Veronica Benson
Employer Liaison Director, South East Physics Network (SEPnet)
This year saw a huge increase in the number of physics undergraduates registering for SEPnet summer placements – from 200 in 2014 to just over 300.  This is a clear indication that students are getting the message that they need to gain relevant work experience to add to their CV if they want to compete successfully in the graduate job market.

SEPnet (South East Physics Network), is part-funded by HEFCE and is a consortium of 9 university physics departments including Hertfordshire, Kent, OU, Portsmouth, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, Southampton, Surrey, Sussex.  The 8-week placement scheme is aimed at 2nd and 3rd (non-final) year students and has grown year on year from 19 placements in 2009 when the scheme began to 80 this year.

SEPnet employability logo RGBThe majority of placements are hosted by industry and research institutes from a range of sectors including defence, energy, engineering, technology and marketing. SEPnet partners commit funding towards placement bursaries and employers match- or fully-fund the rest.  SMEs are increasingly participating in the scheme providing a largely untapped source of potential placement and graduate job opportunities.  More and more employers are willing to fund the placements and this helps increase the number we can offer overall and will, hopefully, enable us to sustain the scheme into the future.     

Students are supported in applying direct to employers as if applying for a job – an important aspect of the scheme which teaches them plenty of skills for the working world. Projects include data analysis, modelling, programming, testing products, website development, creating science demonstrations and research. Many of our employers offer placements each year as they can really see the value of taking students with strong maths and problem solving skills.  

Employers value the opportunity to promote their organisation to potential graduate recruits.  Each year a proportion of students are offered part-time work, future placements or graduate jobs.  There is increased recognition that students help to carry out business critical as well as less business critical work reflecting the valuable contribution that physics students can make to an organisation in a very short timescale.

There is strong acknowledgement that students learn quickly and develop useful transferable skills.  An annual Students’ Expo in London enables students to hone their communication skills by giving presentations and displaying posters about their projects to an audience of 150 students, employers and academics.

As well as a celebration of the students’ achievements, the Expo provides a great opportunity for networking and meeting employers and, for SEPnet, is one of the highlights of the

Please take a look at the SEPnet Placements report, analysing the SEPnet Summer Internship Scheme.