What's it like to work at the CRC for London? An international student's perspective
International student Bahar has been a part of our Community Outreach team for the last few months, working alongside her university studies. She tells us all about her experience and what she's learned from working at the CRC for London.
It was some months back when I received an email from my university (Birkbeck, University of London) about a new placement opportunity coming up at CRC for London. Reading through the email I was excited and curious. It is no secret that living in London is expensive. Even more so for many international students like me whose visa only allows them to work part-time. From the start of my masters, I knew I needed to work, not only for financial reasons but also to gain work experience in this new country I hadn’t lived in before – the job market is quite competitive after all, and I had much to catch up to! So, from the get-go I felt lucky for the placement opportunities my university provided in partnership with organizations like CRC for London. The placements really do help you get a head-start in your career and smooth over some of the disadvantages you might face as an international student initially lacking the network and practical knowledge that might help with the UK job search. So, my humble advice to students like me who are looking for opportunities while studying: keep an eye out for your university’s placement opportunities – they are pretty good at giving you the necessary boost for your career development!
I was not only excited and curious about the opportunity before submitting my application, but I was also hesitant. The workload of a full-time masters program is quite intense. Although lots of students choose to work while studying, it is nevertheless challenging to maintain good grades while committing to additional responsibilities that accompany a job. Most of the time it is up to the student to decide how to productively divide their focus and time between the studies and the job. There are many who choose the career road at the expense of better grades – and that’s fine! However, this might not be the best option for students like me who might want to keep their options open for further studies, like a PhD. As such it was important for me to ensure I had enough time left to study and a flexible schedule with work to accommodate the busier periods of my studies when I would be essentially drowning in essays and exams.
Luckily, my hesitancy was short lived. During my interview I discovered that a placement with CRC for London would give me all the flexibility I needed! While I had a set number of hours to complete, I could choose which days to work and on what tasks. I even took a long break in the middle to focus on my finals and to travel to my country for the elections. This flexibility was probably one of the biggest perks of the placement for me and I’m not sure if I could maintain my grades if I didn’t have it. Again, I believe placements are a good place to start if you are a student who requires more flexibility with your schedule. While not all placements are as flexible, my time with CRC for London was very positive and helped me gain professional experience without interfering with my studies.
My role in CRC for London was “Community Outreach”. CRC for London is a non-profit organization that provides free resources and guidance to small to medium sized businesses to help them maintain resilience to possible cyber threats. One of the ways CRC for London provides this guidance is through its Community Outreach programme that I was a part of. In this programme, CRC for London organizes regular visits to the main streets with lots of businesses across the whole of London. During these visits, the Community Outreach team work alongside uniformed police officers and visit each of these small businesses to check on their cyber awareness, listen to their concerns, provide practical support, warn them against the latest cyber threats for their type of business, and guide them to relevant resources if they have experienced any issues recently.
As you can already tell, my role involved lots of walking, talking, and traveling… And that’s exactly why I loved it! I can list four main reasons why this role was ideal for me. First, as a London newbie, this role was like a crash course about London transportation for me. I had never really needed to go to so many different areas of London before, for some of which I would use different types of transportation. Many Londoners or people who are used to living in metropolitan areas might not relate, but finding your way in a big city can be a challenge for newbies. This role introduced me to the big stations and the transport system of London and how to find my own way – sometimes even without a phone. Second, obviously, I visited so many new areas! As a student I only knew the more central areas of London. With this role I discovered some further out locations and noted a few new restaurants for my bucket list. Third reason why I loved my role was the aspect of physical activity. In my previous internships, I already discovered that I prefer roles with a need for physical activity, such as walking between locations. In this role I got to walk a lot between the businesses we visited, and it was extra fun because of the short chats I had with my teammates at those moments. And lastly, probably the biggest reason I loved this role was the human connections. I talked to many people from many backgrounds. I sometimes listened to their concerns, sometimes helped them to set up stronger passwords or 2-Step Verification, and sometimes just assured them that we are here to help in case they need help in the future. There were also quite a few times my Turkish came in handy, and I could build a deeper connection with some Turkish business owners that live near my area. In general, I felt that most businesses really appreciated our visits, which was very rewarding.
All in all, my placement experience with CRC for London was very positive and I will miss my teammates who accompanied me in our community visits. I am very happy that I kept an eye on my university’s jobs portal because as I discovered placements are a perfect start in the job market to gain work experience and build a network for international students.