Investigating the Impact of Work Integrated Learning on Science Students’ Professional Identity

Daniel Peter Czech, Julia Choate, Jessica Jong, Maxine Bonham, Tracy McCaffrey

Abstract


Australian science graduates have among the lowest full-time professional employment of all undergraduate courses (GOS-L 2018). It is hypothesised that professionally open-ended science degrees do not currently create significant opportunities to develop professional identity, leading to poor professional employment outcomes. Work Integrated Learning (WIL) has been proposed as a means to develop professional identity among business students (Jackson 2016), however little evidence demonstrates the impact of WIL on science students’ professional identity.

We investigated the impact of WIL on Nutrition Science and Biomedical Science students' professional identity. Employing a mixed-methods approach, students were surveyed pre- (N=52) and post- (N=22) placement, and in a focus group (N=6). Thematic analysis was conducted to identify convergent themes.

We find evidence to suggest that WIL may help science students develop professional identity, although barriers remain. Students responded that WIL helped to develop their professional identity, and identified more strongly as ‘general professionals’ after placement. Exposure to professional environments, interaction with placement supervisors and work-related tasks were the top enablers to building professional identity.

These findings help to inform science educators about the role of WIL in developing graduate employability by better understanding complex notions of science students’ professional identity.

Keywords


Work Integrated Learning, professional identity, employability

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