While I was in Sweden I got a chance to interview my friend about her placement and how she finds living abroad. I thought it might be helpful for people undecided on whether to do a year in industry or study abroad year. My friend studies Psychology with Neuroscience and is currently doing her placement year at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. You might be particularly interested in this if you study science, however, bear in mind that her experience may be different to what you could experience.
So, why did you decide to do a placement year?
For many reasons; for one I wanted to see what it would be like to be in research so that I could decide whether I wanted to do that as a full-time career because that’s what I wanted to do. I also thought it would be good to get some experience, it would make me stand out to employers and I just thought I would learn a lot of skills and learn a lot about the field.
How did you decide where you wanted to work?
Well, I definitely wanted to do a placement abroad because I’ve always wanted to live abroad and I didn’t get the opportunity to study abroad so I thought the next best thing is to work abroad. That’s how I decided; I knew I wanted to do something abroad and I asked my personal tutor and they said I could do that so that’s what I did. When I first applied, I applied to a different university in Sweden and they didn’t respond to me – well they said they weren’t taking any bachelor students and because I was interested in Sweden, my personal tutor recommended me to check out some other places in Sweden such as Karolinska and I did and I liked it. What I liked about it was…I liked that it was in the capital city, I liked that I was able to travel around. What I liked about the institute itself was mainly, it was very focused on medical research; it’s a medical school and that’s very focused on what I want to do because I want to focus on neuroscience and having a place that is specialised for medical research is quite exciting and I thought it was very much what I wanted to get into after Uni as well. So it was…pretty perfect.
What was the application process like?
It was a little bit demanding because they asked me to apply in December last year, so that’s like a year ago now and it was during the time where all the end of semester deadlines were happening so it was a bit stressful to dedicate a bulk of my time to the application process. But it was okay because I knew I wanted to do it so I made that time to apply.
We had to create an academic CV, if we didn’t have one already, then send that to the institute or where we want to work. If they liked it they would get back to you, maybe ask for skype interview because I had a skype interview for another institute. So yeah, it was first an application to my university, then an interview with my university because obviously, I’ll be representing my university when I’m abroad so they wanted to see if they had the right candidate for that. After they accept you, you had to find your institute or where you want to do your placement then that’s when you send your academic CV off to your particular placement. Sometimes they ask for an interview, like I said, but for my one they didn’t ask, they liked what I had on my CV and they asked me to come.
What kind of questions did they ask when you had the interview for the other placement?
They mainly asked why I wanted to go on placement, what particularly I was interested in, what I do at Uni in terms of lab experience, (they wanted to) see if I have any skills that I will be using or that I need to work on, (they) asked me about research already happening in the field today. Also, they just told me a little bit about the place and they asked me what I knew about it.
What sort of work do you actually do at your placement?
So, my placement mainly revolves around me completing a project which will go on to be my experimental project in my final year at university. My project is purely practical so I’m in the lab doing a variety of experiments and following different protocols in order to gain results for my experiment. Also, my experiment is within the field of everyone else’s in my lab so everyone is doing an experiment based on the same topic and I have a slightly different one but we are all aiming for the same results. So it’s mainly in the lab and hands-on rather than like lectures and things like that.
How are you finding the work?
I mean at first it was a little difficult because you don’t have that much lab experience as a second-year student; you know a few things but you don’t know a lot. So, when I came here I was a little bit overwhelmed with how much I had to know and had to learn. But everyone was really supportive and eventually I got the hang of following different protocols and using the different equipment around the lab and so, it took time but I got there.
What’s the best thing about your placement?
I think it’s mainly how approachable everyone is in the sense that if I’m struggling with something, I can ask. At first, I was a little bit afraid that I would sound stupid or incapable if I was asking for help but I realised that it’s better to ask and know rather than guessing and mess up a whole experiment. One simple mistake in a scientific experiment can ruin your results or skew your results completely so it’s important to know exactly what you’re doing and I’ve realised that there’s no wrong in asking a question.
What’s the worst thing about your placement?
I think when it comes to science, a lot of things are repetitive. Like, you do the same experiment again and again and again and again to get reliable results, you analyse slides under the microscope again and again and again and again to have enough results. So, I think the repetitiveness of it all does get to me because I don’t like sitting doing the same thing over and over again but at the end of the day, it’s what I need to prove or support my theory and my project.
How are you finding living in a new country?
It’s good, I mean, when I first got here it was a bit hard to adjust to everything. I felt kind of lonely but (then) everything picked up and I got to know new people and everything has become sort of familiar now and in a weird way it is home.
How did you adjust to work life and living in Sweden?
I think mainly realising that you’re not alone in it all. There are other people here in the same position as you that have left their lives and are living in a different country because they want to learn something new or they want to experience something or want to have more things on their cv. And to realise when not to seclude yourself. Also, realising everyone around me and my friends at home, if I am feeling down or lonely, there are people around that I can speak to or at least (are) a phone call away.
I hope that was helpful. Happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2017!!