Many students choose to do a year in industry placement as part of their degree. Academic departments often publish a list of possible placement options, or students can find their own. What university departments don’t do however, is give students any information about the ethics of the companies the placements are with, or any guidance on the moral implications of the work students could be doing.
An Electronics student has written about their experience of trying to find a placement:
“I am currently on a placement at a large arms company that I got through my university department. Placement hunting is incredibly competitive, stressful and time consuming. There are so many other pressures from different sources; like your department, placement co-ordinator, companies’ HR departments, not to mention the rest of your life outside of uni; that it can be hard to devote lots of time to researching placement options. Most of the time the main thing in your mind is ‘get the best placement I can’. This is based pretty much solely on whether the company has a well established and successful placement scheme which can offer great industry experience (after all that’s kind of the point of doing a placement). Devoting the time to researching the ethics and history of the hundreds of companies on offer is just unrealistic without sacrificing other things, which people (including myself) generally won’t be willing to do.
I don’t feel like I made my decision from the most well informed position. I was very conflicted on whether to take the offer when I got it, or whether to look for something else. I thought at the time that I wasn’t going to get better experience anywhere else, so I took it.
Now with the luxury of hindsight maybe I would have done something different, but I find it hard to convince myself that I am entirely to blame for that. I think it is the responsibility of the department to make clear what people are signing up for and what their work could potentially be funding. Of course there are strict confidentiality measures, but a bit more of an open book approach would have been useful. Support from my course in the form of a small module on ethics in electronics would have been helpful. If that information was integrated directly it would remove the added stress of researching it independently, and hopefully give a more objective presentation of the facts.”