For many students, their summer placement represents a first real working experience within the industry they study. It's a perfect opportunity to do a quick in-and-out to see whether the direction of your education is correct for you. With a typical summer internship being roughly 3 months long, you only have a limited time to absorb all of the goodies and leave a more rounded and fully loaded academic!
Summer internships in 2021 still exist, thankfully. They may have a few alterations but an opportunity to gain experience and get paid sits ready for the taking.
Now, you may hear the term 'summer placement' and immediately feel as if the work-life balance is going to become irreversibly out of sync - because you'll be working during the holidays, and I understand that.
The reason to have a summer job differs from person to person, usually, it comes down to money, which is no bad thing!
My personal recommendation is that during at least one of your summer holidays, there should be a summer work placement.
Not only will it fortify your CV, expose you to an accurate representation of the industry you're interested in (hopefully!) and allow you to gain confidence in a professional environment - it also allows you to generate income.
The significance of this is that if you go into the following academic term with more money, you'll have a brilliant opportunity to mitigate or simply rule out complications, equally you'll be able to indulge that much more in your times to let loose!
Whether it's spending a bit more on food because you know the quality is worth it, buying tech to make your learning more efficient or just being able to reward yourself with nice things(..when deserved), it's all about setting yourself up for the win.
A summer placement doesn't only benefit the following academic term/s but will help enormously when you apply for jobs later on.
Bear in mind, you can usually choose how long you spend in your summer internship. You could do as little as 8 weeks, leaving you decent time to rest during the remainder of the summer holidays, should you wish.
Most of the above does depend on something though, it requires that you enjoy your time, which in turn, depends upon getting the most out of it.
I've experienced both first-hand and second-hand a few summer placement employees being left in their chairs and shuffled aside while the department steams ahead, you want to avoid this happening to you (though it doesn't happen everywhere!)
With that, my first 'alert' to you is that you'll need to have the initiative. In all workplaces, there will exist some 'golden nuggets' in the forms of information, learning experiences, people and areas - it's up to you to find them!
The First Week
To be fair, this is where the company should weigh in the most - they have the power to get the ball rolling by introducing you to everyone and getting you familiar with things.
Your only obligation this week is to be friendly and be punctual. You're about to be welcomed by so many new faces and experience many new things, you're about to endure a phenomenally steep learning curve!
As you meet everyone, one by one you will begin to feel a sense of navigation with who you gravitate toward as those you trust, enjoy being with and knowing who could really make your time here memorable.
This is similar to your first week at school/university, say yes to everything! (Particularly lunch and coffee breaks)
You'll likely be assigned a desk and a general area of working (lab, facility etc) Be sure to get a good look around and learn where to go, some work buildings can be disorienting - they can be like literal mazes.
By the time Friday comes around, you should have a few friendly faces banked and almost remember their names. Working on your 'network' is the aim of the first week, following that, it becomes a bit more involved!
Initiative, Compassion, Persistence
If I were to narrow the success of a summer placement down to 3 words, it would be those above.
Granted, success relies on the employer preparing and setting up a vague path to navigate their rich environment for learning, but your input has to have an essence of 'autonomy'.
Let's rattle through what I mean by these words and how they fit into your placement.
Having the initiative is the quality of pressuring things first, this includes you going up to people and getting involved with what they do - at least asking to see whether you can be involved in some way.
Compassion is coming across as genuinely interested in the work you pursue. There's a general rule which employers follow and it's that if you have someone who knows very little, but is interested...you can forge a success, easily!
Persistence is the consistent pursuit of a beneficial outcome, regardless of how your first attempts go (good or bad!) If you go up to someone and they say they are too busy to help, no worries, there will be other people and other opportunities to get close to.
I mentioned an important word earlier, autonomy.
This is the golden quality that all employers look for, they want their employees to go out of their way to pursue the right course of action.
How you achieve autonomy is a product of initiative (given by the employee) and training (given by the employer)
Being autonomous with a genuine interest and doing it consistently, would be the hat-trick of qualities for problem solving and progression!
