It’s not too early to start thinking about developing your career skills. There is a lot of support and resources open to you in terms of getting ready for what comes after your degree.
Although some students have a specific career goal in mind, many are uncertain in first year. It is very common for your ambitions and directions to change throughout university as you gain new skills and experiences.
One of the advantages of the system at St Andrews is the flexibility of taking two additional modules alongside a core subject in sub-honours years. You may opt for a traditional combination, as in the case of a Chemistry student taking Mathematics and Physics, or a more unusual combination such as a Management student taking Biology and Arabic. Provided you meet pre-requisites for the module and have no timetable clashes, you are free to explore your individual interests.
In some cases there is the possibility to change your degree intention if you prefer one of your additional modules. Being flexible and open to new experiences will allow you to make the most of your academic experience.
University will equip you with a rigorous understanding of your subject. You will become proficient in subject-specific skills, like becoming fluent in a language or gaining a comprehensive set of laboratory skills. Equally important as these subject-specific skills are the transferable skills you develop through academic work, work experience and volunteering. Transferable skills can be applied to a wide variety of professional environments, and include:
- problem solving
- leadership and planning
- team work
- analytical and evaluative skills
These are the skills that graduate employers are looking for. You develop these through academic work as well as internships, work experience, and volunteering. It is about being reflective, making the most of opportunities offered to you, and knowing how to sell your experiences.
If you do have a specific goal in mind, you should consider what you need to achieve to reach this goal, including specific modules and experiences that will make you a competitive candidate. Even if your goals seem intimidating, they will be much easier to tackle if you break them into smaller sub-goals and start preparing early. Think about how you can use the resources available at St Andrews, even if that is as simple as a conversation with a member of staff about their experiences and advice.
You should also consider whether your sub-honours module choices will restrict what you can study later. Although modules change between years, meaning it cannot be guaranteed that current Honours modules will run when you are in third year, it is a good idea to look at the pre-requisites for the type of modules you are interested in. You should discuss this with your adviser of studies for further advice.
The University Careers Centre offers a range of support and resources to help students with enterprise and entrepreneurship activities. You can find out how to start a business, gain experience, key skills and practical information, as well as connect with other student entrepreneurs.
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Although graduation seems a distant prospect, your four years at university will pass quickly. It is a good idea to think about your future and make use of university resources to help refine your goals. Regardless of whether you have a detailed plan or no idea of what you’d like to do, the Careers Centre and Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development (CAPOD) can help you develop skills for the workplace.
The Professional Skills Curriculum (PSC) is a collaboration between CAPOD and the Students’ Association which helps you gain the skills most valued by graduate employers. By completing a variety of activities, you can earn a certificate which is endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management and will appear on your academic transcript. You can attend:
- Lectures presented by professionals and experienced students based on topics such as ‘being enterprising’.
- Online workshops which give you a chance to gain and test skills in areas like project management and chairing meetings.
- Practical sessions which are more detailed and interactive than workshops and lectures. These help you develop interview skills and cross-cultural networking skills. Some of these sessions ('Leadership in Practice') are led by the British army.
- Manager forums allow you to network with University staff and learn about the everyday practicalities of management.
Charissa Taylor, a PSC alumna, describes how skills gained through the PSC were integral to her successful internship with JP Morgan where she later secured a graduate position.
“I became more aware of how other people see me, how to create a good impression and how to conduct myself. I also improved my leadership and team-work skills. During the Practical Skills session you get to work with such a vast amount of different people that you would never have to as part of your university life. When I went to JP Morgan, I could straight away work with others without much difficulty. Practical Skills sessions also taught me how to come across as keen, and even when I had nothing to do during my internship, I never looked bored, which helped as well."
Would you recommend PSC to other students?
"Yes, especially to first and second year students, because they have more free time. I did mine in third year, and it was quite challenging to do it alongside the deadlines in Honours. PSC also gives good preparation for internships applications.”
You can find out more about what is involved in the professional skills curriculum and get the perspective of past students and graduate employers from the PSC blog.
Work experience complements your academic work by giving you the opportunity to put what you have learned into practice. There is a wide range of work experience you could complete, for example:
- spending a week shadowing a professional
- summer placement
- a year-long industrial placement included in certain degrees.
Gaining work experience will help you develop transferable skills which are valued by employers and will allow you to assess your own abilities and suitability for a particular career path.
An internship is a form of work experience most commonly completed in the summer after your third year of university. Many internships are based around completing a project, which may be an independent research project or an assignment within an established business. You may receive ongoing advice and training throughout your internship, or perhaps even secure a permanent job with the company upon graduating. Read more about internships students have undertaken.
