The Benefits of Undertaking a Placement Alongside Your PhD

Research and innovation

Anna VirĂ¡gos is a second year Postgraduate Researcher who is researching job crafting, proactive and prosocial behaviours at the workplace. She is especially interested in how these behaviours might influence the job satisfaction and work engagement of employees.

Anna Viragos

I decided to apply for a placement in the first year of my PhD to gain some additional experience in industry in order to improve my career prospects. I also wanted to practise communicating and working on a project with an organisation.

I find my research field of Organisational Psychology fascinating, however, it does have the disadvantage of largely depending on organisations when it comes to collaborating and collecting data. Dealing with companies to get them to co-operate on a project and grant you access for data requires a whole new set of skills. You have to be able to negotiate in order to get what you want (eg the right data to answer your research questions) and still keep the company happy (eg do not take too much of their time.) Also, you have to learn how to communicate your research ideas in a non-academic way, as organisations expect a more practical style. Therefore, completing an industrial placement prior to my main data collection seemed like a logical step for me.

I successfully applied for and completed a 130-hour paid placement through the Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) Placement scheme. This scheme offers Postgraduate Researchers the opportunity to undertake part-time research projects within local organisations and gain practical experience during the process. However, finding the host organisation is the researchers’ own responsibility.

Once I decided that I would like to apply for the placement, I immediately started to look for and contact potential partner organisations in the service industry. A couple of organisations expressed interest in my project. One of the interested organisations found my project extremely relevant so I decided to complete my placement with them.

The company I worked with is a fast-growing multinational organisation in the service industry. The aim of my placement with them was to investigate how the employees’ interactions with each other and their clients can affect customer satisfaction. I found completing the placement beneficial in two main ways: firstly, I gained and practised useful transferable skills that could potentially improve my employability, and secondly, it helped the progress of my PhD.

During my placement, I distributed a survey and conducted interviews with the supervisors and employees of the organisation. I also spent a few days conducting observations in order to understand the job roles, duties, work environment, and the general atmosphere and culture of the company.

I presented to the management team on two occasions: first to get them on board and ‘sell’ my project, and then after the placement I was asked to present the findings of the project. Both of these presentations required a different style and approach, and although the preparation and the Q&As after were challenging, I found them to be very beneficial in terms of presenting my work and answering questions in front of a non-academic audience.

I analysed the data collected and as the last step of the placement, I summarised the research findings in the form of a business report for the organisation. All of these activities helped me practise a range of different skills that will be useful in my future academic career since my field of study requires close and continuous contact with organisations.

The placement also helped with the progress of my PhD as the company allowed me to use the data collected with them and I am planning to write up my project as the pilot chapter of my thesis. Additionally, I am more confident and realistic when it comes to approaching organisations for my main data collection.

To sum up, I benefitted in a number of ways. The only downside I can think of was the time commitment it required. Although, with sufficient planning ahead, I was still able to spend enough time on my PhD commitments.

Overall, I would highly recommend completing a brief placement alongside your PhD, especially if your field of research requires you to collaborate with organisations.  

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.