Work shadowing

St Andrews students share their experiences


Work shadowing can be an amazing, enriching experience. These students share their stories, weigh the pros and cons, and offer advice on making the post of a placement:

Cameron Tisshaw, 4th Year International Relations Student

“My work experience visit during the winter break took place on board the Royal Navy ship HMS Ledbury. The visit was based at the Royal Navy base in Portsmouth for three days and included two days at sea.

“HMS Ledbury specialises in countering the threat of underwater mines and is currently training for future operations. The ship recently came under the command of Lieutenant-Commander James Harkin, a St Andrews graduate. Gaining the chance to shadow the Captain and crew on board a ship like the  HMS Ledbury is an invaluable opportunity for those aspiring to join the Royal Navy.

“As someone who had little experience with the Royal Navy, this visit provided me a practical insight into the often-exciting life of a naval officer. Whilst on board HMS Ledbury, I got to watch a live firing training exercise. Additionally, I gained an understanding of the different equipment divers used for countering the threat of mines.

“Despite sailing in rough weather, I quickly became accustomed to life at sea and began to understand the varied roles of officers. Learning about the different specialisations offered by a career in the navy has inspired me to pursue a career as a Warfare Officer.

“As an international relations student, I was very interested to learn about the previous deployments HMS Ledbury’s crew had been involved with. I particularly enjoyed finding out more about the Royal Navy’s unique traditions and terminology.

“Most costs involved in this opportunity were related to travel as accommodation and food was provided during the visit. My advice for those considering a visit like this is to find out as much about the application process as possible from the crew on board. All the officers had experienced a similar entry process and provided excellent advice for applications. I would thoroughly recommend this visit to other students thinking of a career in the Royal Navy.”

Jake Massel, 4th Year Maths Student

“I’m currently on a five-year maths degree. During the January break, I shadowed a judge at the Federal Court of Canada in Toronto over a period of one week.

“Justice Simon Fothergill was presiding over a hearing for a long-standing patent trial between chemical companies Dow and Nova, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to sit in on the proceedings.

“I applied for this particular work shadowing experience as I am interested in attending law school in North America after I finish my degree. I knew from the start that this would be a unique opportunity to gain real insight into the legal profession and to hear first-hand from a St. Andrews alumni with years of experience in both the Federal judiciary and private practice.

“I became acquainted with Justice Fothergill over dinner the night before the trial. We discussed some of the successes and challenges of his career path, his experiences in law school and the qualities he believes earned him his appointment to the Federal Court.

“Due to the specialist nature of the disputed patent, it took me some time (and lots of coffee) to read through the background material. Nevertheless, over the following days my host discussed with me some of the key legal issues at hand over lunch, and at the end of the week I left Toronto with a clear picture of what doors might be open to me should I decide to pursue a career as a lawyer.

“In summary, this program is a fantastic way to evaluate whether a career path is right for you. It will put you in touch with alumni of St. Andrews, who have been through this fine institution before, and who can offer invaluable advice and contacts.”

Soheel Sajid, 2nd year Economics and Maths student.

“Unless you have no doubt about your future career, work shadowing will provide much needed insight. Even if you feel certain, seeing the job on a daily basis may reveal it is not for you, sooner rather than later.

“On the positive side of things, it gives you a realistic view of what the job is like. It allows you to see whether you can envision yourself doing something similar in the future. Is it what you expected? Do they seem happy with their job? Do you want to have their lifestyle?

“Furthermore it is an incredible opportunity to network, and learn how to apply skills you have learned, as well as gauge what new skills you may need to pick up. It also strengthens your CV; being more experienced makes it more likely to get a future internship or job. Finally, it is quite  enjoyable. Everyone is lovely and happy to help and answer questions (having you around makes their day less monotonous).

“On the downside, it is expensive. The placement is rarely where you find yourself over breaks, so hotels and trains will probably need to be booked. Try to cut costs in any way you can, such as asking friend if you can stay over. I got an expenses refund for a placement so definitely ask if that is a possibility.

“It is incredibly important you tailor your application to both the company and the position; do not make it seem generic. This is why the Careers Centre recommend applying to no more than three.  In the cover letter write down realistic expectations of what you want to get from it; in most cases you may just be observing, although you might be given minor tasks. When I asked they said I was chosen specifically for this very reason. Finally when contacting them be honest about your constraints, they are usually very flexible with dates and times.

“Currently no other university provides these opportunities, so I would fully recommend you give it a try.”

Kerry Douglas, 3rd Year Psychology student

“Being interested in child development & early learning, the nursery placement was the first of the shadowing opportunities to jump out to me. I detailed my interest in my application and noted that I was eager to work with children with suspected autism, or other developmental disorders. When I arrived at the nursery the leader had a number of children identified for me to work with throughout the week.  

“For anyone considering a career in childcare or support this experience is extremely beneficial. In my time there, I not only observed the daily activities of childcare professionals but had the opportunity to plan and run my own drama and movement workshop with the children, learned a whole load about dinosaurs (and yet was put to shame by a three-year-old!).  If you’re considering doing some shadowing within a early-learning environment my one piece of take-home advice is to get involved from the get-go. The term ‘shadowing’ in this case can be deceiving, because my week consisted of very little sitting and watching, and a whole lot of getting involved!

“I also had the pleasure of an informal meeting with Chris Lusk, Director of Student Services, to discuss prospects in a career in mental health and student support. Not only did Chris give me a wonderful overview of how she ended up heading the vital support network here in St Andrews, but she also gave me a push in the right direction to help me consider my steps after university, suggesting career paths that I had never really considered. Whether you’re taking a more hands-on placement, or an informal chat over coffee, arrive with questions in mind, know exactly what you want out of it and most importantly, be ready to make those key connections that will be so beneficial after university.”

Sam Ross, Work Shadowing and Santander Summer Internships Co-ordinator

“The Work Shadowing Programme offers unique work shadowing opportunities to all St Andrews students and is unlike any other work experience programme. It links students up with alumni, staff and friends of the University every single winter, spring and summer break, which can lead to graduate jobs, references and even a change of career! The beauty of the programme allows students to get a one-time look into an industry (or three) of their choice, and I would highly recommend all students apply! Applications for Summer Shadowing opportunities will open after spring break.”


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