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My award-winning placement at IBM

Simona Koleva, who won the ‘Best Placement Student’ prize at the NUE Awards 2022, talks about studying BSc (Hons) Economics and Politics and her ambitions.

A young woman (Simona Koleva) smiling while stood in the foyer of a large building.
Simona was inspired to choose optional units in her final year based on what she learnt during her placement.

My placement at IBM

I did my placement in IBM's Watson Health department, which specialises in technology for the healthcare industry, so things like AI and data analytics.

As I study BSc (Hons) Economics and Politics1, my background is in economics. This meant a lot of what I was doing was new to me. I had some idea about how the business operated and the organisations it worked with, but I had a lot of catching up to do. My colleagues were all really supportive and helpful though.

I think working for such a big company and going out of my comfort zone was very useful for me; I had to improvise and adapt. I had the opportunity to present to senior managers and big clients on huge projects, which has helped me to realise that I can take on new challenges without thinking 'am I up to this?’ or ‘can I do this?’ so much anymore.

Award-winning placement

My manager nominated me for the ‘Best Placement Student’ category at the National Undergraduate Employability (NUE) Awards. There are lots of categories that recognise employers, universities and students for good work.

My manager had to evidence how I’d impacted the company and what I’d contributed, both to projects and day-to-day work. It was really competitive; I think only five placement students made it to the final. It is really rewarding to have won it and have that recognition!

The main project I worked on that contributed to it was about using machine learning and data analytics to help clients operating in the healthcare industry manage tasks more efficiently. I started my placement with limited technical knowledge, so it was amazing to learn about data analytics, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design to the point that my managers and colleagues thought I deserved to win a national award.

Opening new doors

When I started my degree, I wanted to eventually work for an NGO. That’s why I chose economics and politics; the course is all about how and why things happen across the world.

But because of my placement, I’m now more interested in things like AI and machine learning, so a career in data science is more appealing to me.

When I stop and think about it all, my experience has taught me that it’s good to try new things. I’ve ended up really liking this new area, which wasn’t something I’d considered before. I’ve even picked a few final year optional units inspired by my placement; it's really cool to learn more about things I experienced at IBM.

Support to get the most from my placement

The Bath placements team gives lots of support; they help to give you direction.

There are preparation talks in Year 1 to help you learn about the options you have and the sort of places others have been in the past. Obviously, you can’t just do a placement anywhere, it has to be relevant, so getting that help to narrow things down was good.

I found the CV and cover letter workshops and seminars useful. These are in your timetable, which helps, and cover what to include and what to emphasise for certain roles, as it can differ. They also help with preparing you for assessment centres and interviews, which can be scary.

I was in London for my placement, but I had regular contact with the team for catch-ups and formal reviews. They even had a review with my manager, so they could ask questions and really find out how I was doing, what progress I was making, and what everyone could do to help me get the most from my placement.

My Bath experience

There were obviously some ups and downs, but I definitely managed to develop as a person and as a professional.

I’m from Bulgaria, so I was a bit nervous about coming to a new country, even though I’d always wanted to study in the UK. At first, I didn’t know there were other people from Bulgaria at Bath - looking for something familiar is something you do in a new place - so I was relieved and happy to find the Bulgarian Society, which I joined.

I’ve also picked up tennis and squash, partly because of being able to use the Sports Training Village (STV). It’s fantastic! Having it so close made me think I must make use of it and do some sports.

Throughout the last four years I’ve had a lot of opportunities and I think lots of employers like to hear you’ve studied at Bath as well!

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1 - BSc (Hons) Economics and Politics is now known as BSc (Hons) Economics with Politics