Humanities & Social Sciences placements

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Tagged: Assistant Psychologist

End of a Lifetime

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📥  2016-17, Psychology, Uncategorized

Two weeks ago I finished my placement as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist with the Lifetime Service in Bath. After a tearful farewell to my colleagues with some amazing flowers for me as a thank you for all the work I have done, I have now started my summer job as a Personal Care Assistant for a PhD student with physical disabilities and have taken up some voluntary work as a Research Assistant at the University of Bath.

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As cliche as it sounds, I learnt so much whilst on placement and it was an amazing experience, even if it wasn't quite what I expected. I really enjoyed my placement and would recommend placement year and summer placements to everyone.

As this is my last placement blog I thought I would leave you with my top 7 tips for placement and beyond:

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1. Buy a Diary or Planner

When I first started my placement I recorded all of my meetings and events on my iPhone calendar, a perfect way to keep track of things as a student but not so much in the work place. Although electronic calendars are really useful, especially when you always have your laptop open and loaded, accessing them on placement when this isn't the case can not only be be slow but it can also come across as rude or unprofessional.

So buy an academic diary or planner for your placement year, you can get some really cheap ones on Amazon or some funky ones from Paperchase if you are going for a more upmarket look. Academic ones last for the university year, so you won't have to worry about buying a new one in January. I've found having a diary to be so handy that I have ordered one for next year too!

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2. Keep Asking

During your first few weeks at a new placement or job you may feel really confused and unsure. Don't worry! This is perfectly normal and employers expect you to ask a lot of questions during the first few weeks (and even after that). Once you know what you are doing you will have less questions and learn the best times to ask them, so no-one will get annoyed. You can only learn and get better at your new role if you ask!

Try to schedule times to talk to help answer your questions instead of just popping into their office every time you have a question as your supervisor and colleagues are likely to be quite busy. Even though they are happy to help it can be a bit difficult if they are answering a new question every few minutes after your first few weeks. I met with my supervisor once a week and then for the odd five minutes throughout the week to answer any questions about tasks I had been given and only spoke to her or other colleagues when I really couldn't do any other tasks without knowing the answer.

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3. Supervision

One of the greatest resources whilst on placement is your placement supervisor. In your first and second years at university you may have turned to Personal Tutors, Peer Mentors or Lecturers for support. On placement you will still have access to these people and your department's Placement Officer but they will not be able to help you anywhere near as much as your supervisor at your placement. Try to meet with you supervisor at least once a fortnight to discuss any concerns you may have or even just to talk about tasks you have been set or need to be set. Before you go to your supervision make a list of all the things you would like to ask and of the tasks you have completed that week, this way you will be able to lead the supervision and will appear professional and organised. For me, supervision was where I picked up all of my tasks, discussed my development and asked about attending training or other opportunities.

Don't be afraid to say to your supervisor if you do not have enough work or are struggling with the workload or if you want something else from the placement! I was really nervous about saying to my supervisor that I found the workload to be too small and when I wanted to see if I could attend some home visits, when I needn't have worried. My supervisor was really nice and tried to meet everything that I asked for. Your supervisor wants to make sure you get as much out of your placement as possible, so unless you let them know that you would like something to change they will never know!

Supervision is also the time to start asking questions about your dissertation, such as 'Can I complete my dissertation here? If so, what kind of data could I have access to? Do you have any ideas?' It is best to find out as soon as you can if you can collect data for your dissertation whilst at your placement. Placement is an ideal place and time to collect information as most students are less busy, as work does not follow them home and so evenings can be spent working on this. Some placements also offer you a day or two a week to work solely on your dissertation, use this time to plan and conduct literature searches for it. If collecting or using data at your placement is not possible, you should contact the person in charge of the dissertation unit or your dissertation supervisor (if you have been allocated one) as soon as you can to discuss an alternative approach. Don't leave it until your final year to let your supervisor know that you really have no idea what to do!

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4. Become a Professional List Maker!

A handy tip that you will read about on nearly every placement advice blog is to make a list. This easy little thing takes so much weight off your shoulders and really is a life-saver! I spent a lot of my time at the beginning of my placement waiting for tasks, when I would suddenly be given 10 different tasks to complete at once. This was overwhelming at first but I soon adapted to the lull and rise of workload and managed to plan my time so that the work was spread out.

Take a notebook you've dedicated to your placement with you where ever you go and write the tasks you need to complete on one page each week. This way you won't forget anything you are told and will always have something to write on. You never know when something might come up!

