Banner that reads 'My experience of undertaking a placement during my Masters by Sophia Lambert' next to a photo of Sophia

My experience of undertaking a placement during my Masters

By Sophia Lambert

In Summer 2022, I completed a research placement while studying a Master’s in Social and Cultural History at the University of Leeds. In October 2023, I will start my PhD, researching Bradford’s Jewish history. In this blog, I am going to share my experiences of completing a project placement during my Masters, including some of the benefits and challenges of the internship.

For my placement, I worked on one of 13 Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) projects led by academics from across the university. 14 other students who, like me, self-identified as coming from a background underrepresented at the university, worked with staff on the other LITE projects. I worked in partnership with a lecturer called Rachael O’Connor on her project designed to improve academic personal tutoring (APT) practice by using students’ voices and experiences through a reverse mentoring scheme where students will mentor staff. I helped Rachael to revise and finalise her reverse mentoring project by developing the materials for each of the project’s sessions. Our other project objectives included analysing different approaches to APT inside and outside the university from the perspective of underrepresented students.


In March 2022, I saw an Instagram post about the placement opportunity. I decided to apply because I wanted to use my experiences of personal tutoring and the professional experience I gained as an undergraduate. I also saw an opportunity to helpmy university’s Careers Service to improve the accessibility of their services and improve widening participation among underrepresented students. I used my experiences of engaging with minoritised students to shape the themes and focuses for Rachael’s project, including thinking about the barriers to engagement with personal tutoring these students face.

Support through the application process & timescales

The LITE team were incredibly helpful during the application process because they delivered a virtual presentation explaining the application process and giving us tips on how to make our applications stand out. A Q and A session then followed the presentation, giving us the chance to get extra support.

Later in March, I had an interview with the project supervisor, Rachael, and I found out I got the job in early April. Rachael and the LITE team were flexible about my start date and working pattern, which helped me to organise my time effectively to complete my dissertation and the placement before the September deadline. I arranged to start my placement with Rachael at the beginning of June, working two or three days a week until the beginning of September.

How the placement worked

Flexible working hours helped me maintain a good work-life balance while ensuring I completed the project within the 210 hours allocated. I managed my time by writing a task list, prioritising the most important jobs, and allocating set days to work on the project. I then dedicated some of the other days to work on my dissertation and scheduled plenty of breaks. However, there were times, especially as the submission deadline for my dissertation approached, when I became quite stressed, but speaking to Rachael and taking time out to focus solely on my dissertation was really helpful.  

I developed a fantastic professional staff-student relationship with Rachael because we were both passionate about making meaningful changes to APT practices. Our enthusiasm and determination definitely played a key role in successfully finalising the reverse mentoring project. Through our weekly meetings, Rachael gave me a platform and a safe space to share my experiences of APT as an underrepresented student, which really enriched and shaped the project. Rachael also spoke about how her sense of underrepresentation affected her as a student and as a staff member. Our discussions also helped me to see personal tutoring from an academic’s perspective and understand the challenges they face with delivering tutoring effectively. For the first time as a postgraduate, I felt I was being listened to, and that APT practices would improve.

Not only did the placement allow me to connect with other staff members, but it also enabled me to speak to other underrepresented students from various backgrounds who I may not have otherwise had the chance to meet. Although I and the other students may not have had the same lived experiences, there were some similarities, and we always empathised and listened to each other. These conversations were essential to the placement because they helped me understand the challenges other groups of students faced, shaping the project’s focus so that we were informed by as many students as many groups of students as possible. But most importantly, speaking to others about their sense of underrepresentation helped create a community of staff and students. These conversations also allowed us to discuss our sense of underrepresentation, which is something we do not usually do in daily life.


However, while these discussions helped me feel more at ease about my underrepresentation and created a sense of community and belonging because I was working remotely for most of the placement, I felt quite isolated at times. The project happened while COVID restrictions were still in place, meaning we could not work in the LITE office on campus. Also, because it was the summer term, most students had gone home, making it harder to meet in person. While we had Microsoft Teams chat where we could speak to other project placement students, we did not really use this space very often. Despite these challenges, we met on campus a couple of times with the LITE team, which was one of the placement highlights for me.

New Skills

I developed a lot of skills while working on the project, including research and data collection, project management, research and written and verbal communication. As part of the project, I conducted some primary research where I interviewed current students about their personal tutoring experiences. Having not previously designed a research project with participants, I had to learn a lot about research ethics and GDPR, which will prove useful when I interview people as part of my research for my PhD. I also learned how to write a thematic analysis of the interview transcripts by selecting the main themes that arose during the discussions. I then created an academic poster about my findings which I shared with staff across the university.

The internship proved invaluable when writing my PhD funding application because I could evidence my skills. For example, in September 2022, I was invited to the RAISE Conference in Lincoln with Katie and Emma from the LITE team to present my research and speak about my experiences of working on the project. This was a fantastic opportunity to gain experience with presenting my research findings to a mixed audience of academics and non-specialists.

Completing this project placement was a crucial stage in my personal and professional development. I learned a lot about myself through exploring my sense of underrepresentation and my identity. I also further developed my presentation and research skills and learned how to conduct different types of analysis.

Advice for applicants about to start their placements or thinking of applying

Here are my main pieces of advice to anyone thinking about completing a placement:

  • Try to connect with others as much as possible, whether that’s via LinkedIn, online, in-person or through other staff and students. The more conversations you have with others, the more knowledge you will gain, and you will be much more likely to ask questions and allow different perspectives to inform your ideas.
  • Finally, just go for it. See your placement as an adventure because you never know where it might take you.