Taking a Placement Year

31st March 2020

Sam grew up in the Peak District, then moved to Sheffield for university. He studied Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University before joining BBC Radio Sheffield as a freelance reporter. After a year on the Breakfast Show, he joined Hepp as a Higher Education Engagement Assistant in 2020.

Note: Sam studied a ‘sandwich course’, which included a placement year between his second and third year of study. A placement is work experience that forms part of many degrees. Sometimes this is optional (as in Sam’s case) and sometimes it is mandatory.

Being a fresher

Taking a placement year was the best decision I made at university and it impacted my life in ways I never expected. I went to university at 18, full of high expectations and ready for those prophesied ‘best three years of my life’. I was hoping for a responsibility-free student world where the weeks all blurred into one and my fridge was forever stocked with oven pizzas and Pepsi multipacks.

That’s the student experience I planned for myself and so that’s what I got. The result: one gigantic, nocturnal anti-climax of junk food and lie-ins. I had always been active and always played sport, but right then I was unhealthy. I was busting a gut trying to live the stereotypical ‘uni student life’ that had been chronicled by my older cousins and friends.

Going on placement

Then I took a placement year. Suddenly I wasn’t a student anymore, I was a colleague. I was relied upon. I had responsibility and a routine, I got up in the morning (can you imagine?), I started swimming after work, I got better at cooking, and I drew a line between my job and my social life. I had never felt better. When I came back to Sheffield for my final year of university, I was wide awake. I explored the city and discovered its beautiful hidden corners. I cooked with my housemates, we played Mario Kart after tea, and we had early nights as well as late ones.

I dove head-first into my course and got completely stuck in. I suddenly thrived off the independence and proactivity required to take notes on a murder trial at the Crown Court. I relished the responsibility of filming an anniversary match for the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC. I kept up swimming and took up football, too: six-a-side with my course-mates once a week. My final year of university was my favourite by a distance. I have my placement year to thank, which was an opportunity I almost passed up.

‘I knew I would return to university as the new kid’

Out of hundreds of students in my year, just three went on placement. I knew I would return to university as the new kid. I would be thrown into a different year group full of friendships already formed, as the friends I had made over two years would have graduated. But I found the courage to diverge from the crowd. I started saying ‘yes’ to more things, beginning with the offer to work at High Peak Radio, a station with small offices in the middle of the countryside near where I grew up. My little sisters and I used to listen to it on snowy mornings to see if school was closed. So, I said ‘yes’ and I kept that up…

“Sam, can you read the morning news bulletin live on your first shift?”

“…Yes.”

 

“Can you commentate on Buxton FC’s local derby match with absolutely no practice or experience?”

“Yes, why not.”

 

“Can we trust you to call Andrew Bingham MP live from the House of Commons during a terrorist attack lockdown?”

“Erm…Yes.”

With every ‘yes’ came new responsibility, the sort you’re just not handed as a student. I gained invaluable experience that helped me through my final year at university and secured me a role at the BBC. Not to mention the countless fond, funny memories I left with (I instinctively referred to a player as ‘The Ginger’ live on air during my first football match commentary). I learned recently that High Peak Radio has been bought out, had its name changed to ‘Imagine Radio: Peak District’ and moved to offices in Stockport (definitely not in the Peak District). I feel very lucky to have worked within that small team when I did. It’s a standalone year in my life that I’ll never forget. If you have the chance, I would absolutely recommend you take a placement year. It may change you in more ways than one.

Categories: Graduate Interns.

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