What do you actually do?! Episode 10: Oscar Bentley, Sustainability Programme Internship

Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? will be focusing on doing an internship with the Student Internship Bureau. We’re talking to Oscar Bentley, who did an internship with the Department of Estates and Campus Services at the University.

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Hello and welcome to this episode of What Do You Actually Do!? My name is Kate Morris and I’ll be your host today. In today’s episode we’ll be talking about doing an internship with the Student Internship Bureau. Today we’re joined by Oscar Bentley, who did a Sustainability Programme internship in the Department of Estates and Campus Services at the University of York. So, Oscar, what did you actually do?

O: So my internship was about running the universities’ Green Impact and Student Switch-Off Schemes, so they’re both schemes that are offered by the NUS. Green Impact is like a workbook of actions to try and make your workplace more sustainable, so there are about thirty teams around the university. They’re normally in academic and support departments, most of the team members are staff members more than students. The other aspect of it was the Student Switch-Off, so that’s a competition run by the NUS between the colleges and it’s about which colleges can use the least amount of energy, recycle the most, and – new for this year – use the least amount of water. And then I did a bunch of general things to do with sustainability, so we produced a lot of videos on how to recycle at the university, and we helped to update the web-pages, and the sustainability guide which was put in all the student kitchens at the start of the year.

K: So you’re really trying to influence and mobilise people to change their behaviuor…

O: Yeah

K: That’s really interesting! What was the actual process for getting into that, and what attracted you to this particular internship?

O: Well, I was – I still am, I probably won’t be by the time this podcast comes out – the Environment and Ethics Officer for YUSU. So it’s something that’s always interested me, and it’s quite cliche, but when people ask “why are you interested in the environment?”, I’m like “I don’t know, I just always kinda have been”. So, I started – it was approaching the end of Summer Term, and I had all my deadlines – I started to think about what I wanted to do over the summer, because the previous summer between first and second year I felt like “I’m not really doing anything and would quite like to be doing something for this big three, four months” – long stretch. I found some internships online, applied to them, didn’t quite get those, but then I started looking at the Internship Bureau ones and then I saw this one, and there was also a communications one at Halifax (college) that I applied for, and I actually got. So I was in the fortunate position of being able to choose between two – which I never really had that before, and I don’t really think I’ll ever have that again.

K: So how did you make that decision, then?

O: I just thought that the sustainability one was something that I was more interested in. Although I think I would’ve been good at, and why I applied for one that was all about comms, and social media, and how they communicate with students – I would’ve been good at that, and it’s stuff I have experience with. The sustainability one just interested me more – and there was also quite a lot of comms in the sustainability one anyway…

K: I was just about to say that from what you’ve described, it had the angle of being about a cause that you cared about, but still involved those different skills, and the marketing of…

O: It was still an office job so it was a lot of emailing different people, going for meetings around campus, running the UoY Sustainability social media pages, writing a newsletter… I also had another intern who worked with me as well so we did quite a lot of that together.

K: What kind of strengths or skills would you say you developed or built through the internship?

O: I think… I’d never really had an experience of having a “real job”, I’d done some temporary work in summers before, but this was I suppose my first experience at like a proper office job. That was quite good to get, and I think it also builds your confidence, so now going for jobs in the future it will be a lot less stressful, I think, ’cause you’ve had that experience. It also means you can put you’ve done a paid internship on your CV which I think can be quite important as well. I suppose I build a lot of comms schemes, I found out a lot of facts that I didn’t know that are really useful to know – you should unplug all your chargers, because if you leave them plugged over a year they can still use a hundred pounds worth of electricity. So if you’re not charging anything, make sure you unplug it from the wall.

K: That’s a good fact – any others?

O: Uh, I don’t know…

K: That was your best one…

O: That’s the one I always tell people. It’s been many months now!

K: Just going back to that point that it was really useful to have an office job… A lot of the students I speak to, the idea of working in an office either totally freaks them out, or it sounds horrendously boring – was it what you expected? Was it different? Better than you thought? How was it?

O: I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and I think the first week maybe was the hardest, because by the end of the week I was like “oh, I’m actually quite tired”, ’cause you’re doing like seven to eight hours a day, which I know doesn’t seem that much but then when you’re constantly working for that long for over a week and you’re new to it, so you don’t really know what to expect. By like a few weeks I settled into it and it was fine. I quite liked it, I think.

