If at first you don't succeed...
Thusha Thurairatnam, who is on placement with Surrey Nanosystems, explains the different challenge presented by being in a professional organisation’s laboratory, where experiments aren’t designed for students with a known successful outcome.
"When you do lab work at university everything tends to work the first time you try it, so it’s given me a better insight into the fact that not everything’s going to work first time. It’s about how to work around that and find different methods, do different experiments in parallel to get to the solution, so it’s given me a more practical approach of the experiments that we do, whereas in [university] labs it just works the first time round, so that was very different for me.
"Scale-wise as well, in [university] labs it is very small scale production, whereas when you’re working in a placement it’s much larger scale, so it gave me a better picture of chemistry in a real application, so that’s really good.
"I was mainly allocated to one project – I started off thinking one thing but, as you do experiments and get different results, it goes down a different path. It was mainly one aim, so I’ve been working on that for the whole year. With the [university] course, even though we have different organic and inorganic labs, because the experiments are given to us and, as I’ve only completed the second year of the course, I’ve never done a project where you just focus on one thing, so this gave me more understanding and depth into one particular area."
A two-way street
Surrey Nanosystems' chief technical officer, Ben Jensen, sees the opportunity of working with placement students like Thusha as a benefit to everyone involved. He explains: "They get to work in areas that they couldn’t possibly experience and on technologies they haven’t come across in university, and for us, we get people who don’t have a set, preconceived notion of what can’t be done.
"Very often we get people – and we tend to take a lot of graduates anyway – we get people who don’t have a closed mindset on 'no, this can’t be done, that can’t be done'. They tend to explore until they really have tried everything possible.
"That’s brought us a lot of success and I think, from the placement point of view, they get to work on really interesting technologies and they’re not given simple projects – they’re given things that a PhD would struggle with. I think having that kind of pressure and support within the organisation allows them to learn at a much faster rate than if it’s an easy, simple project that doesn’t stretch their creative thought process.
"As I said, it’s a two-way street – I think they get a lot of benefit from it but we get a lot of benefit because we get a lot of creative thinking that perhaps we wouldn’t get from people who are more entrenched in that line of work."