Developing your skills and getting work experience during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Safiya Zaloum

Whether you are hoping to apply to university this September or are still a little further away from that point, there are things you can do to keep developing your skills. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social isolation policies might have changed your plans for preparing to apply to university. However, there are still things you can do from home; here are some ideas for how you can continue developing your skills and building up your CV.

Stay interested in science

Keep pursuing your interest in science and learning about your potential future career by watching talks, reading books, listening to podcasts or taking online courses.

Here are some of our suggestions for where to start:

Centre of the Cell Big Question Lectures: These talks are presented by leading experts from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and Queen Mary University of London A few talks from previous years have been recorded – you can watch them here

FutureLearn courses: These are also a great way to expand your knowledge and skills. They have so many free online courses that there is something for whatever you are interested in. We’ve got a whole blog post dedicated to our FutureLearn recommendations. Harvard University also offers many free online courses and so does the World Health Organisation on a variety of health related topics.

New Scientist Live – Free talks: Over 50 talks from science festival New Scientist Live are being made available on YouTube. These are often delivered by experts and world-leaders. From Monday 6th April, 3 talks will be made available every week. Some exciting upcoming talks are on the CRISPR genome editing revolution and Marcus Du Sautoy asking if AI can be creative. Check out the New Scientist channel here

Read books or listen to podcasts: There are books and podcasts on just about anything! These are a great way to delve deeper into your subject of interest. Here are a few suggestions:

Volunteer in the COVID-19 pandemic

Social distancing is very important at the moment and you must follow the government advice. However there are still ways that you can volunteer in this pandemic. Anything you do is a great contribution to your community; it doesn’t matter if you do something you consider to be small, such as checking up on a neighbour. If you are applying for medical school, you can discuss any volunteering you do in your application. This could be especially useful if you had some volunteering or work experience planned that is now looking unlikely to go ahead. Here are some of our ideas for supporting your community in this pandemic.

Volunteering doesn’t have to be through an organisation. You can offer to help neighbours who are self-isolating or at risk by collecting medication or shopping for them. Phoning to check up on elderly people that you know is a great way to support your community. You can post a note through the doors of the people near you offering to help! Many local communities are coordinating efforts to help in small groups. Some are making meals and delivering them to NHS staff at local hospitals to show their support and appreciation. You can find out about your local mutual aid group here.

See what is going on in your area; Tower Hamlets are looking for volunteers (ages 16+), and many other boroughs are looking for help too. Find your local volunteer centre here for more information. You could consider joining the nationwide network of local volunteers to help those near you.

Barts Health Trust are looking for volunteers specifically to help in the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers must be 16 or over and can expect to do tasks such as calling lonely patients on the wards to chat, picking up medication or documents for the wards, and helping to ensure infection control is managed at entrances. Apply here

There are some organisations that have currently closed their applications due to such a great response. Look out for when the NHS Volunteer Responders reopen applications (you must be 18 or over) and when Age UK reopen applications to become a telephone befriender.

Work experience substitutes

It will now inevitably be harder to organise clinical work experience for summer or even this year. The healthcare systems are very busy dealing with the influx of patients who have COVID-19 and it will be a while before the pandemic ends and the usual work experience processes to get back to normal. No one knows how the situation will unfold. However, there are some great alternatives that will give you insight into what your future career might be like.

For those hoping to apply for medicine, Brighton and Sussex Medical School have made a free virtual work experience platform. It includes an introduction to the NHS and the roles of six medical specialists, as well as considering some of the challenges and wider issues doctors face. It can be found here.

Volunteering can be even more useful than formal work experience as it is often more hands on, and you’ll get first hand experience. Remember that how you reflect on any volunteering or work experience you’ve done is more important than what you did. Check out our advice on reflecting on work experience and transferable skills on the blog.

If you are concerned about not having work experience by the time your UCAS application needs to be filled in, try to learn more about the field you are hoping to go into by speaking with people established in that respective field. For example, if you want to be a doctor, you can learn a lot about the role of a doctor and working in the NHS  just by talking to a doctor or another healthcare professional. You can ask them lots of questions about the qualities needed for the role and some of the challenges they face. You can still reflect on this as you would do work experience. If this is difficult, try speaking to a medical student. They will have more time and having been in your position not too long ago, will probably be more than happy to help.

Approaching professionals can be daunting. There are many ways you can try to find someone who is happy to talk to you about their work:

  • Lots of scientists and healthcare professionals can be found on Twitter and Instagram; try reaching out to them through these platforms
  • Ask your teachers if anyone who has recently left your school is in the field you want to go into or is studying at university. You can ask your teachers if they can connect you to them.
  • If you are really struggling, check out YouTube videos or try reading some books by professionals in the field.
  • For medicine, Ali Abdaal and The Junior Doctor give great insight to what life is like as a junior doctor and what a shift typically involves. You could also try books that outline experiences of working in a field such as This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, a former doctor in the NHS.
  • For finding out more about the job of a biomedical scientist, check out LynLifestyle on YouTube. Here are some other great videos on the day in the life of a research scientist, a data scientist and a planetary scientist.