Although you may be tempted to accept an unpaid position in return for work experience, some companies use this as a way to exploit students for free labour. You can contact the Careers Centre for advice about your rights in this situation.
What experience should I get in first year?
Although internships are typically aimed at Honours students, some have more flexible criteria, such as the Undergraduate Research Assistant Scheme which allocates funding to students to complete an academic research project, and the St Andrews Summer Internships Scheme which is open to second and third-year students. You can find more opportunities through the Careers Centre or by doing independent research.
It is a good idea to focus on gaining work and volunteering experience in your sub-honours years. Starting early will allow you to experience a variety of environments and develop a broad skill set to reflect on in future job applications. This could be anything from writing for one of the University's newspapers, to volunteering as a student rep, to captaining a sports team. No matter how insignificant your experiences may seem, they will allow you to build a portfolio of skills which can help you secure an internship or job in the future.
Volunteering allows you to give back to the community whilst gaining skills that benefit your CV. It is a good way to try out new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are many opportunities to volunteer at St Andrews, whether that is within the University as a class rep or with the wider community through St Andrews Voluntary Service. Some positions you could take on include working with disabled adults, befriending children with additional needs, or taking part in one-off events such as beach clean-ups. Find out more about volunteering opportunities.
Watch this video to find out what the Careers Centre offers to undergraduate students.
The Careers Centre also has a range of services available to postgraduate students.
Taking on a part-time job whilst at university can supplement your income and help you gain valuable transferable skills. Part-time jobs improve your teamwork and communication skills, and give you confidence in dealing with new and unpredictable situations. Many students also enjoy the opportunity to form friendships with people they may not otherwise meet.
If you do choose to work part-time, you must ensure the hours you work do not compromise your studies. Academic work is your priority, and to succeed you require sufficient time and a clear mind (which requires sufficient sleep!). If you are underperforming at university, falling behind on deadlines or feeling overstressed as a result of your part-time job, you should see Student Services for advice.
You can find temporary and part-time jobs available in St Andrews through the Job Shop once you are a matriculated student. You should note that you will require a National Insurance Number to work in the UK, which you will need to apply for if you are an EU or international student. You should also be aware of any restrictions on working hours as well as the terms and conditions of your right to work in the UK.
It’s important to develop professional behaviours whilst at University to help develop readiness for work experience and your post-graduation career. Many organisations and workplaces have professional values or principles that they want their staff to engage with.
Throughout your time at St Andrews you are required to abide by a code of conduct with seven core principles. These apply to your academic work and your relationships with staff and students, and the wider community of the town.
- Honesty: be sincere and authentic in your academic work and relationships at university.
- Reliability: honour your commitments, and do not make promises that you cannot realistically keep.
- Punctuality: complete tasks and commitments on time. If this is not possible, provide sufficient explanation in advance of a deadline.
- Politeness: how you treat others is a reflection of your character. You should give everyone the same respect regardless of who they are and where they come from.
- Tolerance: respect and empathise with others. Try to consider their position before acting.
- Integrity: maintain high standards for yourself regardless of whether others are watching.
- Mutual support: support peers through challenges and accept their support in return. Appreciate the importance of teamwork and supportive relationships in your academic and personal life.
These values are part of the Sponsio Academica, a Latin oath you must swear to in order to matriculate and become a fully registered student. It is used at all four of Scotland’s ancient universities.
Sponsio Academica Nos ingenui adolescentes, nomina subscribentes, sancte pollicemur nos preceptoribus obsequium debitum exhibituros in omnibus rebus ad disciplinam et bonos mores pertinentibus, Senatus Academici auctoritati obtemperaturos, et Universitatis Sancti Andreae emolumentum et commodum, quantum in nobis sit, procuraturos, ad quemcunque vitae statum pervenerimus. Item agnoscimus si quis nostrum indecore turbulenterve se gesserit vel si parum diligentem in studiis suis se praebuerit neque admonitus se in melius correxerit eum licere Senatui Academico vel poena congruenti adficere vel etiam ex Universitate expellare.
We students who set down our names hereunder in all good faith make a solemn promise that we shall show due deference to our teachers in all matters relating to order and good conduct, that we shall be subject to the authority of the Senatus Academicus and shall, whatever be the position we attain hereafter, promote, so far as lies in our power, the profit and the interest in our University of St Andrews. Further, we recognise that, if any of us conducts ourselves in an unbecoming or disorderly manner or shows insufficient diligence in their studies and, though admonished, does not improve, it is within the power of the Senatus Academicus to inflict on such students a fitting penalty or even expel them from the University.