The main impact on students at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) – and in particular on students of biological sciences – was the effect the pandemic had on early work placements. That is according to Mark Gallagher, who is careers and work placement consultant for biological sciences at QUB.

Students set to begin placement in early May or June of last year were unable to do so, as employers were not ready to continue with placement offers.

This was due to the difficulty of trying to project the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was similar to students beginning placements later – around August and July time – with employers pushing back start dates. However, employers did not stop placements, meaning the majority of agri-food students completed a full year’s placement.

Mark also explained how students were also affected on a broader spectrum.

For example, some students who relocated to England in 2020 found it difficult to build a social circle, or complete normal activities experienced by previous year’s students.

Students gained less experience

Students who successfully obtained placement undertook academic modules which assessed various skills and experiences gained on placement.

However, the small number of students who were unsuccessful in achieving placements undertook alternative assessments.

“I did feel sorry for that cohort, as nothing would replace the actual experience of work placement,” Mark says.

In addition, it has also been a challenging year for some agriculture students seeking experience – they have less ability to network or meet up face to face with employers. This was particularly important for agricultural students, as some host employers may use less formal methods when considering students for placement.

Mark says many QUB students moved into professional environments this year.

“Understanding the way the industry and business works is something I hope they pick up quickly in their first or second graduate roles,” he adds.

“Although almost all employers are conscious that graduating students have had an incredibly challenging final year.”

Personal experience

Speaking from my own experience of work placement in 2020, I believe I had the best of both worlds: working within an office and also within my home environment. If you were to ask me, I think working within an office environment was a nicer and more fulfilling experience. Working from home meant fewer chances to interact and socialise with work colleagues; limiting the experience and enjoyment of a new working environment.