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Work experience

Where can I get chemistry related work experience?

It can be hard to get chemistry related work experience, especially in labs but companies and universities really like students who have the enthusiasm and independence to hunt for a relevant position. Your local hospital is worth approaching for work experience in their research departments, or pathology labs that use a lot of techniques involving chemistry. You can also contact your local University’s chemistry department, or schools liaison and outreach team to find out if they can help. The University of York Chemistry department offers summer work experience for Sixth Form students. 

Student on work experience     © R Bowles

An easier option might be to look for chemical companies in your area and then ask if they might have work experience in some of the other business functions within the company. This is a good way to learn more about the uses and applications of chemistry without having to be fully trained to be safe in a laboratory. Contacting general science research institutes, companies on local science parks as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can be useful. SMEs are often more flexible. Be aware that they are more likely to be able to help if you ask them well in advance of when you need to do your placement. You can also follow these companies on social media to find out what they can offer. 

Speak to your family, your chemistry or science teacher about local companies that might offer work experience. Your school may also have a work experience programme. Attending your school careers fairs or employer talks will help you learn about jobs that you might be interested in, or to find out if they offer work experience. If you are at school or college we have produced this guide to work experience.

It is sometimes easier to ask for work-shadowing opportunities, rather than direct hands-on work experience. Work shadowing is usually a shorter experience where someone shows you what they do rather than hands-on work. This is still a good opportunity and allows you to ask questions about what the people they work with are like and why they enjoy their job. Even if a company are not able to offer you work experience, you can still ask to speak with someone outside the lab so they can answer your questions. 

You should keep in mind that it is likely you will not be doing any vital tasks during your work experience. Mundane jobs are part of working life too, and your efforts will not go unnoticed by potential employers and referees for your CV. It is also a good idea to maintain contact with the people you've met even after you leave. This can be via email, phone call or social media. They may have future job vacancies or be able to help you in some other way. Whilst the majority of employers will follow employment law, it’s important to be aware of your own rights when it comes to work experience, placements or internships. 

The Royal Society of Chemistry does not provide work experience or shadowing opportunities. However, your nearest Royal Society of Chemistry Local Section (of which there are 35 throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland) may be able to offer advice on how to find placements in your area.

Alternatives 

If you aren’t able to find a suitable chemistry related work experience, placement or shadowing there are alternatives such as volunteering or other science related work that can still provide practical skills and allow you to explore other futures. Consider volunteering at your local Science Festival or Science Centre to see what they offer. The British Science Association offer a variety of roles for volunteers as well as one week’s work experience at their offices for low-income individuals. If you’re interested in science communication then volunteering and work experience is very important. The Social Mobility Fund (SMF) aims to support young people from low-income backgrounds through specific advice, guidance and by arranging paid internships with companies like EDF Energy and Rolls Royce. 

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Last updated: February 2018