What to expect from fieldwork
During fieldwork you will have opportunities to develop new understandings and perspectives while engaging in challenging, creative and intellectually stimulating work based scenarios.
As a key function of fieldwork is to enhance graduate employability it makes sense that your expectations should centre on developing skills sets and abilities employers are seeking in new graduates.
Curtin has developed the following Graduate Attributes in collaboration with industry and employers. Graduate attributes detail the sorts of skills and abilities students should develop during the course of their degree and within practical and fieldwork components. These are:
- Apply discipline knowledge, principles and concepts
- Think critically, creatively and reflectively
- Access, evaluate and synthesise information
- Communicate effectively
- Use technologies appropriately
- Utilise lifelong learning skills
- Recognise and apply international perspectives
- Demonstrate intercultural awareness and understanding; and
- Apply professional skills.
Why should you care about developing employability?
Ask yourself why you began a degree in the first place and you will probably begin to outline reasons for enhancing your employability. For example, did you commence your degree with the goal of entering a rewarding career? Did you want to contribute to a better world? Do you want to teach? To nurse? To provide sustainability solutions to our urban fabric? If this sound like you, chances are your original motivation for commencing a degree drives an interest in fieldwork and gaining employability skills.
NEWS FLASH: it is never too early to begin developing employability skills! While your degree is relevant to entering a specific field of employment, it is the work related experience that will win you your first graduate role and help you stand out from other applicants.
What is the difference between the classroom and fieldwork?
WIL experiences generally provide a counter point to university education, where experiences are planned and coordinated to support student learning in a safe and nurturing environment. Learning within university courses follows predictable formats, study timetables and conventions. WIL experiences, such as fieldwork, on the other hand are less controlled; more complex environments and expose students to different expectations regarding performance and professional behaviour. Fieldwork introduces many new and unpredictable elements to the learning experience. This is a GOOD thing! Embrace it and make it work for you.
Making the most of fieldwork
One way to effectively apply some structure to fieldwork is to identify and develop learning objectives for your experience. In this way, whatever unpredictable experiences come your way during fieldwork, you will direct your learning toward specific learning goals. This means even if you are confused, alarmed, amused or even downright object to experiences in fieldwork, treating these experiences as opportunities to meet learning objectives will help you maintain control over the situation and the outcome.
So, if for example, you attend your first day of fieldwork and your workplace supervisor is busy and has not prepared tasks for you to perform, you will know how to respond. In this situation, and referring to the Graduate Attributes for guidance, you might want to engage your ability to think creatively and communicate effectively and seek tasks or direction from others in the workplace. Find out what they are working on and offer to assist, or ask them if they have any tasks you could perform. And Bingo, you are on your way to communicating professionally; showing initiative when faced with a problem and finding workable solutions in a collaborative manner! These skills are highly valuable and as a graduate you will be asked to provide examples of them to prospective employers, in interview scenarios.
Learning opportunities in fieldwork
As the learner involved in fieldwork you are central to the overall outcomes of the experience. In other words, you can make or break the experience depending upon how you respond to and plan for scenarios that come your way.
As most students enter university studies intending to gain meaningful employment, fieldwork undertaken as part of your course, or alongside your course, provides excellent opportunities to develop employability skills and progress toward this career goal.
Developing learning objectives will ultimately direct learning toward tangible outcomes for your professional development. By developing learning objectives for fieldwork you are taking responsibility for your own workplace learning. Learning objectives in fieldwork are often aligned with unit or course learning objectives and more broadly Curtin Graduate Attributes. Like most objectives the written form should be SMART, that is:
- Realistic, and
- Time bound.
For example, a personal learning goal might be something like this:
“To prepare a media release to professional standard in the first week of my internship.”
Refer to the learning objectives of your unit or discipline area, or to the Graduate Attributes for inspiration. It is also perfectly legitimate to concentrate on soft employability skills such as: communication; team work; problem solving; planning and organising; initiative and enterprise; learning skills and technology. The more technical skills of your discipline area will be enhanced by high level soft skills.
It is all well and good to have clear expectations of your fieldwork experience and to have developed key learning objectives – but what do you do if the fieldwork does not meet your expectations? What if the workplace is not prepared to support you? What if you are asked to perform tasks beyond your skill level? And what if you find yourself bullied, or harassed?
While we hope that each fieldwork experience is positive and supports student learning, the reality is work places are busy and productive environments and the student is NOT the focus of attention. This can be daunting for students, especially if students do not have any work experience to draw on and cannot find their ‘place’ in that particular work setting.
If the above happens to you; welcome to the world of work – where things can and do go wrong! Be prepared to challenge your perceptions and treat this as an opportunity to learn. The most productive way to manage your expectations, when fieldwork is not what you were hoping for, is to be flexible and adapt to the situation. Learning objectives in these instances may have to be tweaked, or changed, but the experience will still afford opportunities to develop key employability skills. Being adaptable, thinking creatively to solve problems and directing your own learning is crucial to being successful in any work environment.
That said, however, you are not on your own. If you find fieldwork is not meeting your expectations; if you feel unsafe in the work place; if you are being asked to complete tasks beyond your skill level, please speak to your Fieldwork Coordinator in the first instance.
You may want to contact Curtin Counselling Services if you are experiencing issues that cannot be managed via your Fieldwork Coordinator.
Having expectations of fieldwork is a great strategy for career planning and professional development. Any learning extracted from fieldwork represents a positive outcome and a step toward graduate employment goals. Fieldwork requires you to be brave and accept challenges and experiences that may be outside your comfort zone. Accept challenges as best you can but also know when to seek advice and support if things turn out differently from what you expected. Just finally, remember to seek regular feedback from your work supervisor, to assess your participation and learning throughout fieldwork.
Stay tuned for our next blog post on how to deal with failure while on fieldwork.