Geography at Work - Negotiating the Interface between Academia and the Professional Workplace

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Geography is not a vocational subject. The discipline cuts across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its graduates pursue a wide range of professional careers. Links between faculty and employers are often shallow and diffuse. Consequently, student survey data often flags this is a source of anxiety for undergraduate students, as they wrestle with what they can do with a Geography degree upon graduation. This poster reports on an initiative piloted at Queen’s which sought to provide final year Geography undergraduates with an opportunity to better understand and articulate their emerging identities as professionals. The module, Geography at Work, drew upon elements of good practice in work-integrated learning (WIL) identified within the scholarly literature, debate within our professional bodies in the UK and US on how to strengthen the identity of Geographers as professionals, and feedback from employers and graduates alike which suggested our graduates needed to be able to better demonstrate to wider audiences what a Geographical education can deliver. The module, which is an elective one, seeks to provide students with an opportunity to work as part of a student-led team on a research project for an employer. The employers partnered with in delivering this module include non-governmental organisations, local government and an international management consultancy. Students are awarded places on projects through a formal process of application and assigned to student-led teams which work closely with an academic and an employer-based mentor. Together, they work up the initial project brief into a fully fledged research project, curating a foundation of published research, developing a methodological framework, agreeing a time line and identifying clear milestones. The assessment of the module has been designed to scaffold the generation of a variety of different types of outputs, each structured towards different types of audiences (i.e. the public, the employer and the academy). The organisation of the module around project teams offers scope for structured opportunities for peer learning and peer support, while at the same time configures the module as scalable given constraints on the time of academic and employer-based mentors. The recent integration of CANVAS has helped to further facilitate this collaborative enterprise, enabling students to work together on shared documents, mentors to provide timely feedback and virtual meetings to be held using the conferencing facility. This poster reports on an analysis of three years of data gathered while piloting the module, capturing the student voice, seeking to understand their experience and assessing the attainment of the initiative’s outcomes. The data clearly evidences the attainment of a range of gains that can be best characterised as: cognitive (geographic knowledge & understanding); utilitarian (skills and experience valued in the workplace); and affective (personal self-awareness and emotional maturity). The poster reflects on this body of evidence, illustrating some of the ways in which this type of experiential learning can help support the development of students’ craft as graduates with disciplinary expertise (in this case Geography), their identity as professionals in the making, their practical understanding of the rigors of professional ways of working, and their sense of global citizenship. Key words: Work-integrated learning; Experiential learning; Collaborative learning; Employability; Community engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventQUB Learning and Teaching Conference 2019: ShapingChange in an Educational Setting -
Duration: 17 Apr 201917 Apr 2019


ConferenceQUB Learning and Teaching Conference 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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