1. Spend at least one week researching your career
Do you want to use your biology degree in a laboratory? Do you want to use your chemical know-how to teach kids? Or do you want to forget the specifics – like 45 per cent of graduates – and head for something totally different, like finance? It may seem obvious, but you’ll never win your dream job until you answer these fundamental questions, and are honest with yourself about the skills you have, the skills you’d like to use and the skills you need to develop, says Elspeth Farrar, director of the Careers Advisory Service at Imperial College London. Lots of people fret about their career decisions without scouring any job ads, reading any careers advice or checking any websites. Put the legwork in, and you’ll fret no more.
2. Send off a job application
Practice makes perfect, they say, so why not try your hand at a few before the real crunch time arrives.
3. Work on your CV
Boring, but it has to be done, and aeons before you graduate. Some careers advisers suggest that you start by compiling your “fantasy” CV – it will let you see where the holes are. More important is to include absolutely every relevant bit of work, activities or voluntary work you’ve done, says Heather Collier of the National Council for Work Experience. It all counts.
4. Hand in an assignment a week early
You’ll be amazed at the feeling.
5. Visit every library on campus
And learn, once and for all, how to locate books and journal articles from the library database. If that sounds too much like hard work, have a picnic with some friends in a dark corner. Choose your section wisely to avoid discovery: the area given to scientific journals more than 40 years old is usually a good bet.
6. Star in a play
Apart from the glory and attention, think of the benefits to your interviewing skills: speaking under pressure, the ability to improvise and to appear calm in any situation. The cast parties are usually a bit of a whirl, too.
7. Attend a careers fair
Sure, there is so much information and so many companies that you are liable to leave the fair with nothing more than a head spin, but they do often give away some decent swag – from stationery to breath-mint dispensers. And who knows, maybe you’ll find your dream job.
8. Attend a history lecture
Or any other subject that’s not your own. They say university is about broadening the mind, so look interested and take lots of notes. Who knows, you might decide that your degree was the wrong choice, and you’d be better placed studying ancient Chinese porcelain.
9. Do something stupid for charity
Stay awake for 48 hours watching every single James Bond film back-to-back, abseil down a very large building, or spend the afternoon in a bath full of baked beans. Apart from the fact that you’re doing your bit for the less fortunate, getting involved with your university’s RAG (raising and giving) organisation looks great on your CV.
10. Fall madly in love
And of course, get your heart broken. It’s a learning experience. Especially when you have lectures with the object of your affection every day.
11. Pull pints
Working at the student bar is a great way to meet people, make some money and become the most popular person in the room. Employers also value this work experience: you have to work with customers, hone interpersonal skills via other bar staff, and handle sums of money. How very responsible of you.
12. Take a course or alternative module
Heck, you might even learn something new. Plus it shows you are well-rounded and flexible, have varied interests and are open to new ideas – very desirable employee traits.
13. Try out for the University Challenge team
You might never get another chance to make a fool of yourself on national TV – like student Tareq El Menabawey from the University of Newcastle. When Jeremy Paxman asked for the name of an exotic yellow-tailed bird from South America, Tareq buzzed in, panicked and blurted out “budgie”. “Jeremy Paxman was not impressed, and repeated the words ‘budgie? budgie?’ back at me,” he says. Apart from the nightmares, he laughs about it now.
14. Argue with an arts student
Everyone thinks their subject is the only one worth studying, and the Arts vs Science feud has been running for years. Here’s something new you can throw back at ’em: science and engineering graduates have a leg-up in the job market because of their extra skills, says Farrar. For example, numeracy is a real boon for some employers, and you don’t get that studying Chaucer.
15. Join a society
Sign up to as many as you have time for, whether it’s the whisky-tasting club or the knitting fraternity. Prospective bosses love to see students richly involved in their university communities. It speaks of dynamic, motivated people with good interpersonal skills. Varied activities also give you something a little extra to talk about during interviews – remember that employers want enthusiasm and commitment.
16. Consider never leaving
We don’t mean squatting in the halls during summer break, but staying on to study for a master’s or PhD. If your subject excites you and you fancy a challenge, then this is definitely worth some careful thought. Please don’t stay on simply to tick off all the things on this list, however.
