The Big Picture
Charlotte is a student at the University of Leeds, enrolled in the MPhys Theoretical Physics course. She recently completed a Year in Industry as an Information Assistant, working for the Mid-Yorkshire NHS Trust while based at Dewsbury Hospital.
“In the beginning it kind of began with tasks that were mainly just to help the running of the hospital. For example, looking into waiting list times, or waiting times coming into A&E – it was really important for us to track that. Then I kind of got into bigger stuff like monthly submissions. A lot of stuff that we do is external submissions and that would involve like collating data, running code on SQL, writing my own code to help with that, using data manipulation in excel, lots of graphs, lots of tables, lots of formulas, using that data to make it into the correct format, and sending it out. And then I got onto bigger projects that involved a lot more coding, a lot more independence. We used a data visualisation software called Qlik Sense and that takes like SQL code and then you can make visualisations with that and kind of create an app that is then used by the service. So that was a lot of coding, a lot of pulling data from different sources, and then I got to build the actual app with all the visualisations so then the service can actually use that data themselves without having to ask us for it.”
Charlotte and her team progressed through the work they had planned for her faster than expected, and so Charlotte’s main focus switched to building the app as mentioned above.
“It incorporated everything that I’d learned throughout; the coding, the data, talking with different people in the service, understanding how the NHS runs. It was a good way of showing off everything I’d learned throughout the year.”
The Application Process and Rejections…
Charlotte started looking for placements for the same reason that a lot of other students look for placements, and that is a fear of having no experience upon graduation.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I know I like data so that’s why I was looking at data jobs and then I saw the NHS and thought it was a good time to try out the job and if I didn’t like it then it was only a year. Turns out I absolutely loved it.”
Charlotte applied to other roles within the NHS as well as some with other companies, and received a few rejections before withdrawing other applications after accepting her Information Assistant role. Seeing rejections as experience rather than setbacks is something Charlotte would encourage students to do.
“When you start doing applications you’re usually awful at doing them. You just need the experience. The more you do, the better you’ll get at them, and you’ll find that because you understand what they want from you better, you’ll get further into the application process. Use feedback and think about why you didn’t get it, and don’t just disregard it because you didn’t get it.”
For Charlotte’s Year in Industry role, the interview process was more personal than technical. She was asked general questions about why she applied to the role and was expected to show enthusiasm for the NHS and to understand the NHS values. At the end of the interview, Charlotte felt like it had gone well overall and was later offered the position.
Before starting her Year in Industry, Charlotte was very nervous about a lot of the professional aspects of entering the workforce.
“I was nervous about everything. I think being in a professional environment really scared me and I had never worked in an office before. I didn’t know how to speak to professional people, but then you realise that they’re literally just normal people and it’s fine. I get along with them really well, but yeah just being able to act in a certain way, and I think just getting things wrong. I was so worried…Especially because I was submitting external things and sending them to executives in the trust so if I got things wrong it was very visible. I was really worried that I would completely mess up a process or something. I made so many mistakes but every time it was absolutely fine, my manager was really good and we talked about what could be in place to make sure that that mistake won’t happen again. We deal with so much data that obviously mistakes are gonna happen. My managers make mistakes as well because they’re just human. Just try and fail, and then try again, and it’ll be great.”
Like a lot of physics students in industry, Charlotte improved a lot of daily processes through automation and increased the overall efficiency of the team.
“There’s lots of little things I definitely changed and made easier, and yeah seeing the app, again that was automating a task like it’s made it easier and look a lot nicer. I like to think I made a positive change.”
The Learning Curve
At university, Charlotte had learned some Python but had never studied SQL. She was given a lot of protected time throughout her placement to dedicate to learning new skills and was able to learn SQL on the job.
“My python knowledge wasn’t amazing. I never thought I could make this visualisation app. I would never have thought that at the beginning of the year. I think I would want to do more typical data analysis stuff, like already having the data and then doing stuff with it. I didn’t think I would like the backend of it so much, like producing clean data. I always thought that was quite boring but it was really interesting to see how we get the data from the service and then try to make it usable and give it to someone else. It was a bit of a surprise that I actually enjoyed that part of it.”
The Physics Connection
Aside from a bit of coding knowledge, Charlotte didn’t use any pure physics theory in her role but would definitely say that a physics degree provided her with a massive advantage.
“Being able to pick up new skills in physics, you get dumped into new ideas quickly and have to find your feet quite fast. That really helped, being able to pick up new skills, and just the problem solving aspect. A lot of physics is problem solving. A lot of the soft skills are very transferable from my degree.”
Charlotte’s team had daily scrum meetings where they would share quick updates and address current blockers to their progress but aside from that, Charlotte did not have to interact too much with her team.
“You can kind of be as independent or as into the team as you wanted. I got along really well with my manager so I spoke to him all the time but if I wanted to I could’ve been completely independent and only spoken to them during those scrums so it was just kind of how I wanted it to be.”
After completing the app that became her main project, Charlotte had to present it to all the managers in order to get approval for it to go live. This involved showcasing the code, explaining why she did things the way she did, and why she chose certain visualisations.
“It was incredibly scary because I had worked on it for three months. It was really nerve wracking but it went really well. There were a couple of suggestions but I appreciated that as they know a lot more than me, and it did go live so that was all good. I was more nervous about it not going live than the aspect of presenting it to them.”
For anyone who does struggle with presentations, Charlotte would say…
“I don’t think you get over those nerves. A lot of people struggle with feeling like maybe they’re getting judged or like you’re not sure what you’re saying, but literally everyone’s human, and everyone will like be okay with that. It’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it.”
The Next Step
The placement opened Charlotte’s eyes to the wide variety of jobs available within the NHS and she would like to continue working in the NHS after graduation.
“I’m still working there part time in this final year now. So they created the job for me and they’re really keen on me to stay but there isn’t a guarantee there will be a full time job waiting for me.”
Charlotte went on to say that doing a Year in Industry was one of the best decisions she has ever made for herself and her career.
“It’s made me more confident in my abilities, in what I’m able to do and produce. It’s made me more confident being in a work environment, speaking to people, speaking to higher up people. It’s improved a lot of my skills like my soft skills and coding skills and it’s taught me that I can learn things quite fast and pick up things quite fast and I’ve got so much more confidence in myself now.”