Katherine Matthews is studying for a BA (Hons) Events Management from Plymouth University. As part of her degree she was required to spend a year in industry and eagerly applied to take part in the Ashfield Meetings & Events university placement scheme annual assessment centre. After impressing both myself and our internal judging panel, we offered Katherine a position at the agency as a Project Executive on one of our operational teams. She hasn’t looked back since.
With only a couple of weeks left before she returns to the academic environment of her campus, Katherine and I caught up to talk about her experiences.
In which department or team did you work during your placement with us?
The team I worked with were a dedicated resource for one of Ashfield’s key pharmaceutical clients. I found this really beneficial because it gave me the opportunity to develop the skills to build long-standing professional relationships.
What would you share with fellow students about to undertake a placement?
There is so much; I could literally go on and on. To try and summarise, some of the key points are:
The learning curve is steep. This doesn’t just apply to the workload, role and responsibilities, it is also true when it comes to developing professional and personal skills. At Ashfield I was never seen as a placement student by my colleagues. I was a fully-fledged member of the team from day one. Everyone expects to be making tea and learning to master the printer in the first few months but in my case, and a for a lot of my friends, it’s really not like that! The initial thought of being expected to hit the ground running in a new company and position was terrifying but Ashfield invest a lot of time in their induction process to ensure you are fully prepared to meet the demands of the role and feel welcomed by the whole business. I also had a hugely supportive team so within no time I felt like I had been doing the job for years.
You’ll learn the specifics. University provides you with the ground knowledge and theory to help you get started in this industry, however the real life environment of organising multiple events with policies, procedures and specific details is something you can only achieve from on-the-job learning. I’ve learned so much about the pharmaceutical industry and their event requirements including the role of medical education and healthcare communication agencies and the regulatory and compliance laws. Your placement project will also allow you to focus on a particular area of learning. I focused on the delegate experience and how it’s impacted by compliance regulations. It may sound boring but I actually learned so much more about the pharmaceutical industry and I was even able to discuss my findings with clients and suggest new initiatives to improve the experience for their healthcare professional customers.
I’ve also learnt about the corporate world and working for a PLC. I’ve learnt about the roles of different departments in the business and how they support and work with each other. I’ve also been able to understand how the work of our team – 18 enthusiastic and highly skilled staff – contributes to the overall performance of the business.
You’ll learn a lot about yourself. When I first came here, I wasn’t sure how I would cope in the corporate world; I thought I was too inexperienced and I wasn’t sure that I possessed the right qualities for it. It turns out that I’m pretty good at it and my confidence has grown throughout the year. A placement is an unmissable opportunity to get a glimpse into the real you. It will prepare you like nothing else when you come to leave university and start looking for a ‘real job’ – your confidence, combined with the experience on your CV – will stand you head and shoulders above candidates that haven’t had a similar vocational experience.
What have been some of the key takeaways?
The whole opportunity has been amazing! In addition to my continued professional development I have also had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe to work at some amazing events. Some of my favourites were:
EMEA Management Forum 2016, Berlin
This was a meeting of the global management of our client company (about 700 attendees in total). We had the Berlin Marriott Hotel exclusively for the week, organised two gala dinners at external venues and even broke a world record. Germany lived up to its reputation of being the most efficient place ever which made the whole thing a dream!
9th International Cystinosis Congress 2016, Valencia
This was a charity event for the Cystinosis Foundation (cystinosis is a rare disease) which brings together 250 families, patients and doctors to learn more about the developments in research, network and socialise. We had flamenco dancers, an open-top bus tour, laughter therapy and a gala dinner. It was the most rewarding event I’ve done and I’ve actually been in contact with the foundation to continue my involvement with them on a personal level. We also got the opportunity to have a trip to the beach which was a great way to end a long week.