Or better, run for an elected position. Nothing says leadership more than a role deciding the fate of fellow students. Employers love leaders.
18. Attend a protest
You can’t call yourself a real student until you’ve taken up paint and poster board in the fight for crispier crisps, cheaper pints, or whatever else is going on.
19. Hug a professor
Simply getting to know one will suffice, though. Everyone knows at least one professor who inspired or encouraged them. They can become an invaluable mentor, show you career opportunities you wouldn’t have imagined, and of course, write you fantastic references. It’s worth putting in the time to build a relationship with that person. Remember, though, not all professors like a cuddle.
20. Discover a local band
They might never turn out to be Coldplay, but if they did, imagine the pure smug joy in five years’ time of saying: “Yes, they’re pretty good aren’t they? I saw them back in ’07 at the student union.”
21. Get some work experience
Careers advisers say that this is the most important activity you can do while at university. Employers are always on the lookout for graduates with practical skills, and work experience is the best way to make your CV shine. In many scientific jobs, relevant work experience is simply a must – you need to prove you know your way around a lab bench, field site or database. Companies offer placements during university holidays, so you have plenty of opportunities. When on the placement, keep a log of all the tasks you’ve done and the skills you develop – it will help when it comes to CV-writing later.
22. Speak at a debate
Apart from making you think twice before saying anything ridiculous and unsupportable in public ever again, addressing an audience is an important part of many jobs. If you can engage a bunch of rowdy students then you’ll have no problems with a future client or your boss.
23. Teach science to kids
Universities nationwide have set up programmes with local schools to get undergraduates into classrooms. It’s a boon for the kids and great for you too. Teaching experience looks great on your CV, plus it gives you a taster of the profession.
24. Take your parents to the pub
Let them see the new, grown-up you. Choose the location carefully, though, mama and papa are unlikely to enjoy your local nightclub, however much you love it.
25. Write a blog
Daily writing will improve your communication skills, which is a must in the working world, and can sometimes be lacking in science and engineering graduates. Science-based blogs are also a great way to network across the internet, giving you a new view into careers and potential employers. It might even get you a job. However, it’s worth considering what you share with the world – ask yourself whether you would want prospective bosses to read your musings, especially if they are mainly about the joys of procrastination.
26. Try a job shadow
Job-shadowing is an increasingly popular option for students who want to get a taste of a career before committing. Usually it’s only a short-term, unpaid placement, but it provides insight into the work, culture and environment of a company without actually getting stuck in it. It’s also valuable networking time.
27. Wear your pyjamas to a lecture
One of the great disappointments at the start of a science degree comes when you discover just how many 9 am lectures you have compared with arts students. So it’s OK to do this once, even if you cheat and wear the pyjamas under your clothes. But don’t fall asleep – that would be rude.
28. Flip burgers
Soon you’ll be an oh-so-qualified bachelor, master or doctor, and never again will you have to slog away for cash during your summer holidays. In the meantime, take a menial job just so you can brag to your kids that you had it tough when you were young. Forget working for a multinational burger chain, however. The smart student makes their summer cash in a burger van at an outdoor festival like Glastonbury. Your kids will never need to know you had fun doing it.
29. Buy a suit
Yes we know that you just adore those hole-ridden jeans and super-comfortable trainers, but they aren’t exactly interview material, are they? First impressions in the interview room may be the most important ones you get to make, and dressing sloppily is a common mistake. Show employers that you are serious, professional and competent. Invest now and buy a good quality, classically styled ensemble; you might regret the giant lapels and fuchsia stripes in a few years.
30. Visit the careers office
Careers advisers are the people who know their way around work placements, job vacancies and CV-writing, so you should tap all of their know-how while you still have access to it.
31. Become excessively pretentious
It happens to all of us at least once, so don’t worry. If, however, there are signs of permanent damage, seek help immediately.
32. Organise something
Your university years are the prime time to put on an event, whether it’s a party, rally, conference or comedy night. In addition to all the fun, accolades and free entry, event planning on any scale shows off teamwork, problem solving and organisational skills – three of the top sought-after traits in potential employees, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
33. Throw a proper dinner party
For a true challenge, you have to invite more than 10 people, and cook food that requires a recipe.
