I’ve had a student on placement with me!


I’ve had a student with me on placement for the last few months. It is very exciting. As the placement comes to a close, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the process. Doing so helps illustrate a few interesting realities about the work I do. It is also a good opportunity for me to express my gratitude to the student in question for spending some time with me and the team and the work they did during the placement. Maybe other students reading this might consider a similar sort of placement.


I’m new to supervising undergraduates

Truth told, I’m not a total stranger to student supervision. In my previous roles, I’ve co-supervised PhD and Masters psychology students but this was my first undergraduate student (3rd Year).

I had forgotten what an interesting period of time in a psychology degree that is. You are just starting to get a handle on the field of psychology and feeling like you have some knowledge, but you also feel quite far away from knowing what your psychology career might/will be.

In providing the placement, I wanted to give the student the experience of working in a somewhat non-traditional space for a psychologist.

You see my role is not what you’d normally think for a registered psychologist.


My role here at Flinders

I don’t see students individually like the other counsellors in the team, although I have similar training.

Instead I occupy a slightly unusual space in that I am attached to the counselling service, but the bulk of my time is devoted to writing and teaching on the topics of productivity and wellbeing. I do this under a ‘mental fitness model’ that draws on multiple literatures (health, medical, psychological, educational) to give students specific guidance on the kinds of things they can do to build productivity and wellbeing.

I present my work through a variety of channels: Student Health and Wellbeing Blog; Health, Counselling and Disability Services newsletter; Wellbeing for Academic Success FLO Topic; Self-help handouts. This year my focus has been on articulating my mental fitness model more clearly, as well as refining and updating our robust self-help handout catalogue.

I also get to do presentations around the university on a range of topics: mental fitness, self-care, preparing for work placements and the role of health, counselling and disability services for the average student. I enjoy these because they give me a chance to get out of the office and connect with my target audience.

Finally, I get to collaborate with many different people across the university on developing resources and programs that assist certain groups of students. For example, I worked with a student to develop a guide for recovering from mental ill health. I worked with OASIS and FUSA to developing the messaging for Mental Health Week. I worked again with FUSA and a range of partners on getting evidence-based study tips out during the lead up to exams.


Opportunities for students

With the chance to host a student, what I tried to do was give the student a taste of the different activities that I might engage in over the course of a couple of months.

This included:

  • Watching me and my colleagues do presentations on self-care and mental fitness to different student groups.
  • Coming up with an idea for a written project (e.g. a blog post or handout) and executing that idea to completion, including presenting it to the counselling team and ultimately having those resources available via one of our communication channels.
  • Interacting with other members of the counselling and disability services teams to learn more about what they do.
  • Sitting in on and contributing to collaborations I have with staff and students of this university and others.
  • Critically assessing existing projects, resources and presentations that I’ve worked on to help improve them in subsequent iterations.

My goal was to show the student that there exist roles for psychologists that are a bit different from the more traditional roles (most graduates of psychology who stay in the discipline go into either research or clinical practice).

More specifically, I wanted to alert the student to what a science-communication role might look like in psychology. Science-communication “is the practice of informing, educating, sharing wonderment, and raising awareness of science-related topics” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_communication

I think that more psychologists should work in this space – interpreting what the psychological research literature and clinical practice suggests about how everyday people might structure and live their lives. Psychologists have spent 150+ years learning about how people think, feel and behave. We should be teaching that as best as possible to a wide audience.

In my time here at Flinders I’ve found there is a strong appetite for knowledge on the topics of wellbeing and productivity. This includes students but also includes topic coordinators and staff who want students to be happy and successful. My role is a way for Health, Counselling and Disability services to reach out further and educate people on these topics.

So, I hope I gave the student at least a taste of what that role might include.


What I would do the same?

I’m a strong advocate for continually trying to improve oneself. Therefore, I have thought a bit about the placement opportunity I provided and what I would retain and what I would improve if given the chance.

It is definitely a good idea to give the student the chance to develop their own project. The current student developed two. One is a collection of techniques that students can use during periods of high distress to ground themselves. Another is a self-reflective checklist for students to work through prior to work placements. Both will be featured here on the blog and distributed when we have finalised them. Giving students a project of their own gives them the experience of creating something tangible that will become part of the counselling and disability services. They contribute to making the service better.

I also think it is really important for the student to have the opportunity to review and critique some of our existing materials. As much as I love all the materials we prepare as a team, there is always room for improvement. Getting students to critique the materials we are developing for them is central to making sure those materials are relevant for them.

I think it is important for the student to see myself or other counsellors do presentations on mental fitness, self-care, available services. They can see the work that goes into putting these together and get a closer insight into what we are trying to achieve with these presentation.

Finally, I think it is important to have regular catch-ups during the placement to discuss progress and how the placement is going. In a placement like the one we provide, in which the student will spend a significant portion of time preparing materials on their own, it is important to balance this autonomy with regular catch-ups so the student doesn’t feel like they’ve been left on their own. The best materials and resources are usually the result of collaboration and interaction between people, so getting them to regularly present what they are working on makes the content better.


What I would do different?

There are a few things I might do different next time.

First, I would probably get the student to focus in on just one biggish project. With the current student, we kinda got excited at the possibilities and launched multiple parallel projects. The reality is however you can’t do this many projects in parallel, when the total placement is only 75+ hours. It is better to focus in on a single project, do it in-depth and allow it to go through a few iterations on the way to finalisation.

To give a more concrete example, the current student worked on a checklist that needed to be reviewed by multiple people along the way and go through multiple versions. On a placement that works out to be 10 full-time days, you need to get this kind of project started early.

Second, I would devise a fewer smaller writing exercises that only take a couple of hours at a time. These are things that the student could work on during inevitable delays with their major project. These writing exercises would revolve around quickly summarising psychology studies for the purposes of passing the wisdom on to non-psychology trained individuals.

Third, I would probably get future students to undertake to engage in a small lifestyle change themselves and track their progress over the course of the placement. This would be part of connecting more closely with the mental fitness model that underpins a lot of what we do here at the counselling service.


My sincere thanks to the current student

I didn’t identify my student in this post, although I did get permission to put this post up.

But they know who they are.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to them for choosing this placement, and respecting it and me by working hard, being energetic and keen, polite and respectful and producing some excellent outputs.

They nailed all the basics of being on placement – timeliness, presentation, politeness, and sticking to their word. Furthermore, they showed a great willingness to engage with what might have seemed like a bit of a strange placement at first.

They had good insights into the work we are doing and made excellent observations about how to improve the work we are doing here.

It was a pleasure to have them on placement 🙂

I look forward to featuring their work on the blog and our other channels, once we have finalised it.


Do you want to get involved with the work we do?

We are increasingly involving students in the work we do and the resources we publish.

As mentioned previously we worked with a student to develop a guide for students recovering from mental ill health.

We worked with the team at FUSA on the messages for specific campaigns.

We have some upcoming work with the wellbeing ambassadors.

If productivity and wellbeing are topics that you are interested in, and you’d like to contribute to developing content that helps other students, get in contact with me and we’ll see if we can find a way to collaborate. Easiest way to do that is gareth.furber@flinders.edu.au

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