaneously keeping you on track with your University assignment.
A final thing to remember is to not be afraid to ask your colleagues for help. Whilst placement assignments vary, many ask that it is related to not only your degree but also your placement position or the business. Considering this, your chosen topic area may be something your colleagues have had a lot of experience with or that they understand really well, or if you’re struggling to come up with a specific topic area, they may even be able to help you whittle it down. Try and have a conversation with those around you early on to see if they can offer any of these nuggets of wisdom so that you can focus your time on a single topic that you’re happy with as early as possible. Whilst you are there to fulfil the role that they’ve employed you for, they also understand your additional University commitments throughout and will be more than happy to help in any way they can.
So, yes, your placement project deadline may seem like another world away right now but adjusting to the schedule of full-time work whilst still trying to fit in socialising, exercising and sleeping leaves little room for University assignments meaning time-management and organisation is key. Getting a head start and cracking on with your placement assignment as early as possible will undoubtedly benefit you in the long term, hopefully avoiding the sleepless nights and chaotic weeks further down the line whilst boosting your chance of finishing the year with the University result you wanted.
Written by Katie Oliver, C+P Associate