Donating your time and skills to any organisation is a great way to network, make friends and gain valuable real-world experience. For many jobs, appropriate volunteer work is just as good as the paid stuff.
35. Be a culture vulture
Once fully ensconced in the 9 to 5 working world, you won’t have time to visit museums, galleries and impressive buildings between lectures. So take the opportunity to enjoy your local treasures, without the crowds.
36. Join a sports team
In case you were wondering, pool and table tennis do count.
37. Start a business
Employers adore the entrepreneurial spirit – it shows off those top desirable traits of independence, motivation and creative thinking. Not to mention you could make some serious money in the process. Many universities host entrepreneurial competitions with cash prizes, and they also offer useful advice, access to mentors and skill-building for starting up your own business.
38. Live out
Living in halls has all the perks of home – meals at set times and no gas bills – but the flatmates tend to be a lot more fun than your parents. However, any student should live out eventually: it offers a fabulous taste of independence. Make sure to have at least one blazing row about who buys the milk and washes the dishes.
39. Make 100 friends
You could do this via any of the traditional pub or extra-curricular methods listed so far, or even with bribery if you’re desperate. But for a more 21st-century approach, there’s social networking site Facebook. It’s easy if you try (and are prepared to stretch the definition of friendship). Share the love.
40. Buy a piece of university clothing
You just can’t leave university without a little bit of fleecy cotton comfort to remind you of the good old days. But please, wear it judiciously (see “Buy a suit”, No. 29). When you step outside the campus borders it will become deeply unfashionable. Sunday papers and park football only.
41. Go to the zoo
There’s bound to be one nearby. You’ll develop a new appreciation for animal behaviour in captivity – it’s not too much like the working world, honest.
42. Subscribe to a magazine
Or get a daily newspaper delivered. Even though you are up to your eyeballs in assigned reading, try to absorb current affairs as often as possible, especially if it is relevant to your chosen career path. Every employer wants to hire sharp, worldly workers who have a wider sense of the environment in which they work. A subscription to Heat magazine doesn’t count, unless you plan to join the paparazzi, of course.
43. Collect £50 in loose change
Fill a big pot with with the pennies: it may come in useful. As soon as you graduate, student loan payments start eating into your pay cheque, the council chases you for tax and the friendly bank manager who bestowed an interest-free overdraft on you will want their pound of flesh. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to hand over £1000 worth of coppers instead?
44. Take a sandwich year
Many students, in engineering or biochemistry, for instance, take a year out halfway to work in industry. You graduate behind most of your friends, but the opportunity to work in your field can be a boon later on: the skills you’ll pick up are gold dust for your CV, plus you may impress the employer enough to win a permanent job. Students who take a year out also tend to perform significantly better in their degree exams, says Collier. Even if it doesn’t come as a standard part of your course, many departments will support you taking a year out midway – though you’ll have to do more legwork to find a position.
45. Go to a fancy-dress ball
Discover new levels of exhibitionism and creativity by making a first-class costume. Bonus points if it involves flashing lights and a car battery.
46. Brighten up your department
Erlenmeyer flasks make for surprisingly attractive vases, and dreary lab benches will often benefit from a tasteful throw.
47. Find religion
And/or lose it.
48. Find a job
The dream scenario is to go straight into a job out of university, and many of the early birds achieve this. Don’t panic if you feel left behind, though. Most science graduates find employment pretty quickly: the 2005 unemployment rate six months after graduation was just 6.2 per cent. Few win their dream job at the first try and with over 40 years of working life ahead of you, there’s plenty of time to get on a career path that makes you happy.
49. Give up drinking (twice)
Most effectively done with your head actually inside a toilet bowl. Shame on you.
50. Open your mind
Knowing whether you’ve achieved this depends on your point of view: for some it’s about psychedelic substances or “finding yourself”, for others it’s simply about changing their brand of cereal. So with this in mind, all we’d stress is that you at least open up to the career potential of your degree. Many people come to university so focused on academic study that they fail to see the broad category of jobs that their education prepares them for, says Farrar. A science or engineering degree qualifies you for more than you might think, and there’s no telling where it could take you.