Finding work experience in Physics and Astronomy

Work experience can include everything from a day spent shadowing a researcher in a lab, through to a 12 month industrial placement. It could be paid or done as a volunteer – it all counts!

When should I start looking for work experience?

Most vacancies are advertised from the autumn semester for the following summer, so delaying will result in missed opportunities. However, some employers will advertise later on in the year, so do not panic if you have not found anything by the end of December!

Although many formal placement/ internship schemes target undergraduate students in their penultimate year of study, it is still important to start looking for opportunities to gain experience in your first year.

Industrial Placement Schemes and summer internships

Many organisations offer formal 12 month Placements to undergraduates or a summer internship. There are a number of ways to find out about these opportunities:

  • CareerConnect Internships and Industrial placements are also advertised on your online careers account.
  • Fairs and events. Meet recruiters and alumni to discover jobs in which you might be interested.
  • Gradcracker is one of the most well-populated resources for science, engineering and tech opportunities.
  • Some recruiters may advertise directly with an academic department, so make yourself familiar with the Careers noticeboard in your Department. You may also hear of opportunities throughout the year via forwarded emails from staff, so keep an eye on your inbox.
  • Speak with your tutors or other staff members. They may know of potential vacancies, who you should speak to or even offer you some work themselves! Do not be afraid to contact staff from other Universities and ask if there are any opportunities for work experience. Look on departmental internet sites for contact details, they are usually widely available.

Many opportunities are not advertised. Consider making direct contact with organisations that interest you. Call first to see if there is an opportunity available. If you get a favourable response, send a targeted CV and a covering letter focused on why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you. If you express interest to an organisation, they may make you an offer.

Where can I get Research Experience?

A number of other organisations offer bursaries to enable undergraduates to work in a research laboratory during the summer vacation. The bursaries provide student support normally for a period between 6 and 8 weeks.

Most aspiring researchers acquire their experience through first talking to lecturers, so find yourself a potential supervisor for the summer. Usually, the supervisor must be in a university, or research institute laboratory (not usually an industrial laboratory). You could start by talking to your tutor or to a member of academic staff whose research you find of interest. Remember that academic researchers are busy people. Be politely persistent: do not give up if your first contact attempt is ignored, but do not be a pest either! They will favour candidates who they believe are capable of undertaking a PhD project in the future, who would be useful to have around the laboratory, who are easy to manage and who will not need constant supervision.

You will work with your supervisor to define a project and, in most cases, the application is made by your potential supervisor and not by you. These awards are competitive and you are advised to start early!



Additional sources of information and help