Research Assistant, Rail Education Group, NewRail, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
How do you select suitable projects and applicants?
We like to support those students who, because of their background, would not otherwise have the opportunity for such a work and study experience. We have seen some applicants who don’t know any scientists or engineers in their own lives, so they lack any sort of guidance about STEM subjects and careers; the placement experience can really help.
Our choice is primarily guided by the applicant’s personal statement – what and how they write – rather than their grades. We are also looking out for particular interests or skills that would fit with our own placement project ideas (for example good IT skills, or a love of maths). Sometimes we interview candidates before we make a decision.
What motivates you to provide placements?
My background is in encouraging young people into STEM studies and careers. In my current role, I have found that transport is a good way of engaging young people in STEM subjects. The Group is keen on supporting young people, and took part in the British Science Festival in Newcastle in 2013. We have also developed Key Stage 2 and 3 materials for use in schools.
What benefits do you get from supporting the scheme?
We can always use extra help with our work, and Nuffield students always fit in well. They tend to be self-starters and don’t need much in the way of supervision, so they’re easy to manage; they can come to me if they have an issue, but the first step has to be theirs. The students help with our research projects, our training, and the development of our Key Stage materials for schools.
What do the students get from the placement experience?
Students develop valuable new skills, for example in the use of analytical software and report writing. They learn how to study independently and manage their own time and work – self-resilience and independence are important parts of the placement experience. The placement gives them a taste of what university life is like, and an opportunity to talk to university students. We also try to set them up with meetings in other departments if they haven’t quite decided which course to choose.
At the end of their placements, we find that the students are more open, curious and confident; and more able to connect their school learning with practical applications.