When you are given tasks ask when the person would like it completed by, this way you can then prioritise your tasks so that you can attend to more urgent ones first. Try to plan out when you would like to complete a certain task by if you are feeling super organised! This way you can adapt even the smallest of workloads so that you have something to do every day and make the largest of workloads seem manageable. When you are scheduling this, try to allow some time to look back at the task later in the week, you will be surprised how many times you may be asked to change things on a document. This isn't bad, this is really normal and every professional will experience it.

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5. Read the Placement Handbook!

Once you have started your placement, as a Psychology Student at least, you are asked to confirm your initial placement details. Once you have done this you are sent what will be the equivalent of a placement holy book: The Placement Handbook. This is specialised to your cohort's placement year and will provide you with all that you need to know about the year's assignments and also provide some useful tips for placement, our Placements Officer often had so many questions directed to her that were answered in the handbook so please do read it.

But remember, this handbook will be sent to whatever address the university has you down as, so make sure that it is being to sent to your address whilst on placement.

For students where their department does not offer a specialised placement handbook, the university does provide a really useful general placement handbook that provides some tips for placement and also offers an induction checklist which is a great basis for your first supervision meeting. Departments offering a placement year should have them at their Undergraduate Office.

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6. Save Everything

This probably goes without saying but save everything that you work on in a personal folder and another relevant folder if necessary (NOT TO THE COMPUTER) and DO NOT DELETE IT! After I had finally finished a task and several months had gone by I sometimes felt that it was safe to delete something, however I soon learnt that an old audit questionnaire can make a surprise reappearance months after it has been completed. So do not delete anything without backing it up somewhere else. Having all of your things saved in one place makes it really easy for your colleagues (and you) to find a task you have been working on, it also can help you to see what you have accomplished during your time on placement, making writing those placement reports that much easier.

On your last day at placement you may be asked to clear out your electronic folder, so transfer tasks you have been working on to relevant folders or email them to relevant staff. Send anything about your dissertation to yourself and have a good hunt for any literature searches you have completed whilst on placement, you never know how useful they will be.

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7. Experience, Experience, Experience

Placement year provides an amazing opportunity to really discover yourself and develop your professional and personal skills. But, relying on your placement to provide you with enough experience to apply for any job or placement opportunity is not a good strategy. If there is one thing that my experience on placement has taught me, it is that no experience seems to be enough. A pessimistic truth of the era where the number of graduates is increasing with not enough higher-level jobs to meet demand. Gain as much experience as you can whilst at university through volunteering and paid work, no matter how small the opportunity may seem to help you find a good job after university.

If you cannot see any jobs or volunteering opportunities being advertised contact the organisations you would like to work with, you never know what they might say! As a third year student I was not initially able to take part in the Research Apprenticeship Scheme run by the University of Bath's Psychology Department but after taking the initiative and contacting as many researchers at the university in my area of interest I soon found three projects to help on, each providing amazing opportunities in different areas of Clinical Psychology.

 

 

Good luck with your placement!

 

 

 

Submitting Ethics

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

Hello all!

With March having just rolled in, signs of spring are everywhere. We have rain that never seems to end and rows of pretty daffodils covering just about every patch of soil and grass you can see.

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But, the beginning of spring marks the beginning of your official preparation for your dissertation. At the Psychology Placement Conference they suggested you should try to have your ethics submitted in March or April. Some people even had their ethics accepted before the Placement Conference! But DON'T WORRY if this isn't you, they were definitely in the minority. You should aim to try and start thinking about your dissertation before your Dissertation Topic Choice Form (late November) is due, having a general idea is really helpful when your department try to pair you up with a useful and relevant supervisor. I got my idea through a five minute brainstorm with colleagues when I was helping them with their research. It then developed by talking with my Placement Supervisor in our weekly supervision settings. Thinking ahead can help ease any anxiety of leaving things last minute - such as when your friends who didn't go on a placement are already talking about collecting data and ask you what you are planning.

Once you have your supervisor, try and book an appointment straight away. Most Dissertation Supervisors are really busy and so will not be able to see you if you drop in for a chat unannounced. Supervisors do have to put aside time on the day of the placements conference to see you, don't let this time go to waste! You have to be on campus anyway so put aside half an hour, it is a great way for you to start getting the dissertation ball rolling and to ask any questions you may have from the dissertation talks at the placement conference.

