Louise Wenman-James writes about her placement at The Brilliant Club
When careers advisor Rana Marrington at the Doctoral College mentioned that there was an upcoming opportunity to do a placement with The Brilliant Club through the Locus scheme, I started getting excited. My employer mentor had mentioned the importance of internships and placements for PhD candidates, but due to funding and finance, I did not think this was an option for me. However, the Locus Scheme pays PhD students a stipend for placements, meaning I could take time out from my PhD without sacrificing my research stipend. I was already due to start working with The Brilliant Club as a PhD tutor, and I had been exploring different career options with Rana for a while, so it seemed like a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of widening participation and how charities function. I had a conversation with Jane Pango (also at the Doctoral College) who put me in contact with the charity, and after writing a cover letter, sending a CV, and having a short interview, I was placed on the university partnerships team for my three-month internship.
The Brilliant Club is an educational charity who help bright young minds access university and to succeed when they get there. Their flagship programme is The Scholars Programme, where a PhD student will teach a group of 14 students a course based on their own research. During the pandemic, they also launched the Brilliant Tutoring Programme. During the BTP, PhD tutors work with smaller groups of pupils to help with the national catch-up effort, focusing on curriculum topics such as English, Maths, and Sciences.
When pupils finish The Scholars Programme, they attend a graduation ceremony with several other schools who have also been on the programme. The pupils get to celebrate their hard work (they write a 1500-2500 word assignment at a level above their current key stage!) and they have a chance to visit a university to gain a greater understanding of higher education. In my time with the university partnerships team, I worked on resources for the graduations, the feedback process following the events, and I also designed my own ‘Study Skills’ session that pupils will take part in when they start the new term of The Scholars Programme in the autumn. Having an opportunity to lead on a project that is so different from my research showed me the importance of the skills I’ve gained throughout my PhD. During the placement I helped with graduations at various universities, and seeing pupils from year 5 all the way up to year 12 celebrate their successes gave me a huge sense of fulfilment and pride.
Throughout the placement I gained skills from further experiences such as conducting interviews, working with colleagues to establish working groups, leading meetings, editing the BTP curriculum, and tech-supporting online events. The Brilliant Club were incredibly supportive and in my line management meetings we frequently checked whether I was gaining everything I wanted to gain from the placement. The placement gave me the opportunity to network with people working all across The Brilliant Club itself but also with people working in widening participation at university partners. I have always been interested in education, but I had not really considered this area before. Going forwards for my future career plans, it is difficult to imagine myself in any other sector, and the placement has opened doors to jobs that I am so excited to apply for once I finish my PhD.
I would not have been able to do this placement if it were not for the Locus Scheme, and the skills and experiences I have gained have been truly invaluable. Huge thank you to Jane Pango and the Doctoral College for facilitating the placement. Also, many thanks to The Brilliant Club. The charity is a fantastic place to work, and the university partnerships team were so supportive and made me feel like a valued part of the team. I have been back at my research for a week now, and taking some time out has given me a fresh burst of energy and inspiration for the final stretch of my PhD. I would recommend anyone doing a PhD at Surrey to take a look at the Locus page to see if any placements interest you. You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain!
This article first appeared in DC News, 11 October 2022