Marcus Holt – FindAUniversity

Marcus Holt is a final year PhD student at the University of Leeds, who did his PIPS with the internet-based company FindAUniversity. The company is geared towards students looking for a postgraduate course. He told us what was involved in his role within the Content team (part of which was carried out remotely due to COVID-19) and gave us some great insight into what he took away from his PIPS experience!


Where did you go and what did you do?

I worked for an internet-based company called FindAUniversity, within the Content team. They own and run multiple postgraduate advice websites such as FindAMasters and FindAPhD; these help postgraduate students find courses and provide advice on how to do so. The Content team are responsible for the advice and blog section of the web pages. Basically, they make all the words happen.

I helped to run the FindAPhD site, writing and uploading blogs as well as updating stock advice pages. At the start of my PIPS I brought forward some blog ideas, mainly focusing on my experiences as a PhD student to help prospective students get an idea of what doing a PhD is like. From here I got to build my work in HTML for the website using their in-house CMS (Content Management Software). When a new blog is posted, we then share it on social media (Facebook and Twitter) with appropriate ‘fun and enticing’ messages (but not click bait). I then prepared the weekly newsletter, that shares the blog as well as newly advertised PhD projects and relevant advice – this goes out every Sunday to anyone that is signed up. This was also built in fancy software (again in-house so if there is ever a problem is was a matter of popping downstairs and asking for a fix).

I was also in charge of the Facebook and Twitter accounts, answering questions and retweeting appropriate tweets as a way of being socially active and providing advice directly rather than broadly through the website.

Marcus Holt at PIPS
Here is Marcus (in the middle) at the Postgrad LIVE event in Sheffield where he helped on the funding advice stall, explaining how funding works for postgraduate students using his own experience and what he picked up during the placement. Also in the picture are Marcus’s PIPS supervisor, Mark (left), and the other member of the content team, Ben (right).

This gave me experience in coding in HTML. Using this, I could then update the Study abroad section so that it was accurate for 2020 – with current fees and estimated living costs. This was very interesting because I learned a lot about how PhDs work in other countries. Like in Finland, you go into your viva with a sword – maybe to literally defend your thesis?

To follow on from this, I then researched, wrote and built several new pages from scratch. These pages were funding advice on UKRI Research Councils, detailing what they are, how they work and how to apply. This was also very interesting because I learned more about how DTPs work as well as CDT, CTP and iTTP (that’s too many acronyms).

Following this, I then was asked to update the FAQ pages so they would rank higher in a Google search by using Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), as well as creating pages for university ranking tables for some countries. However, this is when COVID-19 started to get serious and so the company moved to working from home. This came with its own difficulties but because it is an internet company, I could work from home. This also brought forward to need to provide advice on what the pandemic means for universities and current PhD students as well as prospective PhD students. I even wrote a blog about how it was affecting me along with some work-from-home tips.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

The free unlimited coffee.

Okay, that was a joke. The main reason was the opportunity to develop my writing and proofreading skills. With the thought of writing a 100,000-word thesis (and my inability to proofread correctly), I wanted to have every edge possible to help with this endeavour.

They also provide interns with a personal mentor to help us settle in. This was something that I found very helpful as I generally tend to struggle when it comes to new groups of people. It really helped me feel a part of the company.

Although this wasn’t a big reason but more of an after-realisation, they are based in Sheffield (where I live) so I didn’t have to worry about finding accommodation. Bonus.

Also, free unlimited coffee! I’m going to miss my 11am cappuccino.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

So FindAUniversity advertise PIPS placements throughout the year and I first noticed the advert from one of the WRDTP PIPS emails. I then got in contact with Mark Bennett (Head of Content) who asked for a CV, covering letter and a sample of written work (something like a blog rather than academic writing). I had done some scientific communications blogging during my second year of undergrad which worked well. Following this I was then invited to an interview. Shortly after, I received the email to say that they would be pleased to have me.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have gained a great understanding of how to publish to the web as well as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

I have also gained confidence, not only in myself but also in my written work.

Having only ever worked in a lab situation, I had no idea what an office job was like. So, by doing this placement it also gave me experience of what office life is like and what a 30-minute lunch feels like. It was nice to have time to eat rather than during that 5-minute incubation.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

Interesting change of pace and a great opportunity to work with a group of such lovely people. It also provided me with a great understanding of how universities recruit students and how the funding around this works.

Marcus Holt at PIPS meetings
Marcus and his team had daily virtual meetings while in lockdown. Spot the difference between their Monday-Thursday meetings (left, no hats) and their Friday meeting (right, silly hats present and spirits lifted!).

What advice would you give to other students about PIPS?

Don’t leave your PIPS to final year! I was given this advice, but did I follow it? No. Also, find something that will challenge you: you will find it more interesting and it will reward you more.