On the 22nd July of summer 2013 we started a ten-week internship with ISAS- the International Student Advisory Service. We are both going into our third year of study at the University- Laura in Sport and Exercise Science and Lizzie in Classics- and although we both do very contrasting degrees, we both have our own motivations for taking part in the internship. We separately found this job advertised on the Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme Website and, after finding out we were successful in the interview process, we were both excited and eager to be a part of the team that organized Welcome Week for the for the 5,000 international students that will be joining the University in 2013.
On the first day we arrived at Cedar House where we were to be working. Initially there was supposed to be only one intern but when we met each other at the door it was a nice surprise to find someone else in the same boat. We were introduced to the team by Michele, our line manager, who were all very friendly and accommodating- even though they are up to their eyes in phone calls from international students and, of course, with Welcome Week planning. After our first two weeks the Head of ISAS, Helen, returned from holiday and we updated her on what we were working on. She was very supportive and enthusiastic, and interested to hear our perspective as students.
We were given our own responsibilities early on so we really felt like part of the team and that our input was important. Our main task, on-going throughout the ten weeks, is to manage the airport collection service. This involves visiting staff at both London Heathrow and Birmingham International airports (where we got to go airside with a member of the Boarder Agency), creating a training presentation for the temporary staff and communicating via email with students who have had problems with their booking.
Our secondary task has been the stocking of the ISAS information desk- contacting leaflet suppliers and organising their delivery, and, if no leaflets can be found, creating our own thus exhibiting creativity and enthusiasm for the reception that our students will receive. When we have spare time we have been ensuring that all the student visas are filed correctly- both paper copies and online.
As well as this we have been able to meet and help international students at visa workshops- All the talk about visas is very new to both of us; it is like a new language with new terminology and lots of regulations to learn. However we were reassured not to worry, as we are here both to help the ISAS team and to learn in order to increase our employability after graduating. We have also met with members of staff from different University departments to discuss Welcome Week, sometimes on behalf of other members of ISAS, which shows that the team considers us trustworthy and capable.
All this communication with different departments and international students – both verbally and written- has made us realise the different kinds of approach that need to be taken depending on who you are talking to, and it has enabled us to be more flexible in our self-presentation whilst always maintaining a professional and approachable stance. As well as developing these, and other, skills we have really been enjoying ourselves- there are 4 more weeks until Welcome Week so we have some busy times ahead of us but we cannot wait to see the results of all our work when the students finally arrive! We are especially excited about the airport collections, where we will be able to put faces to names, and International Day (there is currently a life-sized Will and Kate in our office). We will be writing another blog after Welcome Week with lots of pictures to let you know how it goes.
Laura Forrest and Lizzie Argirou
The title of this blog was jokingly suggested to me by a colleague, but I am going to stick to it because it is important for student interns to know they are valued so much by employers and for employers to realise the benefits of having a student intern. I’ve been fortunate enough to have student interns as part of the Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme for two years running now and the interns that have worked for me have indeed been amazing. I know many students worry that an internship will just involve four weeks of photocopying and making cups of tea, but as an employer an intern is someone who will bring fresh perspective and enthusiasm.
Last year I had two interns join me when I was in the process of managing the rebranding of Careers Network. Aisha and David provided us with fantastic support throughout, even sitting through a 6 hour briefing meeting with the designers and making valuable contributions. This year, Caroline has conducted much needed market research on our competitors, and put together some excellent case studies as part of her project for use in university-wide campaigns.
Interns impress when they are enthusiastic and interested, it helps them do the job in hand and it makes me want to help them even more. It’s great when they have good ideas but also when they ask good questions because it shows they are getting involved in the whole process and see their project as part of the bigger picture. It is often their first experience of working in an office environment and it is important for them to feel part of the team. Taking the time to go for lunch with them on their first day (and making sure they don’t pick up my terrible habit of dining al desko rather than taking a proper break), finding out about what they are interested in and introducing them to colleagues that will widen their network, makes the experience better for them and means they integrate in the teams quickly.
Having an intern in just to do photocopying and make tea for a month is a waste of a precious resource but this can happen when the host organisation has not properly planned for them. From my experience, having a clear plan of what tasks you want them to do and what they will need to do it, makes life easier for everyone. I found it much better this year; I spoke to colleagues in my team to get an idea of their needs and broke down the project into themes (in our case was more like a series of mini-projects), and made an estimate of the timeframe the tasks would take, which I discussed with Caroline on her first day. This was useful as I had already booked leave for the final week of the internship and even more disastrously I came down with flu during the middle of the project. Fortunately as we had already discussed the work plan, she took this as an opportunity to show how well she could work independently.
Internships are a great opportunity for students to get a taste of the real world as well as develop their professional skills and confidence. For the host organisations, you get a motivated individual who can really help you with projects and offer a new perspective. Everybody wins.
