Choices, choices, applications

PetePete Connolly, Finalist Physics

As if final year students don’t have enough on their plates with dissertations, research projects or, as in my case, final year laboratory projects, this is time at which students must decide what exactly they intend to do with the rest of their lives. In the majority of cases this requires, in one form or another, combinations of applications and interviews. Despite the pressure to pick a definitive career path at this juncture, I resolutely stuck to my indecisive guns and elected to apply left, right and centre to any industry I thought would fit the bill. The primary drawback of this approach was the sheer quantity of companies I would need to approach and the wide spread of application opening/closing dates. I therefore created a spreadsheet, breaking down companies by industry and application deadline (pro tip: organisational spreadsheets are a fantastic way of procrastinating from university work while retaining a feeling of productivity.)

As a Physics student wanting to do science, my industry breakdown, comprising around fifty companies and schemes, went: Space, Energy, Government and Defence, Engineering, Medical Physics, Research, Academia (PhD/EngD). The most useful element of this approach was that having all my options laid out in front of me in an ordered manner allowed my subconscious to slowly filter the list into favoured career paths. From previous experience applying to summer internships with high rejection rates, it is clear that there is little point sending off half-hearted applications or generic copy/pasted cover notes, and so each application took a considerable time to prepare, whilst asking careers advisors from the Careers Network to look over them before submission proved invaluable. The volume of applications facing me quickly forced me to disregard those opportunities I was less enthusiastic towards and left me with a less daunting list of fifteen or twenty.

My hope was that any decision would be taken out of my hands through an expected 95% rejection rate and I would be provided with one solid option which I could then accept as my true calling. Unfortunately however, things didn’t quite work out as planned, as (humblebrag alert) I was invited to multiple interviews and assessment centres for positions in research, academia, government and defence sectors. It turns out that interview and assessment centre experience is actually extraordinarily useful. Not knowing exactly what to expect, my first ‘technical interview’ went rather poorly, an experience which allowed me to prepare much more effectively for the next, whilst the more interviews I undertook, the better I became. Each interview also provided an insight to working in each sector, which further allowed me to refine my aspirations. I was also able to take advantage of an interview in Edinburgh by spending a weekend exploring a beautiful city with my travel paid for by the company.

The upshot is this: finding out early what my options were and making sure I was organised with respect to application deadlines, not to mention taking advantage of the services provided by the Careers Network, has resulted in offers in Edinburgh, London and Birmingham, and even afforded me the luxury of being able to turn down interviews. Whilst I remain maddeningly unable to reach a final decision, this process has at least eliminated a whole host of industries I now know are not for me.

…I’m now secretly hoping some of the companies will withdraw their offers so I don’t have to actually make a decision.

Pete Connolly


About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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