SEPnet (South East Physics Network) Summer Placement Report shows positive feedback from employers on students’ transferable skills and highlights an increase in physics students’ awareness for the need for work experience.
The SEPnet Summer Placement Scheme was set up in 2009 to create dedicated work experience opportunities for physics undergraduates at SEPnet’s 9 partner universities. Over this time, the number of students registering for a placement has increased from 38 to 334 in 2016 reflecting an increased awareness amongst students of the importance of work experience for gaining skills and improving employability. SEPnet’s annual Summer Placement Report is a summary of feedback from site visits to 77 students and employers in 2015.
In terms of knowledge and skills gained, employers were generally very impressed with their students’ level of knowledge and transferable skills. They also saw good improvements in overall performance and evidence of making a real contribution – demonstrating that an 8-week placement, while considered too short by some, can be of real value to employers as well as to students.
‘I asked him to explore a system with the potential of developing a mail system and he actually ended up completing the whole task and coded the whole thing on his own too.’ SME.
Students, when asked what they needed to learn on the job, did not rate transferable skills as high as software and industry knowledge – possibly indicating that students may be developing these skills during their studies to an acceptable level. This perception is supported by employers’ feedback on students’ skills and from employers in other skills surveys who generally agree that communication, team working and presentation skills now appear to be well embedded in most STEM degree courses (see Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability 2016).
While students did believe their placement helped improve their communication and problem-solving skills, self-management was acknowledged by many as the most important skill they acquired. Self-management is important for newly-employed graduates in order to be able to hit the ground running and academics might want to consider how physics courses could be designed to better enable students to develop this skill during their studies.
While many physics students still plan to pursue a PhD after graduation, they are aware that work experience can be beneficial in securing a PhD position as well as a job in industry. Many physics students still aspire to a research career which may indicate that physics undergraduates still lack awareness of the range of career roles open to them outside academia. It is disappointing to note that some still view industry as the second best option and many are likely to share the following view when asked about their next step:
‘Ideally a PhD but that depends on my grades! If not then I hope to go into employment.’
On the other hand, it may also be a sign that students see a PhD as leading to opportunities outside, as well as inside, academia.
To see the full report, visit http://www.sepnet.ac.uk/students-employers/careers-information/summer-placement-scheme/