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Curtin University
Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Project

What to Expect From Fieldwork

By Susan Walsh September 28, 2015 News No Comments »
Fashion Showcase Pic for Unilife

School of Design and Art Fashion Showcase







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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.



New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant winners fly to the Shanghai Gold Apple Bilingual School in China for a four week education prac.








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:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Accurate
  • 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.


Physiotherapy student provides therapy to Relay for Life participant.










Managing expectations

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.


Preparing for Fieldwork

By Susan Walsh August 25, 2015 News No Comments »
Preparing for Fieldwork
Students on fieldwork

Students on fieldwork in Kondinin, WA.


Fieldwork 101

Fieldwork is anything from professional practice, study tours, plant visits, clinical practice or research that occurs outside of your normal university experience and has been approved by the university.

In this post we are focusing on work based professional practice, because most students seek this type of fieldwork during their degree.

If you are heading out for professional practice this semester there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of your experience.

Students tells us one of the biggest factors contributing towards a positive experience while on professional practice, is getting the paperwork and preparation out of the way, so that they can get on with enjoying the experience and developing industry contacts!

So here are a few things to think about in the lead up to your professional practice:

Be a Boy Scout…

Ok, so maybe ditch the uniform – but applying the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared” isn’t such a bad idea when approaching your professional practice.

Preparation and attention to detail at this stage will ultimately make for a better experience and you will be able to focus more on projects, tasks and relationships in the workplace and worry less about whether you have brought money for lunch, or forgotten to hand in a form to your fieldwork coordinator.

The WIL team has developed a resource called Fieldwork Preparation Online which is available to students (and staff) via Blackboard. This resource prepares you step by step for various fieldwork experiences. To access this, login to Blackboard via OASIS, select the Community tab/Organisation Catalogue/Teaching and Learning/Fieldwork Preparation Online and choose “Click here to Enrol.”



Jurien Bay Marine Debris Project









Forms are your friends…

Yes, there are some forms to fill in when it comes to fieldwork! Curtin is accountable for your safety on professional practice and this means forms, forms, forms – attend to these forms promptly and accurately and return them to your fieldwork coordinator when requested.

Check out some of the forms you may need to fill in on the Fieldwork Forms tab of the WIL website. All students on fieldwork must fill in the Fieldwork Preliminary Risk Identification Form as part of their preparation and there’s also a checklist you can use to keep your preparation on track.


Communicate like a pro…

Communicating regularly with your fieldwork coordinator and host organisation (if applicable) is really important and ideally you should respond to emails, phone calls and texts immediately. Check emails daily! Most of the organisation and detailing of information around fieldwork is completed via email, so read instructions carefully and provide forms and information requested within the timeframes outlined.

Remember, how you interact with your fieldwork coordinator and host organisation during this preparation stage tells them a lot about you as a potential employee – that is, you are tasked focused, follow instructions and get things done on time!

Trust me – you want the host organisation and your fieldwork coordinator to think you are awesome…they are your gatekeepers to industry and employer networks.

Student on prac in Margaret River

Margaret River Wine Making Tour









Give yourself a heads up…

Seriously, make it easy on yourself.

It might seem pretty obvious, but knowing what you are getting yourself into, and thinking ahead about what you will need to do to make it happen, can make all the difference between having a positive experience, and a not so positive experience while on professional practice.

So have a think about and prepare for the following:

  • Do you know the address of your host site and how you will get  there each day? Car, bike, train, or by foot?
  • Plan how you will travel to your work site – do a test run before your placement and during the time you will be travelling to see how long it takes – remember, peak traffic changes EVERYTHING in the Perth metropolitan area!
  • Will you take your lunch or are there cafes and restaurants nearby?
  • Do you really know what the host organisation does and what their core business is?
  • Do you understand how you will fit into the business as a student – what will your role be?

Also, ask your fieldwork coordinator, or host organisation:

  • What is the start and finish date of your professional practice?
  • What is the dress code? Or is there a uniform?
  • Are mobile phones permitted in the workplace  and if so, what is the policy for use during work hours?
  • What are your hours of work and what breaks will you get during the day?
  • What projects or tasks are you going to be working on and how will they apply to your classroom learning?
  • Who will be your workplace supervisor (get a name) and how often will they meet with you?
  • What kind of feedback can you expect to receive during and after the placement?


Understand the bigger picture…

As a student you get involved in fieldwork and professional practice to gain work experience, build networks and apply learning. Approaching fieldwork professionally will help you get the most out of your time in the field, but remember that as a student no-one expects you to get everything right and practice will not necessarily make you perfect, but it will make you more competent over time. By getting involved in fieldwork of any type you are gaining valuable industry experience and taking your first steps as a professional; enjoy it, make it interesting and most of all give it your best effort.



This post is the first in a series created by the Work Integrated Learning Strategic Project at Curtin University, to help you prepare for, enjoy and get the most out of your work integrated learning experience (WIL). Stay tuned for future posts where we will look at what to expect on a WIL experience, how to deal with failure, how to accept feedback during and after your placement and suggestions for reflecting on your WIL experience.