Student Interview: Working 6 weeks for the Birmingham City Council
I thought it would be really good if we started off by you telling us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, what you currently study and maybe also a bit about what extracurricular activities you pursue.
Yes, so my name is Liam. I'm a third-year geography student at the University of Birmingham and I'm also involved with the Birmingham EUniWell Student Board and the wider European Student Board, which I've been involved with now for about six months.
Thank you! And you did an internship with EUniWell in Birmingham this summer as part of the Mayor's Placement Scheme. Would you tell me how that came about and a bit about the job in general?
If I remember rightly, I first heard about it through a Canvas notification, which is our university's internal system, where they were offering an internship in public health. I'd never done anything with public health before. But it did align with what I was studying at the time and kind of with social and urban geographies. And obviously it being in Birmingham was quite advantageous because I'm familiar with the city. It was kind of by coincidence that it was also a EUniWell scheme, since I'm also involved with EUniWell, but I didn't find it through EUniWell itself, it just so happened to coincide, which was a bonus as well.
And what made you want to do the internship?
Well, the first thing was that I was looking for something to do over summer and it was a six-week programme which was kind of the right amount of time for what I was looking for. Really just to get professional experience in a workplace, because I find a lot of what you do with your degree is only hypotheticals and the work you produce doesn't really go anywhere. But what was really clear in the brief of this internship was that the work that we would produce as interns would then be used by the Council to inform future projects. It was kind of an exciting opportunity to think you can do something for six weeks and it can have a real impact.
Yes, that's amazing. And what were your main tasks then during the internship?
The internship was focused on Women's Health issues in the UK, because in July of this year, the government published a new Women's Health strategy. And Birmingham City Council wanted to break down that report and give each of us interns a specific issue related to the report to figure out how they can best address those issues within Birmingham specifically. The topic I was given was how to evaluate health relationships and sex education in schools. Because they identified that one of the big issues in the report was miseducation and lack of information on Women's Health issues, so they thought it was best to address those issues as early as possible in schools.
What did you do day-to-day?
The two main projects we had to do was to produce a policy report and then an academic style poster to go alongside that. We spent the first two weeks researching around our topics and getting that background information and then weeks three and four we spent writing up the first drafts for our report, which luckily, we got a lot of feedback back about very quickly. Then week five we spent redoing our reports for a second draft and getting the posters ready alongside the information. And then the final week, week six, was just polishing up the work and making sure that everything was good and presentable to be published.
I'm curious: Have you had any updates on what happened since?
I emailed them in the last week or two to see what the latest progress was, and they said that they're currently working on making the posters accessible in different formats. Then, once they've done that, they're going to be published on the Birmingham City Council websites, so they'll be publicly available, and I think the posters then will be linked to the full reports. Currently, they haven't used them for any specific projects, but they reaffirmed that they will be used.
Looking back on your internship now, how do you feel about it? What experiences did you appreciate the most? And what do you feel you could take away from the experience for the future?
I think the main thing I listed before was kind of getting that professional experience, even though it wasn't like a typical nine to five position, because we had to work remotely. But I think working remotely itself was a good experience, because currently in Birmingham City Council they still do a lot of hybrid working. I've had experience before working in physical workspace environments and managing your own time was really important and that helps as a student as well. Kind of picking up on time management skills is always beneficial. But also, just getting an insight into how public health works, because that was a sector I hadn't engaged with before. And as I said, I realised it does actually align a lot with my own personal interests and my academic interests. As I approach graduation later this year, it's now in the back of my mind as something that I may want to pursue.
Maybe you could be a little bit more specific about that. You said the internship fitted in quite well with your degree and your interests. What exactly was it that made it such a good match? What is it that you would like to do with it essentially?
So last year, my second year of my degree, we had a module called Social Geographies and part of that was producing a policy-style report on an issue of our choice and mine was on women's safety in urban spaces and producing a government-style report was my first experience of that. And then being able to do it in a real work setting was where I found that, oh, it's not just something I can do for a piece of work, but actually then do in a real world setting as well. That was kind of where the first overlap came and then wider issues around public health, especially around urban issues and safeties and diverse identities. Those have all kind of become a main focus in my work at the moment. Because this year, I'm now working on my dissertation, which is about LGBTQ identities, specifically on university campuses. So taking different identities and exploring them in specific spaces has kind of become a bit more niche interest for me.
Oh, that is so interesting! We've gotten into this a little bit now what your takeaways were from it. Maybe there is also something that you would take away from it in regards to EUniWell? Your work, or maybe EUniWell in general, what are your thoughts on that?
The main thing was being involved as a member of the Student Board. It was kind of good to see that opportunities for students move beyond that and that professional placements are available as well and seeing the wider opportunities that EUniWell does deliver for students because obviously, this is still a growing thing. I think it was the first Mayor’s Placement Scheme as well and it was the most beneficial internship I've done and so knowing that EUniWell as a system can provide these things for students is really encouraging. And I think it shows that the outreach is there and the fact that it was about well-being as a broader issue, it really does live up to the message that the Alliance is trying to produce.
That's really nice to hear, thank you for sharing that. Now that we were speaking about EUniWell already, we can branch out a little bit from that: I'd love to hear your opinion on what you think the advantages are of European University Alliances for students in general.
Yeah, I think the main thing is the European appeal, because a lot of the time when students are looking for internships and things, it's always based in their own country, if not their own city. And it can be quite difficult to get these international opportunities. Even though, obviously, my placement was still in the city I'm working in, I was still able to work with other students across Europe at the same time and facilitate that aspect of being able to make connections across the continent, and not just with who you normally work with, but new people as well. And kind of in different workplace settings, because whereas I'm more familiar with the local government structure in the UK, the other students that were taking part were less familiar and now we're all acquainted with a new kind of work style.
Yes, it's always nice to exchange knowledge and experiences, isn't it? And how do you personally feel the topic of well-being fits into that? Why is it particularly important for students and in a European context?
Well-being as a topic can seem like something that is often quite personal, but then seeing that there are connections to what's happening in professional settings, and that there are work opportunities that come out of the topic as well, because it is so universal it needs to be addressed. Not just obviously at the personal level or the national level, but it can be addressed at the European level as EUniWell is trying to do. I think that's a really beneficial thing for students. To realise that while it can seem quite a personal issue, especially at university, it is just opening up to broader discussions and then also taking professional value out of it shows that it's not just something to be dealt with, but something that benefits can be drawn out from as well.
Yes, I totally agree. I've got one final question: What would you like to share with other EUniWell students? Is there anything that you wanted to add in terms of your internship experience, or your work on the EUniWell Student Board?
The main thing is: Please get involved! It is a very exciting opportunity, especially at this stage when the project is still finding its roots, because as students we can have a real say in what the Alliance is focusing on and what projects it can produce. I would just encourage many people to get involved and to make the EUniWell name known at their universities. Because it is dealing with this universal topic that every student can relate to and be involved with. And to have an opportunity to be directly involved with, say, the well-being services that are intended for us and being able to shape what may impact students across an entire continent is a very exciting thing to be a part of.
Amazing, from my side as well, it's so nice to work with students, to get that perspective and new ideas and insights. Thank you for working with us and for taking the time to share your experience today!
 The work Liam and the other interns did for Birmingham City Council has since been published on their website! Find it here.
Liam was responsible for the poster on 'Relationships, sex and health education in schools'.
If you are a student at one of the EUniWell universities and interested in participating in the EUniWell Student Board, please do not hesitate to reach out to Chief Student Officer Lotte Nagelhout: cso[at]euniwell.eu.
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