The Big Picture
Sophia is a student at the University of York enrolled on the BSc Physics course. Between her second and third year, she did a Year in Industry placement at PragmatIC Semiconductor as a Test Intern based in their Cambridge office.
“The company designs and manufactures flexible integrated circuits that can be used in flexible sensors or labels. My role was in the Test team which involved physically testing hardware like chips and semiconductor devices to characterise them electronically. Often, I was required to test devices after a change was made in the manufacturing process to either optimise something or to produce a desired output.”
“As the placement progressed, I started to analyse more of the data I collected as well as data from other engineers and I spent more of my time working like a data scientist using the programming language R. I eventually built an interactive app in R so people across the company could see the data I collected. I also started writing code to control the hardware that took the measurements using LabVIEW software.”
“PragmatIC Semiconductor provides a unique technology platform to create ultra-low-cost flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs). Our FlexIC Foundry® service enables designers to create their own application-specific flexible devices at a fraction of the cost and time required to develop traditional silicon ICs.” – PragmatIC Semiconductor
The Application Process
Sophia decided to apply for a Year in Industry placement as she quite liked the thought of having a test run of the world of work before starting her career following graduation. Location was important for Sophia so searching only in Cambridge helped to narrow down the list of potential companies and knowing that she wanted a technical role narrowed it down further.
“I ended up cold emailing a lot of companies and I got a lot of responses saying they had closed their programs because of COVID but then I applied to this place, which was actually a summer placement, but I didn’t realise because it didn’t say summer on it anywhere or the length of time anywhere. At the end of the interview, they told me it was 12-weeks! By that point I had applied to 15 places cold emailing with like 3 or 4 proper applications and I just took it, and they said they could extend it to 9 months.”
Despite a not so typical application process, all it took to secure the role was one interview after sending in a CV and covering letter. Sophia was relieved to get a placement as she had spent so much time and effort into applying to various companies.
“Even if I wasn’t actively applying, I was considering where I could apply next and how I could prepare for that application process. For the sum of all that to be zero I think would have been quite upsetting.”
When Sophia applied to the role, she understood it to be a very technical, hands-on position with her main focus being the testing of pieces of hardware. Delving into programming and software development was not something that she had anticipated at all.
“I technically applied for a summer placement. So it was like, here’s an idea of what we might want you to do, and then it quite quickly evolved into what I could actually do for them. I enjoyed the coding though, it took me by surprise, and I really liked the data science sections.”
Despite not doing much coding in her degree, Sophia has found that the coding experience she gained on her placement is incredibly helpful for her final year bachelor’s project.
“I do all my graphs in R because I learned it last year.”
While working at PragmatIC Semiconductor, Sophia set up a calibration test for a piece of equipment that they’re planning to use in the next few years.
“It’s an in-house company test on some of their instruments to hopefully reduce the number of costly and disruptive external calibration needed. I also analysed some historical data that they had that no one had looked at. Not an enormous impact, but helpful.”
“I was a little bit worried about maybe disappointing someone.”
At first, Sophia felt somewhat unequipped for the job, but thanks to having a good boss who she had regular contact with, she was able to build up confidence in her abilities the longer she worked at PragmatIC Semiconductor.
“You just work on what you can work on and then as long as you’re showing up with something, that’s usually enough, and then what you find after a while is that once you get into it you just start knowing where you want to take things. Then you start getting the confidence to propose new things.”
At the start of the placement, Sophia was given much more guidance with her tasks. Towards the end, this morphed into her being trusted with more responsibility to find out information and seek out solutions on her own, without having to go through her boss as a middleman to other areas of the company.
“I think it was great to have that direction at the start because you just don’t know where you’re going with things, but then it was nice that I was so invested in the stuff I was doing later on. It became a case of ‘Oh, yeah, that’s an interesting thing. I wonder what would happen…’ and all of this. When you know who works on what, you can talk to them directly rather than going through your boss.”
The Learning Curve
Sophia had never coded in R prior to her placement but didn’t find the process of learning on the job too difficult. What she had to put more effort into was efficiently documenting her work and progress so that she could show someone what she had been up to at the drop of a hat.
“It’s not a case of you have a whole term and then at the end of the term you have to pull it together in a report like at university. People are usually interested in your work week to week or will ask what you did the other day and get you to pull it up, and if you’ve just shoved it in a random place then that’s not very helpful. You learn to keep good documentation so that you can show people what you’re working on at a moment’s notice.”
Sophia was part of the Test Team, composed of around ten people across the Cambridge and Durham offices. Sophia mainly worked on her tasks by herself but often asked people for their contribution and collaboration. She had to present some of her work to the members of her team and prepare slides that would be presented to the board.
“I like to think I’m comfortable with presentations and I liked that at work I presented on something that I had worked on for some time. Colleagues would often ask ‘How’ this project going?’ and presentations were an opportunity to show exactly what I had been working on.”
For students who struggle with giving presentations, Sophia would remind them that they’re not expected to know everything or be at the forefront of the company’s knowledge, but people are still interested to see what you’ve been working on.
The Next Step
Prior to her placement, Sophia had heard from Beth and Andrew (members of the WRIPA team) that Year in Industry students usually graduate with a 2:1 minimum and do well on their final year projects. At the start of her first term back after the placement, Sophia found university life a bit of a shock to the system.
“I don’t know if it’s worse because I’m coming from a year where it was COVID impacted. The last time I was doing university work it was online, it was really flexible, there wasn’t as much assessed stuff. So coming back into quite a fast paced, deadline oriented style of working again has been a little bit jarring.”
Despite the rapid start, Sophia feels like she is in a much better place for her final year project, now equipped with better time management skills and a general understanding of working on and documenting longer term projects.
“If you want to go into industry then I would really recommend a Year in Industry as it’s a really good taster, but if you want to go into academia I would say don’t put the interruption in your studies. It can be really helpful to try and get your head around the bigger questions that you can’t really answer while you’re at university. For example, knowing what sort of company you want to work for. You’ve got no idea if a small or a massive company might suit you.”
While the placement didn’t help Sophia massively narrow down her career choices, she is still quite certain that she wants to work in a technical role after graduating.