K: So, what was the biggest challenge that you encountered during the internship?

O: I know that, I think quite a lot of people my age have this as well, but, kind of anxiety at doing small tasks that other generations might find easier. So I’ve always kind of had a bit of anxiety at making phone calls – which I don’t really know why. I’m fine at emailing people, I arrange a lot of meetings in person and I find that fine… But I wasn’t really quite… I just always found it a bit nerve-wracking. I’ve done that quite a lot, and for my intended career path I’m going to have to do that quite a lot, so I suppose that was good to build a skill up of. It was also about organising what you needed to do and when. By the end of the internship I found that of my list of tasks to do over the eight weeks, there were some that were going to be harder such as doing the web CMS stuff. I put that off and then by the end – by the last fortnight, I thought I maybe should’ve done a bit of this a bit earlier. So I suppose it’s also about managing the tasks so you know you don’t always do the “nicer ones” first.

K: I guess that’s quite useful to learn, because when you’re studying you have that real autonomy and you know what to expect, you know what you need to to for an assignment or whatever, but with something like this that you’ve never encountered before, you don’t necessarily know how long a task is going to take, how involved it’s going to be… So that kind of prioritisation at the start is really key. You mentioned a bit about you’re going to need to potentially phone people for your future career plans… how did this experience of the internship, how does it relate to your career plans? Has it helped you clarify them? Has it given you new ideas? What’s been the impact like?

O: It’s kind of separate but I suppose it’s got relatable skills. I want to be a journalist, and I used to be the editor at Nouse, the student newspaper here on campus… It is separate, but a lot of the comms stuff I did relates to it. I did a lot of blog-writing, as well on sustainability. I think definitely helps to relate to it. And also in terms of communication with different people and constantly talking to different people… So I – we had a contact at the NUS that I was in contact with quite a lot, but I also contacted the sustainability managers from other universities. And obviously being a journalist is all about contacting sources that you might not necessarily know, so I think those are all skills that definitely help improve that.

K: What would you say looking back now, were your key take-aways from it? What were you most proud of from the experience?

O: I’d like to think I genuinely made an impact on the university’s sustainability, which I suppose is less a take-away skill that I can put into place elsewhere, but myself and Alice, who was my fellow intern, we spent a lot of time over the week just trying to improve people’s sustainability, and I managed to get more teams signed up to Green Impact. So that little thing will hopefully… they’ll go on and improve the university’s sustainability. We worked on things like improving the university’s sustainability strategy so hopefully when that’s eventually implemented it will mean that the university’s footprint, I suppose, on the Earth will decrease, so hopefully – just positive change.

K: That’s amazing! It will be nice look back on in a few years and think “yeah, I really contributed and made a difference”. For any students who might be thinking about doing an internship, do you have any advice? For anyone who’s sort of at the thinking stage…

O: I’d definitely say “do it” I’m definitely glad that I did it – it wasn’t just because it was a paid job for two months, it was actually doing something you feel like is productive over the summer that can enhance your skills, and give you something good to do. I looked through the ones on the Internship Bureau that appealed most to me and the big piece of advice they gave me was to use, I think it’s STAR? So I tried to include that in my applications, and talk about the relevant experience that I had and why I thought I’d be good at the job. In the actual interview itself I tried to pull up examples, and the STAR thing which I can’t quite rem…

K: Situation, Task, Action, Result

O: Yes – in the interview. Although I think by the end of the interview that had gone out my head a bit and I was just having a good conversation as well. I think the interviewers see your passion but also see that you’d be a good person for the job.

K: It sounds like even the process of applying for the different internships, going to different interviews, that in itself has been a useful thing to do…

O: For improving your employability in the future I think definitely. If I applied for a job, and go for an interview, which I’ll have to do soon, it’s just a lot less nerve-wracking, as I’ve now had two or three experiences of having done that.

K: Well good luck with the career, jobs, stuff that you’re applying for.

O: Thanks

K: Remember you can use us still. So we’re here to help. Thank you very much for talking to us today.

O: No problem.

Thanks for joining us this week on What do you actually do? This episode was hosted by myself, Kate Morris, and edited by Raquel Bartra and produced by both of us. If you loved this podcast, spread the word and subscribe.

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This has been produced at the University of York Careers and Placements. For more information visit york.ac.uk/careers