What is an academic placement?

Academic placementsacademic-placements-what-are-they

In recent years academic placements have become an important part of our vision for providing the best possible degree programme for both our Single English undergraduates and for any other student in the university who is taking a module in their second or third year in the Department of English. Whilst no student is required to undertake an academic placement as part of their degree course, all are offered this opportunity.  

Academic placements in 2013-14

As always, we were pleased to welcome a group of keen students to our part two Communications at Work module, and they undertook a range of placements across marketing, commerce, charities and journalism.

In addition, all students can undertake academic placements linked to any English Literature module they are taking. This is a selection of those placements for this year:

  • Two students went to Reading Repertory Theatre Company for the second-year 'Modern Drama' module, one looking at marketing and the other at the way the fourth wall works in modern drama.
  • A student wrote articles for Today magazine for the third-year 'Black British Fiction' module.
  • Exploring the Berkshire Record Office helped a third-year student on the 'Decadence and Degeneration' module write a placement report on insanity, poverty, class and the female criminal.
  • The 'three-minute novel' broadcasts on the Junction 11 radio station were a great success for a student on our second-year module 'Nineteenth Century Novel'.
  • 'How does Waterstones package literature?' was the title of the placement report by one of our third-year students on the 'Packaging Literature' module.
  • The 'Jane Austen and the Courtship Novel' module lent itself well to a placement at Chawton House, Jane Austen's former home.
  • Two of our Creative Writing Pathway students undertook to design and edit this year's creative writing anthology and produced placement reports focusing on this creative process.
  • Our second-year 'Modernism' module allowed three students to undertake academic placements in the archives and special collections here at the university.
  • One student who had successfully completed an academic placement last year chose to do another one this year: this time as part of the module 'Sex and Sensibility'
  • Reading Repertory Theatre Company also took an academic placement student from our 'Shakespeare on Film' third-year module, giving her the chance to compare portrayals of madness on film and on stage.
  • We saw two students on our second-year 'Women's Writing' module undertake placements in the library archives. One looked at depictions of femininity in Mills and Boon publications over several decades, whilst the other considered images of motherhood offered by Ladybird books.

This year, for the first time, students were given the chance to carry out independent research and produce screencasts as placement outcomes. Four students rose to the challenge and they produced screencasts on Shakespeare on Film, Victorian Women's poetry and the connections that might be made between poetry and science in the Victorian Age.

Are they the same as work experience?

Academic placements in the Department of English differ from work experience placements, or career internships, in one fundamental way: they are directly linked to the learning (and the assessment) on a module. We see an academic placement as an integral part of the educational experience of those students who have one of their modules approved as a 'placement module'.academic-placements-what-are-they-two

This does not mean, of course, that we are unaware of the benefits our placement students can derive in terms of career planning and progression. Indeed, many of our placement students have been offered their first jobs within their placement provider's organisation.

As one of our graduates recently commented:

I must credit my moves in my career so far to the Communications at Work module as the job I went to on placement was my first job as a graduate. Despite being made redundant from that role it gave me the experience to move forward with my current role.

(This graduate is now working as Fundraising and Communications Officer for a national charity.)

But why not just offer work experience to help students with their careers?

• Our students already undertake these with the help of the Careers Service.

• In times of economic restraint, academic placements can be more attractive to employers. Rather than simply being another student asking for workplace experience, our students are offering something of tangible value - an independent piece of research resulting in a placement report, which is often copied to the placement provider. In this way we can negotiate placements which have learning merit for our students and commercial impact for our placement providers.

• Many of our graduates do not move into 'traditional' English degree career areas: we want to offer the greatest range of opportunities to our students.

• We want our students to have the opportunity to utilise the wide range of transferable skills our degree programme offers, rather than making potentially restrictive assumptions about the way that their degree will fit into their life plans.

• We like to challenge our students, both personally and intellectually. Each academic placement represents a piece of research with which a student can be pleased. Independent research away from the seminar room is in itself a good preparation for the work involved in a dissertation, as well as life after university.

• Students learn to reflect upon their experience in a report - a new form of writing for most of them. In addition, students might be asked to give a presentation whilst they are on placement. We know that these skills are valued by employers, and this is an excellent opportunity to hone them through experience.

Why are academics in the department keen on this type of placement?

• We wanted to exploit fully the academic possibilities placements might offer our students.academic placements what are they four

• Students engage early with the expected learning on a module in order to identify a placement. We believe that this has a positive impact upon their learning on the module.

• Whilst on placement, students may have to reconsider their research questions and revise their planning accordingly. This flexible approach to learning and thinking is something we wish to encourage in our students.

• Our third year modules are based on the research interests of academic staff. To see this research in action in the wider community can be a stimulus to our research ideas and activities.

• We are proud of what our students can achieve and enjoy seeing them have the chance to put their talents to use outside the seminar room.

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