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Work Placements: Worth the Hassle?

The teaching phase of my master’s degree is officially over. Now it’s time for the work experience. This was what attracted me most to the sustainable development program offered at Queen’s University: the inclusion of work placements with an NGO (non-governmental organisation), a government department, and a small business.

Work placements not only give you valuable experience, but they also allow you to develop an important network of contacts in the areas that you are most likely to be looking for employment upon graduation. In fact, a number of students from the preceding year’s intake for my course are now employed by the organisations they worked with during one of their placements. It is important, however, to first ascertain whether or not you will be paid for this work. Unfortunately, I only found out after the course had started that I wouldn’t be receiving any financial remuneration for the 24 weeks of placements that I would be undertaking, due partially to the global recession. While not necessarily disastrous, it is something that needs to be considered, especially by self-funded students. Your placement will usually operate just like a normal job: Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, so it can be difficult to keep a part-time job going on the side.

For my first eight week stint, I have chosen to work with the Sunseed organisation in southern Spain. They specialise in permaculture and carry out important research into ways in which we can enjoy a low-carbon and low-impact lifestyle. I had initially heard about them through one of my lecturers at Aberdeen University during my undergraduate degree. When my coordinator told me that we weren’t limited to Northern Ireland for our NGO placement, they were the first organisation that I thought of, although I was warned that I would have to organise it myself.

My first step was to get in contact with Sunseed to see if they had a suitable project for me. Due to the fact that all of their electricity comes from solar power (and the south of Spain can be quite cloudy in winter) it took quite a while for me to speak with their project manager, but eventually I was able to get in touch with him and work out an appropriate plan. After that it was simply a matter of booking flights and making transport arrangements.

My advice to any student thinking about arranging their own work placements abroad would be to start as early as possible, but don’t be afraid to do it. Living and working in a different country can really expand your horizons and looks good on a CV. It’s also a good idea to look into funding opportunities through the financial officer at your university. There are usually lots of different trusts and scholarships available for students looking to study or work overseas. Even if you decide to stay at home, there might be an award available to you. There is never any harm in asking!

Look for next week’s blog when I will have just arrived at my NGO placement in Spain!

Freddie Harris is currently studying for a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his current experiences as a sustainability student, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He hopes to remain optimistic about the future!

Posted on: March 3, 2011, 9:30 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , ,

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