Finally, I’d just like to thank all the interns who have helped me over the years… you guys truly are amazing!
Jess Holloway Swift
Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme: Social Media and Database Analyst Intern
Pursuing further professional development and work experience, I decided to engage myself deeply in the work of the University of Birmingham. Being in my second year and trying to take the initiative, I made the decision to make the effort for my own good and attend several of the numerous Careers Network workshops that guide you through the process of successful internship applications and interviews. Spending my time applying for the so-called ‘big companies’ internships, and completing their lengthy application forms was exhaustive and time-consuming. I wanted to perform well at my course assignments but at the same time to find an internship that will provide me with useful practical experience. As a result, I found my current internship position: Social Media and Database Analyst, which is part of the Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme and was advertised by Worklink. Going through the application was demanding but the process was smooth and easy. In the end, I got an email saying that I was successful and would be an Intern in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS), which solidified my interest in seeing the other side of higher education – being involved behind the scenes in improving the quality of work at my own University.
Going to my first working day I was wondering what exactly I would be doing and would I be limited only to the database analysis that is obvious from the job title. All of my expectations were exceeded when I found out that the EPS Alumni Department is preparing the first ever Alumni Newsletter for each of the 9 schools. As a result, I found my internship split into two parts – for the first two weeks I was looking at the extensive database system trying to establish the contact between the University and all of those graduates who either have not been in touch with the University since they graduated or for one or another reason their details have been lost. For the first time I realised the importance and power of LinkedIn as a social media tool which links people on a professional level as well as helps to find out about people’s career and education. This is how I managed to find the contact details of loads of lost alumni and help my department get back in touch with them. This whole effort will be rewarded when at the end of the month our Alumni Newsletters will be distributed to all former University graduates, including the ones I found.
As I said, my internship was split into two. Thanks to my manager Kathryn Chedgzoy, who allowed me 2 weeks off, I represented the University of Birmingham at the Universitas21 Summer School ‘Human Rights’ at the University of Connecticut and managed to broaden my mind on the extensiveness and complexity surrounding the concept of human rights. When I came back two weeks later, I found myself in an even more exciting office environment by being presented with more responsibilities. I had to gather information and compile academic profiles to all recently joined EPS academic members for the alumni newsletter. In addition, I was introduced to the main university web software and I had the responsibility of uploading new articles for the college. All of this made me think how two years ago when I was applying for the University I was reading the website and now I am the one that is able to ‘post’ articles that will be viewed by thousands of people.
To conclude, this internship provided me with the opportunity to be on the other side of the University of Birmingham – not as a student, but as a member of staff. As Rebekah explained in a previous blog, all of us, the interns, were trained as if we are permanent members of the university staff which made us feel welcomed and valued. Moreover, this internship showed me the extensive number of people who are coming to work every day, even outside term time and who make sure that all students receive the best service. As a result, I found myself learning a lot in terms of professional etiquette as well as some University secrets…
For the last few weeks I have been completing an internship in the eLearning Team of CLAD (Centre for Learning and Development). I have been creating 5 exemplar courses on the University’s new virtual learning environment, Canvas. As a member of the Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme I have being undergoing training to improve my employability and to prepare me for the kind of training that I will experience in whatever job I pursue after I graduate.
This has involved completing online diversity training and attending a fire training session. When I was first told that I would be completing the same training that staff have to undertake when they join the university, I was very surprised am only an intern for six weeks. However having completed the training I feel as though my mind set has moved from being a student, to being more like a member of staff with a responsibility to think about issues such making sure I know where fire exits and assembly points are in case of an emergency. This is quite a shift from the sometimes blasé view that students have of fire alarms, thanks to bad experiences of flatmates accidentally setting off fire alarms in the middle of the night.
Over the course of four weeks Carl Jukes from Careers Network gave presentations and workshops on a range of topics including:
- Interview skills (including Skype and Telephone Interviews)
- Assessment Centres
- Professional etiquette
- Making presentations
Although I have been able to attend several events and workshops run by the Careers Network during the last two years of my studies it has been invaluable to receive further training that has been especially targeted to the internship. After each week of training I feel I have been able to put something that I have learnt into practise. For example, as part of my internship I attended the 10th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference hosted by the University. Throughout the Conference I was meeting new people and trying to make contacts with people who would be able to help me during my internship. Thanks to the advice I received, such as trying to maintain positive body language, I was able to talk to several people that have been of great assistance during my internship.
For the last training session we were asked to prepare and present a five minute presentation on a choice of two topics. I chose: “What have you contributed to your host department during your internship and how has it improved your employability for the future?”
