Alex enhances her skills at Norfolk Citizens Advice

Alexandra Siddall, a student based at UEA, wanted to undertake a local internship with a charity where she felt her work would have a positive impact. After seeing an opportunity advertised in the PIPS newsletter, Alex contacted the Norfolk Citizens Advice (NCA) and was successful in securing her placement there.

Alex undertook her placement in her third year. Alex enjoyed having a break from her PhD project but now feels under pressure to complete her experimental work within the final year.

Alex’s main project involved standardising the NCA data management processes. This included generating reports on key themes or commonly used data from work with clients and service users. Alex worked in Tableau, which was a platform that was new to her, to generate the reports and identify how to get the most from the system. There was also flexibility for Alex to work on other projects that interested her, such as increasing data acquisition from clients. This involved observing the on-the-ground work of the volunteer NCA officers to understand client interactions. This led Alex to develop a better system of securing data from the client triage process and improving the training of advisers in what data to collect and its importance. Alex also had the opportunity to attend meetings with council reps to understand how the council makes referrals and financially supports the work.

Throughout her internship Alex developed her interpersonal and oral communication skills by working with different parts of the organisation. She also developed her written communication skills through the generation of reports, presentations and additional written material, such as drafting a letter to a North Norfolk MP around the heating fuel crisis.

Alex received positive feedback for her work and was glad it was valued by the management team. She liked knowing that her work would have an impact and would lead to a tangible change, of benefit to the charity. Alex’s teamwork skills also improved and she liked being part of a collaborative project environment, where she could see how her contribution would then be built upon by others.

The internship has reinforced Alex’s intention to move away from academia post-PhD. In terms of Alex’s career aspirations, she felt the placement allowed her to see that she could be effective outside of research. Alex found the placement very beneficial for her skills development and says “you can get out of it as much as you put in”. Alex is continuing to volunteer with them to support development of their data management processes.