Natural Science Work Experience Guide

Whether it is before you start university or during your course, work experience is an essential part of studying Natural Science.

Last Updated: 27th May 2022

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If you are applying to study Natural Science at a top university, getting accepted is highly competitive.

This is where work experience can come in.

It is an additional component to your application and can show off your dedication to the subject.

We discuss everything you need to know about Natural Science work experience.

Why Should I Do Natural Science Work Experience?

By doing work experience it gives you context for your academic studies and is an opportunity to learn and develop the key skills that employers regard as important.

Work experience will build your knowledge about a particular industry, job, or organisation, and help you decide if you are suited to a particular kind of work.

This is an opportunity to ask questions or advice from employees, and to network.

This can be a big advantage as many top universities use Personal Statements that include extracurricular activities to distinguish between students who have the same academic ability.

Having work experience helps Admissions Tutors understand more about you and shows that you have a real enthusiasm for the subject that you are hoping to study.

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Natural Science Work Experience Before University

Prior to starting your degree, getting work experience is not easy to do however it is not impossible.

Insight days and events aimed at sixth form students, and even younger, are a great starting point – especially if you have your sights set on a degree early on.

The Natural History Museum in London offers week long placements for students from Year 10 up to the age of 18. Spaces are limited so it is best to apply as early as possible for the best chances of being offered a place.

Do not be put off by the fact it is the Natural History Museum, as science is a major factor in the placement.

If you are interested in the biological aspects of Natural Science you could also contact organisations such as a wildlife conservation, a zoo, or even a veterinary practice to see if they are able to take you on.

The University of Cambridge’s research groups do also host work experience students, in Year 10 and above, and these are opportunities to be looked at.

A popular example is the Nuffield Research Placements that gives students the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians for 4-6 weeks over the summer holidays.

Another example is the In2scienceUK programme which helps disadvantaged and under-represented 16–17-year-olds (studying at least one STEM subject at sixth form or college) gain insight into science, technology, engineering and maths.

Universities like to see placements such as these as it demonstrates your interest and passion for the subject and is usually a helpful discussion point for your Personal Statement and Interview.

If you are looking for something less structured charity work, volunteering and independent travel will also give you something interesting to talk about in your Personal Statement and at the Interview.

Natural Science Work Experience Whilst At University

Some Natural Science degrees out there offer you the opportunity to do a placement year. The University of Bath is one that offers this with links to some of the industry’s leading companies.

Recent placement employers include Intrinsiq, CERN, EY, Wessex Water, GlaxoSmithKline ad European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF).

The key thing to do is to be proactive. You are not the only person vying for these placements so getting your application in as early as possible will be a big advantage.

However, if your course does not offer placements years as part of the course you should still try and arrange a short-term option, so you get this experience.

Looking at Cambridge, students spend their summers gaining experience in diverse and creative ways. While 66% spend their summer working not all were on formal internship schemes that are commonly offered by large employers.

Over 30% of students use their networks, word of mouth and speculative approaches to source their experiences.

As a Natural Science student there may be opportunities for paid vacation work in laboratories.

Furthermore, there are several research programmes and schemes that enable STEM students to explore academic or industry research during their vacations.

This document represents a selection of opportunities that usually operate annually, it is not exhaustive, and some schemes may not run every year but gives you an idea of the opportunities out there.

What Are The Kinds Of Work Experience I Can Do?

In an ideal world you would be able to walk into the perfect Natural Science laboratory placement, however they are not easy to come by.

With this not being the case, it is important you widen the search more and consider the less obvious positions out there.

You could ask to shadow someone in an area or organisation that interests you for a couple of days, volunteer to come in on an unpaid work placement or look for paid part-time work.

If you cannot get work in a lab, see if you could work at a zoo. You could even volunteer at an animal shelter. Do not make the mistake of feel like there is only certain acceptable forms of work experience.

It all counts, as long as you have done something worthwhile with your time that you can draw upon when discussing your background and skills.

Part-time work during terms and holidays will help you develop communication and teamworking skills.

Helping to run clubs and societies also offers the opportunity to develop skills. For example, you might have led a team effectively, come up with innovative ideas and carried them through, solve problems or organised events.

Developing transferable skills is a big part of a Natural Science degree and demonstrating you have the ability to do so will put you in strong standing for the course.

Having a range of interests shows you are a multidimensional person who is enthusiastic, motivated and a likely asset.

Tips For Getting A Natural Science Placement

Start planning your work experience from your first year of study

Do not just look at blue chip companies! Most employers looking for placement students only take applications from the beginning of your second year, but planning ahead is ideal.

Getting an industrial placement isn't automatic

Employers will view your application favourably if you combine good academic results (first year results do matter!) with evidence of career commitment. Have something on your CV that will attract interest.

Placement officers and the university careers service are the key starting points

The more people who know you are looking the more help you can get. There is always competition for advertised placements so apply your networking skills to look for alternatives.

If you really can only find a supermarket job, try to make more of it by asking for additional responsibility

Find out how the business is run and talk to managers. That way, you might be able to get a bit of work experience in a more relevant job function.

Try to arrange your own placement or work shadowing

Through contacts from your careers service or your university’s job shop. Year-long industrial placements and formal vacation programmes are the ideal, but there are never enough of the latter to go round.

Dreaming of studying Natural Science at Cambridge? Our expert tutors are on hand to help you secure your place. 

With our Cambridge Natural Science Premium Programme, we help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive NSAA score and teach you how to Interview effectively. 

Discover our Cambridge Natural Science Premium Programme by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

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