Map Oxbridge Applications. 14 – 16 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AR

With February half term a distant memory, the term is in full swing and before you know it the Easter holidays will be upon you. While you have probably carved out some time during these holidays for some rest and relaxation, you will likely be very busy with revision and exam preparation. As such, you do not want to add to your already long to-do list during those precious few weeks, and the next few weeks are the prime time to sort your summer work experience (if you haven’t already!)

First off, why bother with work experience or internships? After all, you have just finished another busy school year and with the crush of the exam season over, surely you deserve the summer off? Well, yes and no! First of all, it is very important that you use the summer to rest, relax and recharge your batteries. The autumn term is going to be very busy between school work, university applications and interviews. From the first day back at school, you are going to want to hit the ground running so you want to make sure your stamina has been fully restored during the holidays. However, the empty summer months also present a crucial opportunity for you to significantly build upon your personal statement and even your CV. The types of activities you should be engaging in differ depending on what you are applying for, so I will split the next section into two.

 

Medics and Veterinarians

For you guys, a summer work placement isn’t optional; it is a must-do. Many of the top students would have already organized something for the summer post-GCSEs, so it is critically important that you do something in the summer post-AS levels. The reason is quite simple: unlike biology or chemistry, you won’t have actually done any medicine at school, therefore, how do you know that you might actually like working in that field? Having done a work placement shows initiative on your part to learn more about your future career and always impresses interviewers that you have had experience of the medical work place and want to go back for more! In terms of the types of work placement, the potential range is quite huge and doesn’t need to be limited to a single experience. In fact, the more different experiences you engage in, the more you will learn and the more interesting anecdotes you will be able to share at interview. Anything from shadowing a doctor for a few days, supporting a nurse, observing a surgery, volunteering at a clinic – these all count as invaluable experiences that will provide insights into your potential future career that you could never glean from a text book. Some students have the opportunity to go abroad on volunteer medical programs, which are great too, or work for medical charities.

Where to start

First off, talk to your teachers at school; they may have experience helping students in previous years find placements and could have connections or know of programmes. If you can, use family connections: you or your family may personally know a medical professional. Talk to them about your career ambitions and your desire to get some insight into the profession. Most doctors did the same when they were at school and many are incredibly accommodating of students. Similarly, talk to your doctor. Your local GP may be able to help – you may be able to shadow him/her or they could refer you to a specialist who accepts shadows. And whatever you do, be patient, don’t give up and don’t leave it all to the last minute. By starting to look for opportunities now, you will be able to secure a placement for the coming summer. But remember, it can take time and some energy to secure the best placements.

Scientists

For scientists of all types, having work experience or internships isn’t as critical as it is for medics, but it is becoming increasingly commonplace among top applicants as it may help you to stand out if you can demonstrate any extracurricular activities or interests in the sciences. Similar to the suggestions above, I would recommend starting by talking to your teachers at school for any recommendations. As the world of sciences is so broad, the choices are almost endless, but some examples I could suggest include:

      • Museums are always looking for volunteers and support, and it’s always exciting to see all the exhibits stored away that no one else gets to see!
      • Local parks/wildlife centres/zoos are usually excellent centres for ecology education programmes.
      • Teaching science classes at summer schools.
      • Internships with science or engineering companies. Most welcome summer interns, but sometimes the complex application process is more easily navigated if you have a family friend working in the industry.
      • Science journalism – local papers, science websites and blogs often welcome student writers.

These are just a few, and there are many, many more. What matters is that you do something.

A final note to remember: your work experiences don’t all have to be “successes”. They are meant to be learning experiences. After my GCSEs, I thought I wanted to study medicine so I was fortunate to secure a work placement at a prestigious cancer hospital in London. It was a wonderful and humbling experience, but it taught me that I did not in fact want to become a doctor. Rather, I was more interested in the science itself than people. As such, in my following year (post AS levels) I took an internship in the entomology department of the Natural History Museum in London and loved every moment of it If I had not had the chance to have these experiences, I may have ended up applying for Medicine instead of Natural Sciences, a choice I would have severely regretted.

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