QMUL School of Physics & Astronomy is a partner of the South East Physics network (SEPnet) which organises a summer placements scheme for 2nd and 3rd year Physics students. This year, six QMUL Physics students have been successful in securing a SEPnet placement and are sharing their experiences with us. Joy Talbot, a 2nd year QMUL Physics student, tell us why she loved her time interning at a start-up.
As soon as I got to university, I hear the word ‘internship’ constantly thrown around. But the horror stories didn’t exactly fill me with excitement: long days making coffee, running errands, printing things off that would be meaningless to me before posting them out to people I’d never heard of. Every company advertises themselves as offering their interns real opportunity to grow, but I always wondered how they could promise this as an organisation of thousands (the only places people get internships right?) where, frankly, the idea of having to beat hundreds of applicants for that single job alone was something that seemed impossible.
Having said that, it was a game I wanted to enter and I knew that if I was serious about getting a good graduate job then it was the right place to start. When the SEPnet summer internships were advertised, I glanced through them wondering which I was eligible to apply for. Having (half-heartedly) applied for many internships the previous summer, I decided that I would choose one carefully and research everything about it I possibly could so that I was utterly prepared when applying.
My chosen internship at Neur seemed to counter all my preconceptions and offered something different as a financial technology start up proposing first-hand experience in a small team. Following my new plan, I researched the company before concentrating on the skills listed as requirements of the position, which included coding and a strong knowledge of machine learning, statistical analysis and natural language processing. QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre gave me support along the way, ranging from checking both my CV and cover letter before I applied right through to helping with interview technique and an actual mock interview. The preparation paid off and I got the job! Without doubt, the help given to me by the Careers Centre made a massive difference, so definitely go and see what they can do for you.
Not your average internship
Neur is currently based at Google Campus, a coworking space dedicated to start-up success run by TechHub. After eight weeks there, I have realised that I’ve never seen people so enthusiastic about what they are working on – the place literally buzzes with ideas and occasionally you hear little cheers from teams as they find out they got funding or the latest part of their technology has started to work. A start-up will only be as good as the effort that its team puts into it, meaning the energy and life in that one space is remarkable. People type like their life depends on it, whether they’re coding the latest part of their product or writing emails to potentially life changing investors. It’s frantic, but in most cases organised with military precision combined with a lot of thinking on your feet and a little bit of luck. It’s unbelievably exciting! Each new day brings a new challenge, both as an individual and as a team, but as you begin to see your product come to life in front of you the hard work quickly pays off.
As an intern, you’re not really an intern. Working for a start-up means you’re part of the team and share as much responsibility as everybody else with complete creative control over your project. You’re given your own tasks to do and constantly make valuable contributions to the success of the company. I was always asked for my opinion, not because it was nice to ask the intern what they thought, but because the team actually respected my ideas enough to want to listen and often implemented them. At Neur, there were 6 of us. My first ever professional job and I was a sixth of the entire company!
An invaluable experience
Working in such a small team meant that I really got to know everyone and saw what their role included, how they worked and their individual impact on the company. As opposed to a corporate engine where ideas and queries take weeks or even sometimes months to get the green light, here I was turning to the CEO working at the desk next to me to ask if I could explain the system I’d just researched and designed myself. I asked him endless questions, which he was more than happy to help with and as a result I learnt more in eight weeks at Neur than I think I could have learnt in a year at a large organisation.
Most importantly, the work is actually fun. If you work late it’s because you’ve chosen to, you know the team are relying on you and you actually want to help the company. You begin to belong – it’s your start up! I was lucky enough to be invited to weekly events and represent Neur along with the rest of my team, where people asked in depth questions about what I did and what the company does and as a result, I learnt to think on my feet and know Neur inside out. The networking element of working for a start-up will give you more connections than you know what to do with. Luckily, I found my perfect start up and hope to return to them as a graduate, but had I not then I would know plenty of people that I could approach for further internships and potential jobs as a result of completing this placement.
It’ll be slightly overwhelming to begin with, constantly challenging and absolutely nonstop, but working for a start-up is the most effective way of getting real hands-on experience at applying your degree in ways that you’d never imagined. Go and get an internship at a start up! It’ll be the best thing you ever do.