Diary of a 40-year-old placement student
Ok, so I have to start with a slight confession. I’m not actually 40, but ‘Diary of a 38-year-old placement student’ just didn’t have the same ring. Regardless of that slight discrepancy, my age still puts me firmly in the bracket of being a ‘mature student’. Not only that, but now that I have successfully finished the second year of my mechatronics degree and elected to take up the fantastic opportunity of an industrial placement, I am now classed as a ‘mature placement student’.
So, why am I bothering to tell you this? Well, when the topic of the placement year came up at uni I was surprised at how few of my fellow students were planning to take up the option. To me it seemed the perfect way to get both real-world engineering experience and a foot in the door of a potential future employer. That is after all why we came to university in the first place, isn’t it?
The virtues of a placement year
Having spoken to some of those who elected to miss out the placement year and go straight into their third year, the consensus was that they did not see the benefit in doing a placement and ‘dragging out’ their degree for another year. This did amaze me somewhat, as all our academics and any current engineers I had spoken to were keen to extol the virtues of the placement year, particularly regarding the relative success students have had in securing post-graduation employment.
Therefore I decided it may be of benefit for other students to hear about the experiences of a placement student, so they may be better informed when deciding whether they take up their own placement year. Alongside this, my position as a ‘mature student’ with the particular challenges/benefits this brings, may strike a chord with others in my position, having decided fairly late in life to take the plunge and have a complete career change.
Having decided at the beginning of my course that I would be taking the placement year, I had been very proactive, looking for potential placements quite early on. A tactic that, in my case, has definitely paid off as having been fortunate enough to secure an internship at Moog Aircraft Group, I knew that I would be in the best possible position to gain a wealth of invaluable knowledge and experience over the next 12 months.
Like anyone starting something new, I had a few worries and fears in the days leading up to the start of my placement. I found myself asking will I be thrown in the deep end? Will I end up just being the tea-boy? Should I have spent the summer brushing up on my formulas and equations? Will I still have time to drop my kids off at school in the mornings?
It turns out that, as is usually the case, there was nothing to worry about. During my first week the principal expectations were that I turned up on time (the flexi-time being a massive help), showed willingness and was eager to learn. Everyone I met welcomed me into the team, offering their assistance with anything, should I need it. I spent the first week reading up on Moog’s products and familiarising myself with their
computer system, which allowed me valuable time to adjust to my new surroundings.
During my second week I got a bit more involved, being assigned to particular projects, shadowing people in my team and sitting in on meetings (most of which went completely over my head).
Understanding the TLAs
The biggest thing I had to overcome was understanding all of the ‘TLA’s’ (three letter acronyms) being used. Thankfully, a couple of colleagues had handy acronym lists, which I was able to refer to as I went along.
Things begin to click into place
Reassuringly as I went into my third week I found things starting to make a bit more sense. I understood most of the acronyms, I had familiarised myself with the various aircraft components being designed, tested, revised etc. and I was beginning to be able to contribute to meetings and discussions, albeit in a minor capacity. By the fourth week I had been allowed to get my hands on rather expensive hydraulic units and operate, under close supervision, a large test rig. Having progressed so far in a relatively short space of time, I am really looking forward to my next few weeks.
For those of you who may find this diary interesting/useful, I plan to report in each month and let you know how I am getting on and maybe (hopefully) encourage a few more students to take up the fantastic opportunity of a placement year…