While it was difficult to think of the content for my presentation initially, I began to map out ideas and I soon felt I had plenty to talk about. I then began to create a PowerPoint presentation. Following Carl’s advice I tried to limit the number of slides I created so that I would not feel pressured to rush through the content in the short time limit. To try and make the PowerPoint more interesting I created some GIFs with some software that I have learnt how to use as part of my internship. I was really pleased with how the PowerPoint came together and after some practice run-throughs to ensure that I would stick to my five minute time limit I felt as prepared as possible.
In the past making presentations to audiences has been a particular weakness of mine and I have received feedback saying that I had a tendency to rush, making it difficult to understand what I was saying. I am also aware that I have a tendency to say “um” when nervous. Knowing this weaknesses made me especially nervous about the presentation but I was also determined that I would use this presentation to demonstrate an improvement in my confidence and delivery.
Members of the departments of each of the different interns and other university members of staff had all being invited to attend the presentations. As Trevor, the Team Manager for the team I am working in, had a meeting to attend before he could come, I ended up being the last intern to go up. I have to admit that by the time I had watched all the other interns make excellent presentations I was incredibly nervous.
While I was not as poised as I had hoped when I first began my presentation, the preparation beforehand paid off and I began to relax and my delivery improved. After the presentation I met with Trevor to review my performance and look at how I can improve. We both agreed that I still say the dreaded “um” too much while nervous, but that I have taken a significant step forward. Hopefully by adopting techniques such as focusing on my breathing I will be able to keep my nerves under better control in future.
While I am not sure that I would go as far as saying that the experience was enjoyable, I am really glad I got the opportunity to practise my presentation skills as I am sure that I will need to make plenty more in the future. It is for this reason that I would highly recommend the Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme to others in the future.
Before applying for the position of Alumni Relations and Recruitment Planner I struggled to speculate as to what the role would entail. When preparing for the interview, my first step was to make certain I knew what alumni were (I had a vague understanding that the term applied to previous students but was unsure of either its scope or limitations). Although unaware at the time, this enquiry marked my first of many steps into an education in the vast breadth and depth of work that goes on at the University to support all of its associates, from prospective students to long-time graduates.
My role is involved with both of these areas of support; looking for ways to strengthen the relationship between the College of Arts and Law (CAL) and its graduates and the possibilities in using this relationship to aid the recruitment of prospective students. Although this seems a vague description, its objectives manifest themselves in many areas of the College. Most of my work has been research based, investigating the Alumni Relations, Applicant Visit Day programmes and web page structures of competitor institutions before relaying reports back to my supervisor and relevant members of staff. This research has aided me in further developing independent working skills with a large focus on self-motivation and taking the initiative.
Furthermore, after drafting several reports (which I like to think have been improving throughout), I’ve been able to meet with many members of staff to discuss the proposals for improving our Alumni Relations. Now, roughly halfway through my time working in the department, some of my ideas are being advanced, particularly those concerning webpages.
This can largely be accredited to the incredibly approachable nature of the staff working within CAL particularly my supervisor, Charlotte Heap. Charlotte’s friendliness has been mirrored by everyone I’ve encountered through the College and everyone has been very accommodating. After the initial introductions were made, I have been working in a separate office to many of the people I wanted to discuss proposals with and every time I’ve asked a member of staff to meet with me I’ve been received with enthusiastic interest. This is something, as an intern, I had prepared myself not to be greeted with. However, any social obstacles that may have been created by being in a separate office have been non-existent as a result of this friendliness and I am very grateful for that.
Instead of being a hindrance, working in a separate office has allowed me to develop self-discipline and independent work skills. I’m currently in my fourth week and I think there’s a notable difference in the way I organise my days if compared with week one. My notepad is now the central hub of my planning in which I write daily task lists, prioritise potential actions and the deadlines I set myself. This, I feel, has been an invaluable experience and has not only produced a skill but a mind-set for future work.
I would also likely to quickly mention the service provided by the Careers Network (CN) during my internship. Although I’ve probably been a bit of a nuisance going on holiday for a week and missing two Careers workshops in the process, CN have been very understanding and Carl Jukes, who organises the sessions has agreed to meet with me individually to talk on subjects such as CVs and interview techniques. In my time at the University I have never been to the Careers Network, but having visited during my internship I would definitely recommend it to students.
Again, this links back to friendly and approachable staff who are not always visible to students in daily campus life. Many students, myself included, see no further than their lecturers, personal tutors and departmental admins, and seeing how many friendly and approachable people are working behind the scenes to keep the University running smoothly has provided me with a perspective and work ethic that I’m very glad to have gained.
What I learned in week one
The words internship and work experience, for me, conjure images of making tea, washing up and being the office skivvy, however my experiences in Careers Network have been far from this. The only tea I have made is my own, the only person I have has to wash up after is myself and the only photocopying I have done was for my own benefit.
My first week with Careers Network has been a busy one. I am a Market Research Intern and I am required to undertake a competitor analysis of the services offered by the Careers Network, create promotional material and collect information for a graduate scheme and internships database. I have been given a list of tasks to do and I am slowly working my way through them, learning how to prioritise and to manage multiple tasks over a prolonged period of time.
