Gaining relevant work experience

Advice to help you plan actions to gain experience and insights into new career areas.

This page will help you plan actions to gain experience and insights into new career areas – a sort of ‘try before you buy’ approach to career transitions.  There are several actions you can take of varying levels of time commitment and effort that can provide valuable experience, extend your network, and give you helpful information for deciding the next step in your career. Don’t forget about your 10 Days of Professional Development as a potential facilitator for gaining work experience.

10 Days of Professional Development - find out more

What are the ways I can gain work experience?

  1. Volunteering.  Volunteering gives you concrete experience in a specific area, or a chance to extend your transferable skills, opportunities to have impact, wider professional relationships, and access to mentoring.
  2. Work-shadowing. Work shadowing is an efficient way to gain insight into a role and industry, and a compelling way to demonstrate motivation on job applications, by observing in a work place for a few hours or days.
  3. Freelancing and consultancy. These options (dependent on visa status – check if you’re unsure about your situation) give you control over your time, income, and what you choose to do.  Freelancing and consultancy can give you opportunities to enhance your skills and broaden you experience both in and outside of academia. 
  4. Placements/internships/secondments = work experience Don’t worry too much about language – whatever it’s called – and however much you can do –  it’s all work experience, and it’s all helpful.  Some UK research networks, e.g., EBNet have a formal placement scheme with placements lasting a few days or weeks). The C-DICE network also offers secondments (lasting 1-6 months). The Royal Society Pairing Scheme enables scientists to spend time with Parliamentarians. Where these placement and secondment opportunities don’t exist or are inaccessible to you, as an early career researcher, you can organise your own.

Environmental Biotechnology Network (EBNet) - industry placements

Centre for postdoctoral development in infrastructure cities and energy (C-DICE) - secondments and placements

Royal Society Pairing Scheme

How can I take the next step in organising work experience for myself?

Learn more

Volunteering. Did you know the University's day to make a difference entitles every staff member to an additional day of paid leave to volunteer for a charity, organisation, or other good cause?

University’s Day to Make a Difference

Work shadowing. Read this article by Propects to find out more about how to work shadow and how it can help your career.

Prospects - article about workshadowing

Freelance and Consultancy. Learn about the difference between freelancing and consultancy and gain inspiration from case studies on the Prosper portal for post doc career development.

Prosper - article about freelancing and consultancy, plus case studies

Placements/internships/secondments = work experience.  Advice on how researchers can organise work experience opportunities is available on the Vitae website.  The Guide to Gaining Work Experience Outside of Academia is available from the University of Aberdeen Careers Service:

Vitae website - realising the potential of researchers

The researcher on placement - A vite guide to gaining work experience outside academia (PDF)

Access Information, Advice, and Guidance

Use your network. Talk to friends of family.  Family of friends. Colleagues.  Find out what work experience people have done before and how they’ve organised it.  Use your curiosity to create leads and opportunities.

Talk a Careers Consultant for Research staff.  We can help you clarify your thoughts, generate ideas, leverage your network, and develop a plan.

Research staff career development consultation for University of Edinburgh research staff - find out more and book