Anne Willis

Senior Lecturer Chemistry, University of Northumbria

How do you select suitable projects and applicants?

We select projects based on our own needs, be they support with particular research or the development of materials for our outreach work with local schools. We will let the Nuffield regional coordinator know of any specific requirements we have for the students in advance (such as particular GCSE grades), so we can be confident they won’t struggle. Our decision on awarding placements is heavily focused on the students’ personal statements. Sometimes we will interview applicants as well.

What motivates you to provide placements?

When I was a schoolteacher, I saw how the placement scheme benefited some of my own students, and I was keen to continue to be involved when I moved to the university. We all enjoy seeing the students develop so much in such a short space of time.

Outreach is an important part of my work and that of the department. Nuffield’s recent changes to the scheme, which place an emphasis on supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, fit well with the university’s own approach to widening participation, especially in science. Once they are through the door, a student’s background is not an important factor in their ability to complete a placement successfully.

What benefits do you get from supporting the scheme?

Through their research on placement, Nuffield students have provided us with high quality materials that we use in schools as part of our outreach activities.

We involve the students in genuine research tasks that are likely to be of relevance to our work in the department. For example, one of my colleagues had a lot of research data to process, and a Nuffield student with an interest in chemistry and IT was able to help.

What do the students get from the placement experience?

We like to support students who are trying to make up their mind about whether chemistry is for them or not. Doing the placement helps them to make that decision and I’m pleased to say that the majority opt for chemistry as a result of the experience.

Students love being surrounded by people who share their passion for science. The main benefit to them is that they become independent learners – they learn how to learn. They also develop their communication skills: we constantly ask them to explain things, verbally and in writing.