My placement was essential for building up experience to help me stand out from other graduates when searching for jobs. My chosen field – computer forensics – is not the sort of thing you can do as a Saturday job. The best way to get your foot in the door is to build up your credibility and reputation over the course of many months. That’s exactly what I did through my year-long placement with Northumbria Police.
My first two years at University were great at giving me theory and skills. But it was my placement year where everything came together and made sense. As I put theories into practice, I understood them better and see how they relate to practical problem-solving.
My placement was in the High Tech Crime Unit. The Unit’s role is to deal with all aspects of cyber-crime and to gather evidence from mobile phones and computers for use in prosecutions. It’s a fascinating and important area – especially when retrieval of a text message or email might be vital for securing a conviction.
The modules I took at Sunderland were directly relevant to placement, particularly in the areas of networking and so-called ethical hacking. One of my tasks was to use advanced retrieval software to find information that might have been deleted, deliberately hidden, or just filed unthinkingly. As one of my tutors said, it’s like trying to find one particular needle within a haystack that’s got lots of other needles in it!
I enjoyed working with colleagues who have a lot more experience of computer forensics than me, and who knew how challenging it can be to achieve some wins against cyber-crime. I learnt a lot from their approach to problems and their example of professionalism in the workplace.
Overall I’d certainly recommend a work placement between your second and final year. If you don’t invest your time in undertaking one, how will you answer potential employers when they inevitably ask about your work experience? There is a huge difference between one person who has only studied a subject at a theoretical level, and another who has spent time actually tackling real-life problems and putting theory into practice."
Published 1 March 2017