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A valuable placement experience during the pandemic

Owen Forrest talks about his placement at Lubrizol, and his experience of doing a placement over the UK Spring 2020 lockdown.

Owen standing in front of a green background
'Not only did I really enjoy my year, it looks good on my CV and will set me apart when it comes to applying for a job.'

Owen is a student on the BSc (hons) Biology course at Bath.

Treated as an equal

I am a few weeks away from completing my 12-month placement with world-leading chemical company Lubrizol, working in the Product, Safety and Compliance department at its UK headquarters in Hazelwood, Derbyshire. I was the latest in a long line of University of Bath students to have taken up a year-long placement at Lubrizol, which offers more than 30 opportunities to students from universities all over the UK each year.

Although we ended up working in departments across its site, the company has the same approach for all placement students and we are treated as equals with other members of staff. We're given as much opportunity to contribute and show what we have to offer as anybody else.

Playing a leading role in a company project

I was able to get involved in projects which I wouldn't have expected to have been asked to contribute to, which made my experience at the company more rewarding than I had anticipated. In particular, I played a leading role in one of the company’s key projects, ensuring that its products met the strict compliance standards set by the Russian Federation, which has established a new chemical inventory which companies must work to in order to ensure continued access to the Russian market.

The level of responsibility that I was given surprised me and after a while I started feeling like I was a full-time Lubrizol employee, totally forgetting that I was a placement student. My manager always encouraged me to get involved and voice my opinion in discussions, and my lead role in the Russian project came about simply because I originally volunteered to put together a data pool. It wasn’t meant to be my responsibility but I was feeling confident about what I was able to offer at that stage and so she gave me the opportunity, and it went from there.

A positive working environment

Alongside the cutting-edge work carried out in its labs and workshops, Lubrizol works hard to create a positive working environment, with an active sports and social club, and a charity and community committee which undertakes fundraising and STEM work in the local area.

I got involved in plenty of extra-curricular activities, including joining my colleagues in an escape room challenge and getting involved in Lubrizol’s STEM work with a local primary school.

Working during the COVID-19 pandemic

Unfortunately, the spring 2020 COVID-19 lockdown occurred before I was able to visit any schools to help out with pupils. It meant I spent a lot of my time working from home when the site was shut down to meet social distancing requirements.

I've gained a valuable lesson in the kind of flexible remote working arrangements that are likely to characterise UK employees’ working conditions in the future. I’ve learned so much about the world of work, including how important it is to see and interact with your colleagues on a regular basis as well as the benefits of working from home.

A valuable experience

My placement experience was extremely valuable and that’s why I would 100% recommend taking up a placement. Not only did I really enjoy my year, it looks good on my CV and will set me apart when it comes to applying for a job.

On a personal level, working at Lubrizol has shown me your degree topic isn’t as important as you think it is. I would never have thought I would be able to work in the chemical industry having done a biology degree, but I’ve learned that it’s the skills that you have and the way that you apply them that is most important.

‘I'm coming towards the end of my year-long industry placement and have now got plenty of experience of the world of work, including first-hand knowledge of what happens when companies have to operate in the face of a pandemic.’
Owen Forrest Biology

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