Guidance for Professional Placements
This note sets out information intended to help students to select and undertake an appropriate professional placement as part of the Year 2 course requirements of the MSt in Building History.
The MSt in Building History sets out to provide knowledge, skills and experience in the understanding of historic buildings as essential prerequisites for a career in the research, recording, management, conservation and public presentation of the historic built environment. Although the focus of the course is firmly on Building History, students are encouraged to take a holistic view of the historic environment, embracing designed and other landscapes, the relationship of buildings to archaeological remains, and issues of character and significance.
The purpose of the placement
The work placement is intended to give students the opportunity to apply and develop knowledge and skills acquired in the first year of the course, to learn about an area of work in which they are particularly interested, and to experience the challenges, rewards and sometimes disappointments of a working environment.
The duration of the placement
Students are expected to work a full-time (or substantially full-time) 6-month placement. Completion of the full six months is a requirement for the award of the degree. In most cases they will achieve this most conveniently by working a single, continuous placement, but it is also open to students to undertake two or more separate placements, either consecutively or at intervals. They can also satisfy the course requirement by simultaneously having two part-time placements which are together equivalent to a full-time placement.
By ‘substantially full-time’ we acknowledge that personal circumstances such as childcare responsibilities or other commitments may sometimes require flexibility over the hours worked. Students should make known such commitments at an early stage in discussions with the placement provider.
Appropriate placement providers
Placements may be undertaken with any employer or organisation whose work is substantially engaged with the understanding of the historic built environment, and the application of understanding through management, conservation, interpretation and public enjoyment. Eligible providers are likely to include national heritage agencies, national amenity societies, local government planning and historic environment teams, architectural practices, historic environment consultancies and practitioners, historic building charities and campaigning organisations, historic houses open to the public, museums and archives.
Where the student is already employed by a suitable provider he or she may wish to undertake an internal placement. This can be achieved either by moving within the organisation, or by negotiating variations in normal work patterns such that during the placement period the student derives significantly enhanced learning benefits within the Building History field.
Special conditions applicable to overseas students
The UK Border Agency’s Points-based Immigration System covers students coming to the UK whose nationality lies outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. Building History students in this category will have obtained a Student Visitor Visa unless they already enjoy the right of residence in the UK. Student Visitor Visas last for six months only, but on expiry you can apply for a new one. Students holding this visa are not permitted to work while in the UK, and the UKBA’s definition of work in this context includes professional placements and internships, whether paid or unpaid. Holders of a Student Visitor Visa must therefore undertake their placements overseas, either in their own country or in another country where they are entitled to work. Because the MSt focuses on British building history the placement should be undertaken in a country which has a demonstrable heritage of buildings in the British tradition, including most past and present British overseas territories. Placements in other countries may be considered on an ad hoc basis, but the onus will be on the student to demonstrate the relevance of the topic to the wider course aims. If you intend to undertake an overseas placement you should discuss it with the Course Director at the earliest opportunity to establish whether it is likely to be feasible.
Further information on visa conditions is available from the International Student Team (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/gateway/international/) and/or the UKBA (http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/).
Pay and conditions
We encourage placement providers to offer a modest salary for the student placement as a way of recognising the value of the student’s contribution to their work, and of cementing obligations and expectations on both sides. Where this is not possible we would expect, as a minimum, that the student’s out-of-pocket expenses (e.g. travel and subsistence, excluding travel to and from the normal place of work) be reimbursed in accordance with the placement provider’s normal scales.
By accepting a student placement the placement provider undertakes the normal duty of care for the health and safety of the student while working on their behalf.
The nature of work provided
The work provided by different placements will vary widely. Ideally the placement will offer a variety of tasks and perspectives. The only requirement is that the work should, wholly or substantially, contribute to broadening and deepening the student’s understanding of building history or applied building history. Typically this will involve a mixture of work shadowing, collaborative working, closely directed work and more or less independent work within an agreed framework. It is reasonable to expect that shadowing and supervision will bulk larger in the early stages of the placement, and that independent work will assume greater importance as the placement progresses. Ideally the placement will afford one or more opportunities for the placement to feel that he or she is the ‘owner’ of a specific project or task, which can then form part of a developing portfolio of individual work. It is not expected that students be exempt from the normal humdrum office routines which make for smooth running and effective teamwork, but these should not dominate their activities to the exclusion of more valuable learning experiences.
Opportunities to experience different facets of an organisation’s work and to meet and talk with a wide range of professionals are especially valuable to the students, and we encourage placement providers to build in attendance at meetings and conferences where possible. With the same aim in mind, we hope that wherever possible student placements will be physically integrated (e.g. in terms of work station, IT provision, etc) within an existing team or departmental structure.
Supervision of the placement
The placement provider should nominate a supervisor who will have primary responsibility for the day-to-day management of the student’s time, including the monitoring of progress against objectives set, and who will be the normal point of contact with the University. Where helpful a separate mentor – perhaps someone whose professional experience is particularly relevant to the student’s interests, but who is not in a position to offer formal supervision – may also be appointed by the placement provider.
In the course of the placement the student will be visited once by the Course Director to discuss his or her progress. The Course Director will also request a discussion with the placement supervisor.
The Learning Agreement
In order to ensure that the placement delivers appropriate learning benefits the University requires the drawing up of a short Learning Agreement (see separate document). Through the Learning Agreement the Course Director (on behalf of the University), the supervisor (on behalf of the placement provider) and the student agree the broad nature of the work to be provided, the student’s responsibilities in terms of output and deadlines, and provisions for monitoring performance and where necessary adjusting the work programme. It should be drawn up in the first few days of the placement.
At the half-way point in the placement the supervisor should arrange to meet with the student to offer feedback, discuss progress against the objectives set out in the Learning Agreement and agree any necessary changes to them. On completion of the placement the supervisor completes a brief report on the student’s activities and achievements, and may also offer advice on career progression.
The placement logbook
During the placement the student must maintain a logbook recording the principal activities undertaken and any observations on the learning benefits. The logbook is a formal component of the course assessment and should be submitted to the Course Director at the conclusion of the placement. It is suggested that entries are written up on a weekly basis.
The student placement’s responsibility
Students undertaking a work placement must respect the ethos of the host organisation, and any rules or codes governing work or behaviour, and must comply with any reporting or accounting procedures in force. They are particularly required to honour any stipulations concerning confidentiality and copyright. Students are urged to bear in mind that placements are offered on a purely discretionary basis, and that good relations between the University and the placement provider are likely to benefit future students.
A student who feels unfairly treated in the course of the placement should seek remedy in the first instance through the supervisor (and/or mentor if appointed) and the placement provider’s normal channels. If agreement is not reached the student may contact the Course Director, who will seek to negotiate an informal resolution.
If the placement provider has any misgivings over the student’s performance or conduct, and these cannot be resolved in discussion with the student, the supervisor is invited to contact the Course Director who will seek to address any concerns.
In the unlikely event of an irremediable breakdown arising from dissatisfaction on either side the placement will be terminated and the student will be required to find an alternative placement for the outstanding portion of the 6-month period in order to fulfil the course requirements.
The value of placements
Experience shows that most student placements run smoothly and that the initial investment of time and effort on the part of the provider is amply repaid before the placement is concluded. For the student the experience is often decisive in determining career choices, developing a network of professional contacts and providing the practical experience that makes an impact at job interviews. For employees closely concerned with the student, placements offer valuable training and mentoring experience, and often the stimulus of fresh ideas and approaches. For placement providers, placements are a way of demonstrating commitment to the wider training needs of the historic environment sector, and of implanting favourable impressions in existing and future professionals.