Joe embraces his PIPS opportunity at the Royal Institution

Joe Sandy, a student based at the UEA, was keen to gain experience in a field different to his academic research. “I was intrigued by the digital nature of the science communication and having an interest in content creation and podcasting meant I’d hoped to be able to combine this with my scientific experience”, says Joe. After seeing an advert in the PIPS newsletter, Joe applied for a PIPS placement at the Royal Institution (Ri) in their digital media department. The Ri has a rolling internship programme, so they are experienced in inducting and supporting placements.

Joe was surprised that he had to do a competitive, yet friendly, interview to secure his placement, although this is actually fairly standard when applying for a PIPS. This focused on motivation, relevant skill set and previous relevant experience as well as his favourite digital media campaign.

Joe undertook his PIPS during his third year, which he found to work well. “I felt I was reaching a point in my PhD where I needed a break from the lab. In addition, I was also at a point where I was thinking more seriously about my career prospects following completion of my PhD”, reflects Joe.

Joe was based at the Ri in London. The main remit of the placement was to support the day-to-day filming of content that could be uploaded on the Ri Youtube channel. Joe also filmed and edited a one-hour lecture series and connected all digital content through the Ri website as well as managing the development of the website and checking for bugs.

Joe gained technical expertise including website editing and management and received training in new video equipment and using the Adobe suite of Apps for editing video content. As well as this Joe worked on his own mini-project, developing new podcasts. This included writing copy and questions, interviewing, editing and producing episodes of the Ri science podcast as well as creating original music. Joe was also responsible for conducting the market research regarding podcast distribution platforms and managed the transfer to a new distributor he had suggested. In doing this the Ri were able to collect new metrics around their podcast such as more precise demographics and audience retention as well as have the potential to monetise the podcast, providing a new revenue stream. Joe really enjoyed the process of developing the podcasts and interacting with the speakers. He received positive feedback from the digital media team on the resulting product which is waiting to go live.

The Ri use the Trello platform for task management, which Joe had been recently introduced to by his PhD supervisor to help planning of his research, so this was a great opportunity to use the software effectively to track his daily/weekly tasks within the placement and see how they relate to the work of other Team members involved in wider project. Joe joined weekly departmental meetings at which he reported progress and discussed plans for following week. Joe feels Trello has radically changed his approach to project planning and monitoring and that he will definitely implement this in the final year of his PhD.

As well as learning new technical skills, strengthening his communication skills, teamwork and project management and organisational skills, Joe felt that he was able to gain a wider overview of the work of the Ri and how his project could commercially benefit the organisation. Joe’s self-confidence grew as a result of the placement; “I found value in the fact that my knowledge, input and opinions were valued and I was given necessary feedback and confidence to carry out big changes in an organisation from early days within the placement”, reflects Joe.

Joe really enjoyed the variety of work in his placement and felt that he was contributing important work to the team from the beginning. He felt he received lots of support and encouragement from the team members and was confident to contribute his own ideas in meetings. He feels more confident to try new things and not worry about risk of failure.

Joe feels his PIPS has given him the confidence to explore wider career horizons post PhD. He had several discussions with PhD graduates working at the Ri and recognises that he has lots of skills and expertise to offer a non-academic employer.

Joe notes that three months is an extremely short time, so encourages future PIPS students to embrace the opportunity fully. “If you are having a good experience, great, take the most from it, network, learn skills, work to the best of your ability. If you’re having a negative experience utilise this, try to analyse why and learn things about yourself that may help plan your next steps after the PhD”, says Joe. He concludes “The pips placement in an excellent opportunity. Early on, when starting my PhD, I wasn’t convinced that it would be necessary and I thought that it may actually negatively impact the PhD experience. I concede that was extremely naïve thinking”. The PIPs experience has given Joe a sense of rejuvenation and he feels re-energised to resume his PhD research.