Work experience opportunities
From space robots to potential climate change solutions: students use workexperience to get the competitive edge
Students from schools across the United Kingdom have spent part of theirsummer holidays programming robot prototypes designed to explore otherplanets and researching solutions to combat climate change.
The 70 GCSE and A-Level students have been taking part in work experienceplacements which are run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s(STFC’s) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire.
The placements which run each year from June to August range from spacescience, particle physics and laser science to photography and sciencecommunications, and provide unique opportunities for students to contributeto high tech science research to help prepare them for the competitive workplace environment.
One of the placements involved producing a series of interactive, hands-onclassroom activities using a prototype robot or OErover’ to help primary andsecondary schools learn more about science, computer programming andtechnology. The rover which is controlled by a laptop was programmed bythree teams of work experience students to perform tasks such as detectingtypes of liquids on a planetary surface. The students also worked on thedesign of the robot adding equipment to measure temperature and an infra-redrange finder to tell the robot how close it is to an object.
“The work experience at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has been areally great experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to work here. Ithas definitely made me consider a career in Space Science as I would love tohave the knowledge of some of the top scientists here,” said Jessica Heathfrom King Alfred’s School, Oxfordshire.
Each person works alongside STFC scientists and engineers and is assigned aplacement supervisor who also acts as a mentor.
“One of the key things we want to do is to motivate and generate interest inscience and engineering for the next generation, said Brian Maddison,Placement Supervisor and Project Manager in RAL’s Space Science andTechnology Department. “Science and technology bring huge benefits to oursociety and economy. In a recession this message is more important thatever. Young people not only want to find a job or a place at university,they want to learn new skills and be inspired into career choices – this isa step in that direction.”
“Most of the students are thinking about their future careers – whatA-levels to do, what subjects they would like to study at university or whatjobs to apply for,” said Jo Lewis, Education and Public Outreach Manager atSTFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. “By working in groups made up ofstudents from different schools and parts of the country, they learn keyproject management, communication and team work skills much sought after byemployers and universities. This also helps the students gain in confidence.It’s not easy meeting tight deadlines, and giving presentations to teachers,scientists and peers – the students have to do this from 8.30-5pm each dayfor two weeks or more! Having this kind of work experience on their CV cangive someone the edge over other applicants.”
The work experience projects not only equip the students with new skills andconfidence, but can be invaluable for scientific research.
The GeoEngineering for Climate Change (GE4CC ) work experience project isone such example. Working together intensively over a two-week period, thestudents investigated carbon capture and other technological ways ofcombating the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The students’report will feed into STFC’s Futures Programme which looks at where researchcan be best applied in areas which make a difference to peoples’ lives.
In addition to programming robots and investigating carbon capture, some ofthe students worked on designs for a prototype beam monitoring device forISIS, one of Europe’s leading particle accelerators specializing in novelresearch in areas such as medicine, energy, security and the environment.
“Work experience at STFC Rutherford Appleton laboratory has been one of thebest experiences I have ever had,” said Vyoma Shukla from St Dominic’s Sixthform College in Middlesex. “Working on the beam monitoring project at ISIShas been a very challenging and enjoyable task. I have learnt the importanceof analytical thinking to design and execute a programme, and working in ateam under supervisors at ISIS has been enriching and has helped me toimprove my communication skills.”