Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.2 Volunteering and returnships

In Week 2, you considered the benefits of volunteering and good places to look for opportunities. These are ideal strategies for getting a ‘foot in the door’.


Most people have heard of internships and know that these are increasingly being seen as a useful way to gain experience within a company. Internships can be unpaid (in which case you are considered a volunteer) or paid. They can also provide a ‘foot in the door’, leading to appointment in a permanent position – it’s a chance for the employer to try out the employee and vice versa.

Returnships are similar to internships, but have been developed specifically to support people coming back after a career break. They are usually short-term, paid contracts (typically 12 weeks) and help provide a first step back into work, offering a chance for both you and the employer to test the water before committing to a permanent job. Goldman Sachs in the USA started the idea in 2008 and since then, a number of high profile large companies have been offering these internships for returners in the UK.

A useful list of returnships offered in the UK can be found on the Women’s Engineering Society website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . As these opportunities are constantly changing and being updated, we suggest you search online for ‘returnship’ to find the latest opportunities.

One example of an engineering company which has taken this approach is Tideway. Listen to Julie Thornton, Head of HR, talk about returnships with Tideway:

Download this video clip.Video player: return_to_stem_week8vid2_512x256.mp4
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript|Hide transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Self-employment or consultancy

In Week 4 you looked at different ways of working, including self-employment and consultancy. If this option interests you, you will need to do some more ground work; for example, looking at costings and business planning. Useful links about self-employment are given in the Further reading section.

Job seeking/recruitment agencies

You looked at job seeking strategies in detail in Week 7. When you start seriously looking for jobs, you will need to set goals and targets that will keep up your momentum and maximise your opportunities of finding a job that you want.

Get back into research

If you have previously been a researcher in one of the STEM subjects and want to get back to a research career, you may want to consider the Daphne Jackson Trust. This is a scheme to support researchers in returning to their research careers , with part-time fellowships at universities.

Watch this video of Katie Perry talking in more detail about the Daphne Jackson Trust scheme:

Download this video clip.Video player: return_to_stem_week8vid3_512x256.mp4
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript|Hide transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Further careers advice

If, after reviewing all your options, you feel like you still need further advice and guidance, you may like to talk to a professional careers advisor. If so, you can get some advice from the Open University Careers Advisory Service pages and find help at the National Careers Service.

If there are any parts of this course you would like to reflect on again, you can look at the OpenLearn Reboot Your STEM Career interactive toolkit. This includes a dashboard depicting which actions you’ve completed and those you need to work on further.