If you can, try to go into that meeting with a more concrete idea of what you would like to do and an idea of what literature exists in your research area. I found my meeting to be the perfect time to run through what I had planned and talk about some questions I had about the ethics form. We came up with some ideas for improvement, such as performing a power analysis to find out how many participants you need (this sounds scary but with help from MASH it was easy -they can even do online Skype support for placement students) and the possibility of doing a mixed methods study. You can find out more about maths and stats help at uni here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/study/mash/

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If you have a Dissertation Supervisor who isn't known for communicating well with students it might be a good idea to send them an outline of your ideas and how you want to test it before you meet, this way they are more likely to help you out as they will have already had a look at your idea and thought about what can be done to improve it. It also makes you look super organised and avoids any awkward silences where you might say 'ummm I have no idea how to test it, I just thought it was interesting' 'umm I hope it hasn't been done before as that would suck'. If this sounds like too much, go in with a brief list of what you want to talk about and with any questions you might have. This gives you something to work from as opposed to going in blind.

Anyway, I came away from my first dissertation meeting feeling a lot more positive than I thought I would feel because I had made that effort before hand. It is difficult but worth it.

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After finalising details of my study with my placement and dissertation supervisor, I started my ethics application in the second week of Feb. This wasn't too hard as I had already gone through most of the information with my supervisors. The hardest part is writing the short background section on why this is an important area to research - which is where looking at articles before your first dissertation meeting comes in handy. But the most fiddly part is designing your information, consent and debrief forms which take a lot of time and tweaking before they are ready to send off. It took me a good two weeks to get everything in a good enough state to submit. It was a frustrating process as the tiniest of details were changed - such as saying psychological wellbeing instead of just wellbeing.

Some tips for writing the debrief, information and consent sheets -look at other studies, like questionnaires online, what have they done? What have they covered? Should I provide helplines for people if my study is about wellbeing or a similar topic? You can then use those ones as a basic template for what you need to talk about. Different Universities can also provide a really easy checklist and examples of what to include in these -I used Nottingham University and The University of Kent.

The next key part of the Ethics form is getting your dissertation supervisor to sign it. Give them plenty of time to do this, especially if you haven't been keeping in touch with them. It is better that they have the time to read it thoroughly and give you feedback on what to improve then just send it back to you in a rush and you have your application rejected. Try and send it to them two weeks before the ethics deadline. If you change anything whilst you are waiting for a reply, send them the updated version of the application immediately!

My dissertation supervisor didn't give mine back until two days before the deadline, even though I had been talking to him about my ideas for a long time, had been keeping him informed of how my planning etc was going and had sent it two weeks before. So, your department are really not joking when they say you need those two weeks.

When it comes to actually submitting your forms, triple check you have attached all of the questionnaires, information sheets and anything else you may need. Make sure your ethics form is as detailed as possible. Most importantly, make sure you have signed two copies and have had your supervisor sign both too! Give yourself at least two hours (if you are submitting it in person) to find the submission box, check through, print and change things if needed. If you are not doing this in person then aim to send it to the appropriate member of staff the day before after checking it through, this gives the person who is printing off your form plenty of time to receive your email and print the form off. If you send it on the day, you might just end up waiting another month to submit as the staff member might be off sick or too busy to make time for the application- a huge pain if you are eager to start collecting data.

And finally, do not be put off if, after all this work, your ethics form comes back to you asking you to make changes before they can accept it. This is really common, my friend said she doesn't know one person who got theirs accepted straight away. If you make these changes quickly, you might not have to wait for the next ethics deadline either. So, please don't feel disheartened as it is completely normal to be asked to make changes with your first application. Don't forget, this is the first time you have ever filled out an ethics application!

Best of luck!

 

Return to Placement

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

After a much appreciated Christmas break, I am now back working  as an Assistant Psychologist for the Lifetime Service. For those of you reading this blog for the first time, the Lifetime Service is based in Bath and offers support to children who have a life-limiting or life-threatening condition and their families.

Going home for Christmas was so nice, especially after two months apart from my pets. My cat was so pleased to see me, she ran up to my room and meowed at me as soon as I arrived, as if to say 'Where have you been? How could you come all the way up here without saying hello to me?'. Who says cats are heartless?