The point being, when your employer, boss or mentor seem to fade into the background a little bit - this is your queue to step into the forefront and begin the above.
Be sure to talk to everyone you can, ask all kinds of questions, and remind yourself that you have 8-12 weeks to make the most of the environment you're in - that's it!
Find the Leaders
Right away, your mind may jump to the managers, the CEO's, the supervisors and the like. But I'm not actually talking about these people.
I mean, sure, who I'm speaking of could include these people but the idea of leadership exists everywhere.
In a workplace, it's common to find a mix of people who just want to get the day over with, those who genuinely have an interest in their work, those who want to work in the shadows and those who want to just talk...a lot.
Within that bunch, exist the people who recognise that someone has entered the environment and they feel they have a good contrast of knowledge with them. This is a good thing because it means that they are keen to teach you everything they know and become a leader to you!
These people may be managers, buyers, technicians, designers, assemblers, bookkeepers, receptionists or anything. The point being is that they don't necessarily have to have a typical 'leadership' role.
My conviction is that there is always at least one person like this who really finds the joy in navigating and helping people like summer placements/graduates and any other form of newbie.
It's common that these people provide the most work, more to the point they genuinely care and so can communicate this work pretty well.
These will be the people you remember years ahead, seek them out, they do exist, I promise!
The type of work you receive shouldn't be too much of any one kind. Microsoft Excel is a very typical thing to have assigned to you, and honestly, if you're doing an accountancy placement or something, it may justifiably be a huge part of it.
Regardless, there should always be some practical things to do.
This is even more important when there's an engineering role, even a software one - have the software interact with hardware and learn a hybrid of skill rather than a depth of one.
A summer placement is all about the exposure to many different disciplines of the industry you're involved in, depth is good if you know you can benefit from it - but otherwise...the pursuit of breadth is a winner.
As always, I like to write about the STEM side of things when drafting these posts and I can't emphasise enough the confidence you gain from pursuing exposure to many different things.
If you can tailor the skills learned toward your future studies - even better!
Busy, busy, busy! That's all I've suggested so far, with a sprinkle of social communication.
But I want to emphasise the importance of talking to people and developing those skills too.
If you are one of a few summer placements, keep in contact with them - they are the perfect people to speak to because they exist in the same scenario as you but with slightly different workloads and types of work (I'm guessing)
Talk socially with your colleagues too, the stories and experiences they have can be such an opportunity to just be told that one story that could change the trajectory of your life.
They could speak about opportunities you never knew existed, companies involved in work you never knew had begun, even just things in their life of how to save money/make money or improve their day-to-day.
Other than that, it's just a means to form good relationships with people - that's valuable in and of itself!
Let's say you get involved with tonnes of things, that's all very good but it's important that you remember the skills you learned.
Even though you're now in a work environment, I highly encourage that you continue to be a student - by which I mean, study what you're working on, don't just get it done.
Evidence is a hugely important skill in the working world, as it is in any. This is a perfect time to learn about the logistic of tracking progress, how to's and lessons learned.
You'll undoubtedly be given some kind of notebook or a means to take notes and access your department's folder area.
This will be your hive of information to draw from, be sure to look around and gain everything you can from those areas.
Be careful though, perhaps some things are not designed to be taken off-site or out of work - you don't want to be accidentally taking privileged information, even if your intentions are good!
Regardless of how the summer placement goes, it's designed to act as something of a diagnostic.
It'll either reinforce your enthusiasm for the specific area within your industry or provide a perspective that makes you question it!
It's very common that our view of a workplace can be a particular way thanks to movies and the tales of other people, but it's only when you work there can you really get a feel.
So my advice remains the same, if you have an opportunity for a summer internship - do it!
When you get back to being a student, you'll be that much more confident, especially if that same summer placement employer offers you a graduate scheme or early employment opportunity - this is actually common, providing you do the above.
Do your best, be optimistic and seize the 8-12 weeks!
Thanks for reading