School of Politics and International Relations

Placement success for Abigail Hughes


We are delighted to learn that former School of Politics and International Relations student Abigail Hughes has secured a role as a Graduate Analyst with the Defence Sciences and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) following her internship there as part of the third year Politics Placement Module.

We asked Abigail a few questions about her experience and what advice she would offer others thinking of doing a placement. 

What was your placement role at DSTL?

I partook in the Deterrence and Assurance Academic Alliance, with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) which lasted around 3 months.

 My placement was a remote research placement focusing on the subject of deterrence and assurance relevant to DSTL's current work. Initially, I was researching deterrence and assurance as a whole until I narrowed down my research area to Iran's strategic culture. From here, I spent the next 3(ish) months researching Iranian history, policy and culture and produced a report on both strategic culture as a concept and how this can be applied to help explain Iran's relationship with Israel, before concluding on how this can impact and shape the UK's relationship with Iran.

What did you enjoy about your placement?

The placement was enjoyable as it felt like I was actually treated like an intellectual. My supervisor was really engaging and treated me like a peer rather than a student, bouncing ideas back and forth in order to aid my development. DSTL were also really understanding of the fact I was a university student and didn't place unrealistic expectations upon me, allowing me to work flexibly and freely. While it was challenging, being able to work beyond the scope of the University's syllabus was really interesting, and allowed me to nurture an interest in the Middle East I didn't know I had and may not have uncovered if I had taken a taught module instead.

What challenges did you face?

The biggest challenge I faced was finding motivation at different periods of time, especially during reading week when the rest of uni slows down a bit but the expectations of the placement remained. However, as the topic was something I had specifically chosen rather than being selected off a predetermined list, the genuine interest helped me get over this bump, and when uni resumed after reading week my time management improved again. Another challenge I found was that being online rather than in person sometimes made communication harder when everything is reduced to emailing and weekly zoom calls. However, this all felt worthwhile when I finally got to meet everyone at DSTL at a conference I was invited to in London, and made the organisation and the people within it feel much more real.

What did you learn from your placement experience?

Besides the obvious learning opportunities that the research provided, the introspection that the weekly blogs and reflective report promote is eye-opening. Over the semester you learn a lot about yourself and your learning style/habits that you would normally overlook and/or excuse. The placement experience makes you very self-aware and forces you to become more professional even if you don't know it's happening at the time.  

Do you feel your School placement helped secure your graduate role?

Absolutely, completing placement put me on their radar and my placement mentor actively encouraged me to apply as well as providing me with invaluable advice. On top of this, placement allowed me to understand the inner workings of the organisation and what they value which I was able to use to my advantage during the interview process. Moreover, the placement gave me direct experience in the role and helped me to prove my competencies before I'd even applied for the job, so this will have always been in the back of their mind during the recruitment process. Finally, it ignited a real interest in DSTL's work and I believe this passion was then easily translated to the senior officials at the office, helping to sway things in my favour.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

I've got three rather unoriginal pieces of advice:
1) Always back yourself - it might seem scary applying for roles like this one which seem very official and important but you're chosen for a reason and you're much more capable than you might think, you've just not previously been given an opportunity to prove it!

2) Don't be afraid to ask for help, everyone was very understanding that the subject area was outside of my comfort zone and that it was a learning opportunity. Particularly in this role asking questions was rewarded because it proved you had a genuine connection with your subject. There are no silly questions!

3) Make connections, and aim to leave a good impression as you might even get a job from this!


Congratulations Abbie on your new role from all at the School of Politics and international Relations.

Find out more about placement opportunities in the School and across the faculty.


Posted on Tuesday 6th December 2022

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