What I enjoyed most of all though was having absolutely no work to do over Christmas for the first time in FIVE YEARS! That's right, after years of revising for GCSE's, A-Levels and University Exams or doing coursework, I finally had a chance to experience a stress free Christmas. You have no idea how much you will have missed this! So make the most of your Placement year, it really is a year like no other. It is a wonderful chance to have a bit of a break from the stresses that have consumed your life for the past few years, whilst still doing something worthwhile.

Now I am back at work, after the sleepy first week after new years day, things have picked up once more. I have been allocated my dissertation supervisor, which was great news as it meant I can really start thinking about one of the aims of a Psychology Placement, collecting data for your dissertation. Unfortunately, the supervisor was not the one I hoped for, however I hope they will still be useful for my topic! They have already agreed to meet me for a first meeting about the dissertation. But if things really do not go well, they will be retiring at the end of the year, giving me the opportunity to start anew with someone else.

I am now busy planning for my dissertation and having a brainstorm of ideas. At first, I really wanted to do something with the people that Lifetime works for, however trying to do research with patients is very difficult. There are so many precautions and rules for patient contact, especially in a service involving children who are not well, even in a service not tied to the NHS; this idea was quickly forgotten. In its place came a new area of research using an easier to reach population: Staff. I am now hoping to do my dissertation on staff wellbeing in a paediatric palliative care setting and how this may compare to other Health Care Staff who work with children. Surprisingly, despite there being a legal requirement for organisations to look after their staff and research showing that staff wellbeing directly impacts patient care, no one has really looked into what staff wellbeing is like (Hill, Dempster, Donnelly, & McCorry, 2016). Moreover, very little has been done with paediatric staff, despite many staff saying that working with ill children is harder than working with ill adults; especially when they are not likely to recover (Mukherjee, Beresford, Glaser, & Sloper, 2009). I am so excited for this new research topic, especially as so little has seemed to have been done in this area giving me lots of room to explore. The best moment was when Hill et al. (2016) said we need more research in this area doing this, giving me a great starting point to think of the aims of the research. So do not be put off if your first ideas for dissertation do not work out, you will most likely find something else even better!

Since the new year, I have also had the opportunity to have some patient contact. A Trainee Psychologist and I ran a stall at a diabetes transition event, teaching young people with diabetes about how stress can influence your diabetes and what they could do to help manage their stress. This was a great experience as I got to see the practical side to being a Psychologist, something I have missed by being behind a desk for the past few months. All the feedback from the event was really positive! All of the young people said they had enjoyed the event and would come again. Some people even asked questions, showing they weren't just there for the free food!

Last week, I also got to visit Charlton Farm Hospice, a hospice in the South West that offers end of life and respite (yearly support from diagnosis of a life-limiting condition) care to under 18's who are unlikely to live into adulthood. This was such a awe-inspiring visit, I would encourage everyone to visit a hospice during their life. The work the nurses do is absolutely amazing, and it really is not what you think!

Contrary to popular belief, hospices are not a place where people come to die. They are a place people come to live. The South West Hospices offer holidays to families who have a child with a life limited condition, complete with farm cottages for families to stay in. There are art rooms, swimming pools, gardens, special baths and showers with specially designed equipment so that everyone can use it. For many children, coming to the hospice may be the first time they have ever been able to ride a bike or take a bath or go swimming as everyone else has told them 'You can't do that, it's too dangerous!'. At the hospice, their motto is 'We will make it work'. The hospice truly felt like a happy place to go for a great time, where you could meet people similar to you and try new things. Each of the rooms were decorated with a different theme, that was specific to the visiting child - for example if a child likes Star Wars, their room will be filled with Star Wars games and bed covers. The staff do everything they can to make the family's visit a happy and fun one. End of life care is such a small part of what they do. it is time everyone finally learnt the truth about hospices.

During my time at Charlton Farm, the only time I felt sad to be there was when entering the beautiful 'Starborn room'. Where the child is placed after they have passed away. This room was filled with sadness but also beauty, as the staff explained all that they did to support the family and how death was not treated as a taboo here, but that parents and children were allowed and encouraged to think about what they would like to do when that time came. They were encouraged to remember their child, hosting special 'remembrance events' for families who had experienced a loss through a long-term illness. I left the hospice feeling happy and so appreciative towards the staff who had looked after the families for so long.

So please, break the taboo of death, learn more about what a hospice is and support the amazing work that these professionals do. They provide opportunities to children who, without them, may never have experienced life to the full. Placement is a time to embrace new experiences and learn more about Psychology.

You can learn more about South West hospices here: http://www.chsw.org.uk/