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The placement year: an opportunity to shape your future

Education Article published on 11 May 2022 , Updated on 11 May 2022

(This article was originally published in L'Edition No.18)


Who hasn’t dreamt of taking a break from their university studies to travel, learn a new language, carry out a project which is close to their heart or gain professional experience? But doesn’t taking this time out put your future studies at risk? The answer is no, thanks to the placement year, which makes an interruption in studies possible by having the guarantee of being able to resume your studies available on your return.

After having completed the first year of his Master’s degree in Nuclear Energy at Université Paris-Saclay last year, Gabriel Guerche, a student entrepreneur at the Paris-Saclay Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hub (PEIPS), is working full time at Ifremer (the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea) this year on his entrepreneurial project to develop an underwater communication system. “As part of the Octo’Pousse competition last year, I was offered the chance to receive support from a team at Ifremer and given a twelve-month fixed-term contract to develop my prototype,” explains Gabriel Guerche. The student took advantage of the opportunity thanks to the placement year scheme. “It’s really exciting to be able to devote a whole year to my project with the certainty that I’ll be able to resume my place in the 2nd year of the Master’s next September,” says the student. 


A wide range of motivations

Although being able to develop an entrepreneurial project is a great reason for taking advantage of the placement year scheme, motivations are sometimes very different. For Louise Poinsatte, a student studying Law, it was the desire to travel which led her to make this choice once she had obtained her undergraduate degree. “After having a complicated final year due to the pandemic and my graduation in 2021, I really needed to get away from it all to gain confidence before I went on to my Master’s degree in Intellectual Property and Digital Law. After my request for a placement year was accepted, I began by working for six months in a vaccination centre to fund my sixmonth break in Montreal.” 

For others, like Joséphine Renaud, a graduate who wants to consolidate her German by experiencing a year as an ‘au pair’, the placement year seems an obvious choice. “Before I start my further studies, I want to see something else and prove myself. Living in Germany, looking after children and attending courses, with the prospect of joining the Jean Monnet Faculty of Université Paris-Saclay on my return, really is a great opportunity. ” 

Théodore Babarit decided to take a placement year to campaign as a candidate in the general elections after the first year of his Master’s degree in Environmental Law. “As the months went by, I realised that this break allowed me, in addition to my initial project, to really question myself and to envisage my future differently.” Whatever their motivations were at the outset, one thing is certain – all these students will return better equipped to start, continue or complete their studies. 


Preparing for a placement year at Université Paris-Saclay

Just like Gabriel, Louise, Joséphine and Théodore, any student at Université ParisSaclay wishing to temporarily interrupt their studies to gain further experience can do so through the placement year scheme. All you have to do is register for one of the University’s courses, contact your Faculty’s placement year advisor and submit your application via an online form, attaching your CV and an outline of your plans and its motivations. “The purpose of this temporary suspension of studies, which lasts for one or two semesters, is to allow students who so wish to take a break in order to enrich their studies, acquire new skills and have other experiences, while remaining students,” explains Marylène Janmot, Deputy Director of the Department of Training and Success at Université Paris-Saclay. For those who are interested in this idea but do not know where to start, they can be confident that they will find tailor-made support at Université Paris-Saclay. “The Department of Training and Success supports students in the early stages of their planning and afterwards helps them to assess their experience in the light of the objectives set at the outset,” adds Marylène Janmot. 


Participating in community initiatives and becoming involved in a sustainable future

It is not surprising that many students are seizing this opportunity. In 2020/21, 41 students of École Normale Supérieure (ENS) Paris-Saclay have taken part – a quarter of them in humanitarian, community and outreach projects, including a permaculture farm project, support and extracurricular guidance for young people and civic service as a volunteer designer, etc. “Three ENS Paris-Saclay students are now on an expedition to the Antarctic as part of a research and public awareness project on environmental issues. This project, originally a placement year, has been recognised as part of the degree at ENS Paris-Saclay. This has led us to think about giving more value to this type of initiative within the framework of a specific year, for example as a commitment on the part of the ENS Paris-Saclay,” explains Caroline De Sa, Vice-President for Studies and Student Life at ENS Paris-Saclay. 

This desire to be engaged is also very much in evidence and encouraged at CentraleSupélec as part of the Shift Year. This placement year, taken between the 1st and 2nd year of the Master’s degree, is organised in two phases. The first is a semester about transitions during which the students benefit from training and are entrusted by one of CentraleSupélec’s partners with a task which must be carried out in a group. The second is a semester of immersion during which students work in an area aiding transition. “The Shift Year, which is aimed at both our own students and students from elsewhere to ensure a disciplinary balance, aims to develop a comprehensive view of the world and its transitions,” explains Julien Colin, co-leader of the Shift Year. “The aim is to understand the issues affecting sustainability and to take action using multidisciplinary approaches. It is also an opportunity for everyone to build up a strong network,” adds Jacques Millery, who also co-leads the Shift Year.