One of my first tasks has been to create a database of all the services offered by university careers departments across the UK to enable a comparison. I know I am not very good at using Excel and by creating this database I have been able to develop my knowledge and to create a user friendly document for future reference. I have learned to be persistent and to steadily work through a task even if it seems to be never ending! I am about three quarters of the way through and I am determined to complete it sometime this week!
Alongside this, I have been creating case studies of mentoring schemes and marketing material for work experience and bursary schemes. I have learned that I can be creative, I am better on computers than I thought and that I should trust my English a bit more; it is not as bad as I thought!
I have also been to a team meeting, an ideas meeting for future services for students and to a training session about professional etiquette. I am quite a chatty person anyway but these meetings helped me to develop my confidence at speaking about what I have been doing in a more formal setting. I feel that this has been a very rewarding opportunity to have been given.
I have found it difficult to be sat at a computer 9 til 5! I am quite an active person and by the end of the day I have become fidgety and my eyes are sore. I have learned the importance of getting out of the office in my lunch break, even if it is just to pop over to have lunch with a friend or down to Spar.
I have enjoyed the friendly nature of Careers Network and the fact that I can just get on with what I have to do on my own. My confidence is growing and I am pleased with the work I have produced. I would have liked to have got further through my list in my first week, but I still have time to complete them in the next three weeks.
I am very glad that I am not a tea making service, washing up fairy or office skivvy that I associate with the word internship. I know that my time with Careers Network will help me to develop my transferable skills and be a very rewarding way to spend my summer break.
This summer I was fortunate enough to get an internship with Entrepreneurship & Innovation (EI), part of Careers Network at the University. I am going into my final year of Economics with Computer Science. Like many other Economics & Business students, I am considering starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur as a possible future career path so when I saw this opportunity advertised, I knew I had to apply for it. This internship was perfect for me, because it offers personal development & entrepreneurial knowledge.
The team that I work with every day is very friendly and easy to get along with. They have made me feel welcome since day one, for which I am grateful. Being treated like colleague and employee, rather than being just ‘the intern’ is one of the best parts of the internship. My supervisor, Hassana, showed me the ropes and introduced me to the rest of the team, as well as other colleagues from Careers Network. I wasn’t thrown in the deep-end from the start, and I was given a couple of days to understand how everything works, what they do and to adjust to the office environment. I enjoy the fast-paced atmosphere at the office, because there are rarely dull moments, and there is always something new to do or learn.
My main task updating the EI database of alumni entrepreneurs by collecting data about their businesses. It is an important task because this information goes into the annual report, that is used in order to obtain funding to support other future entrepreneurs. I get the chance to study a lot of enterprise data, and form my own opinion about why some businesses do better than others, why some fail and others succeed, just by studying the data. I also get to speak to the entrepreneurs in order to get an insight into their businesses: how they started it – from idea to implementation, what challenges they might have faced and how they overcame them.
A great benefit of working at EI is attending the various workshops, events and programmes that they run.
Here are some of the workshops & events that I have attended in the past two weeks:
- Leading Academics – workshops focused on leadership, career development, professional skills and creativity. I even spoke to the Vice-Chancellor, who was invited as a guest speaker to one of the sessions.
- SimVenture workshop –SimVenture software, is a business start-up simulator. You are given a start-up business, and have to make business decisions in order to grow the virtual business and generate profit.
- ADEPT Postgraduate Careers conference – I got to network with guest speakers and professionals from various industries, as well represent EI at the careers fair which followed after the conference.
- BUS Tour – The highlight of my internship so far. The whole team spent the day outdoors and on the BUS, alongside 40 other students, visiting various enterprises and businesses across Birmingham. It was definitely a very interesting and fun day, but more than that, I got the chance to observe how different types of enterprises operate, having the CEO or manager giving us the company tour, explaining what their businesses do, and answering any questions that we had.Some of the enterprises we visited were Made by Young People, ChangeKitchen and B.I.T.A which are businesses that also have social goals, and help their communities by investing a large part of their profits in them. We also visited the multi-awarded Indian restaurant Lasan, where we had lunch and were given a talk by the owner, who told us the story of his business. The last stop of the day was at Glide, which is a company with over 30,000 customers across the UK, and has been founded by a University of Birmingham student. It is really amazing to hear the ups and downs of a business straight from its founder.
Even though the last two weeks have been very busy, it has been a very exciting and rewarding experience, with plenty of things to get involved in and a steep learning curve. I have had an internship and a few work experience placements before, but none of them can compare to working at EI. I can truly say I enjoy every minute of it and I feel that I have learned a lot already. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I would like to give a big thanks to all the wonderful people I have met so far that made me feel welcomed and a part of the team.