Chemistry: reflective workshop after placements
Students on placements or a year abroad partake in a workshop reflecting on their experiences.
Master of Chemistry (MChem) students had a chance to undertake an industrial placement in their 4th year. After returning to the University, students attended a workshop hosted by the Chemistry department in collaboration with the Careers Service to reflect on their experience.
In the workshop students used reflection to surface both technical and more broadly applicable skills, as well as how the placement made them more employable. Students participated in mock interviews with each other to practice communicating the skills they had identified. Time was given to reflect and receive feedback on their performances.
Students who attended the voluntary workshop were excited about the chance to share their placement experiences, identify skills they had developed and explore how these boost employability.
The format of the MChem degree has recently been restructured such that students now undertake their placements in their 5th year. The School of Chemistry and the Careers Service are working on how to enable students to gain the same benefits within the new structure.
Takeaways may include:
- Reflection workshops can work well to debrief learning experiences such as placements.
- When speaking about employability it can be helpful to use external people to build credibility to what things their industries are looking for.
- Use resources around you such as the Careers Service, Employability Consultancy, and the Institute of Academic Development, if you wish to develop practice that includes reflection.
|Location of practice:||
The workshops happened once a year in September hosted within the Chemistry department on students’ return from placements.
5th year MChem students returning from industrial placement. The session was voluntary, however it was always very well attended.
One member of staff from Chemistry, one Careers Service representative, industry representative(s), and about 5 PhD or ex-placement students.
The workshop was held to welcome students back from their year on placement, get them to identify what skills they developed while on placement, and think about how these could help them to increase their employability.
The workshop took four meetings between the Careers Service and Chemistry department representative to plan.
Every year it took some brief preparation time to update slides and find external speakers.
The workshop itself was 2 hours long.
Students could undertake an industrial placement, go abroad, or do a significant research project in their 4th year of their five-year MChem degree.
Members of staff, both support and academic, would see students leave for their placements as students of Chemistry and return as chemists. However, this change was not evident to most students and therefore the workshops were developed to make this transition more evident to them.
The workshop debriefed the students’ experiences of being on placements and helped them think about and identify skills. During the workshop students talked about their experience, undertook mock interviews, and listened to external speakers.
External speakers served as examples of what it takes to succeed in industry and what organisations are looking for in Chemistry graduates.
Reflection in context
Reflection was present throughout the workshop as students were constantly asked to think about what they learned and how they could use it in their futures. The workshop focused primarily on highlighting skills which were developed during the placement in an employability context.
The Careers Service representative concluded the workshop by highlighting how important identifying skills and putting words to experiences are in general and in terms of employability.
Introducing and implementing reflection
Resources on reflection were made available on PebblePad for students while they were on placement. Using these resources was not required throughout the year, so for students who chose to use the recourses the workshops were not the first introduction to reflection.
During the workshop all conversations were structured and timed and had question prompts to guide the reflections.
- What students liked the best/least from their placement
- If the experience had influenced their future plans and in what ways
- Whether students would want to work in their placement organisation and why or why not
- What skills they have learned
- What challenges they faced and how they overcame them
One of the activities was a mock interview, where students would be presented with a job post and had to answer the question of how their placement experience would benefit the hiring organisation. After the mock interview, the students would reflect together on what went well and what could be improved.
The discussions are supported by PhDs or ex-placement students who knew the goal of the workshop from previous experience and therefore required no training. They supported participants by asking further questions and facilitating conversations. This aimed to ensure that participants got the maximum benefits from their reflections.
Response to reflection:
Students were extremely positive about the entire workshop experience and reported that skill identification was helpful.
Staff responded that they found students were more aware of the change from student to chemists after the implementation of the initiative.
Some advice the team within the School of Chemistry have identified for others implementing reflection in their initiatives include:
- If using reflection to identify skills in relation to employability, use people from industry. It brings more credibility to the things being said as some students see academics as removed from industry. In this case consider alumni.
- Use the support staff at the Careers Service, Employability Consultancy and Institute of Academic Development, as they can help in designing these kinds of workshops.
The workshop worked extremely well to make students aware of experiences and the skills they developed while on placement. The reflective nature of the workshop also allowed students to surface these skills themselves rather than being told what they are.
Deborah Fowlis (Careers consultant)
Dr Philip Bailey (Chemistry)