University Journey

Are you considering a placement year? Emma Stephenson’s tips!

If I could pass on just one piece of advice from my four years at NTU it would be that if you’re even slightly considering a placement year then definitely go for it if you can! I studied Zoo Biology and during my placement year I volunteered at two organisations; one in South America and one in the UK. I’ll be honest, a placement year appealed to me partly so I could put off my dissertation for another year. But this massively worked in my favour as I managed to collect dissertation data whilst on placement which meant that I could spend longer doing it and it didn’t have to be done over summer!

That being said, a placement year isn’t just an easy way out of uni for a year. You have to be prepared to work hard as the chances are you’ll be working full time working hours for free. On top of volunteering during my placements, I had to pay for transport to South America and to live whilst there and also pay for transport to and from my other placement. So during my placement year, I was volunteering at my placements and on top of that, I had three part-time jobs to save up for my final year of uni! But it’s not all bad! My placement year provided me with amazing opportunities to meet new people within the industry and gain unique experience. Whilst volunteering, I worked hard to show my abilities and was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a result, so I would say it is definitely worth the hard work!

The thought of going abroad for such a long time absolutely terrified me at first, but I am so glad that I did it! I travelled to Bolivia along with two of my best friends and we volunteered in a sanctuary for animals who had been rescued from the illegal pet trade. The sanctuary was also open to the public to raise money to care for the animals so volunteers and staff gave the public tours of the sanctuary and explained the history of the sanctuary and the animals living there. Giving tours and working with other volunteers and staff massively improved my confidence when talking to new people. Also, a lot of the staff only spoke Spanish so I also got to put my A-Level Spanish to good use! It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work with a large variety of species in such a unique setting. After our placement, we got to do some travelling and see animals in the wild as well which was an added bonus!

My placement in the UK was at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire. I was fortunate enough to be able to live at home during this placement, which was great as Bolivia did cost a bit! At Flamingo Land, I worked with the Bird Show and the Sea Lion Show. I got to have my own training projects with the birds and I assisted with training for the animal shows which taught me so much about animal behaviour and animal training. During this placement, I realised that I really love animal training and that it was what I wanted to do for a career; as a result, I am going to study an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare! Initially, I had never considered working with birds, but I am now slightly in love with them! In fact, I loved the placement and all of the Bird Show family so much that I still continue to work there!

Here’s a quick recap of the main things you should take from this post:

  1. Don’t be afraid to do something that is out of your comfort zone! Trying new things actually might work out to be amazing opportunities! (AKA learning that you love animal behaviour and birds..)
  2. Doing multiple placements gives you the opportunity to work with different animals and with different organisations. This can help you decide what you want (or more importantly don’t want) to do. Plus it gives you the chance to meet more people within the industry!
  3. If you do a placement year, be prepared to work hard; they’re not just an easy year out of uni work! If you’re really committed then you could end up with a job out of it!
  4. Basically, placement years are an amazing opportunity that should not be ignored if you have the chance to do one!


Emma is an NTU Alumni Fellow. You can find out more about how to get involved with the Alumni Fellowship Programme here.

Blog Administrator. Currently ran by co-author Emilia Denis. Emilia has studied Fashion Communication and Promotion at NTU between years 2017 and 2020.

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