Third-year law student Harley Kirk shares her experience of the difficulties securing a summer placement, and reminds other students to not compare their experiences to others.
Students, like everyone else, experience stress at some point in their lives. In my experience, this stress is frequently brought on by assignments and exams. I know that I'm not alone in saying that I'm extremely critical of myself and I'm constantly striving to improve my grades.
Nonetheless, as a third-year law student who has been writing assignments and sitting exams since high school, I have found coping mechanisms over the years which mean that this stress is manageable and therefore doesn’t often impact on my mental wellbeing. For example, I've learned how to efficiently manage my time and prioritise my workload.
Despite this, the daunting challenge of finding a summer placement undoubtedly contributed to my stress levels this semester and on some occasions overwhelmed me. This level of stress was unlike any other I had experienced before – if I were to describe the feeling, I would say it was like a ticking clock at the back of my thoughts. I felt like I was constantly running out of time.
With each application that I worked hard on being rejected, time and time again, I felt this put increased pressure on me for the next one. Finally, I secured an interview with a law firm, and for the first time in my three years at university, I felt successful. I felt privileged that I had been shortlisted out of what I am sure would have been hundreds of applicants and I felt one step closer to achieving what I set out to do. Unfortunately, after the interview, I was unsuccessful. My happiness was short-lived and I had a sinking feeling that I hadn't done enough. In all honesty, I was quite disheartened when my last application was rejected and this took its toll on my mood and therefore my mental wellbeing.
Having used this opportunity to reflect on my summer placement application experience, I realise now that, regardless of my disappointment, this experience has made me stronger and more resilient. I have learned as a result of this experience to cope with a level of stress that I felt was unmanageable at first.
Looking back, several things helped to minimise my stress levels during the process. For example, making a list of firms that caught my interest as well as their application deadlines helped me to cope with the feeling that I was running out of time. I was able to complete each application in the order in which it was due, ensuring that I did not miss any.
Another simple method was to set aside a specific amount of time each week in my diary for application forms, which prevented the topic of summer placements from taking over my everyday life and typical university tasks. This alleviated some of the pressure and allowed me to focus solely on summer placement applications at the allocated time.
Finally, despite the fact that many of my friends were having interviews and being successful in obtaining summer placements, I knew that it was important that I did not compare my experience to theirs.
Of course I was delighted for them, as any friend would be, but it was disappointing to realise that I would not be able to replicate their success. I discovered that comparing myself to others was adding unnecessary stress to my application process. I had to focus on my own applications and quickly realised that not everyone's professional path is the same.
This year I was unsuccessful in securing a summer placement, and that's OK! This does not mean that I will be a less successful lawyer in the future; rather, it means that I am more driven to find one next year based on the experience I gained from applying this year.