Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

From Theory to Practice in the Midst of a Pandemic

19 January 2021
Internships for credit at the NSW Department of Communities and Justice

Gain industry experience and credit counts towards your degree with the Faculty's internship for credit initiative.

Internship FASS3000 allows students to complete an internship, facilitated by the University, in exchange for academic credit. Five students from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies – working from home in the midst of a global pandemic – completed placements at the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) as part of their Semester 2 studies in 2020.

Formerly two separate Departments – the Department of Family and Community Services and the Department of Justice – DCJ is a NSW Government agency responsible for coordinating a range of services which support communities and families to access early intervention, inclusion and justice.

The five students, who were all majoring or minoring in Gender Studies, were placed in diverse teams within DCJ, including Policy Strategy for Women NSW, Aging Policy, Disability Inclusion, and Communications.

Students learnt how to put to work in a practical sense the perspectives on society, inequality and social justice that they have spent fine-tuning while studying for their degrees, learning how to do so within the temporal and political constraints of a government agency. This meant learning when and how to float an idea or offer a dissenting opinion, finding ways to translate specialist concepts or critiques into something valuable to people with very different disciplinary training, and understanding how to safely navigate organisational roadblocks: this is the kind of knowledge that is fast-tracked on the job.

The placement was a hugely beneficial opportunity. The knowledge I have gained will be utilised well into my future, from the soft skills like cultural competence and the ability to work within an office environment to the hard knowledge like an increased awareness of the living conditions of a variety of older people.
Michelle Woodgate, Ageing Policy Team Intern

To pass the unit, students complete both their assigned placement hours (up to 20 days or 90-140 hours) with the organisation – including in this instance attending team meetings and contributing to specific DCJ projects – together with a program of assessment set by the university with their academic supervisor.

The assessments offer students a chance to reflect on specific aspects of their placement and extend areas of particular interest through a self-directed research report related to their placement work.

Of course in 2020 our students had the unenviable task of trying to learn these complex lessons from their bedrooms or kitchen tables as COVID19 forced a rapid transition to working from home. In the absence of the usual tools of any new worker – quick corridor questions and tips shared over tea or coffee – this cohort of five had to rely on their capacity to actively seek out the support they needed from their co-workers and managers remotely.

Though many of us hope that remote work will not be a workplace necessity for long, the resilience, resourcefulness and technological flexibility these students have practiced will be valuable long after the COVID crisis has settled.

As a teacher, supervising FASS3000 helped me gain a better understanding of the challenges our students face as they try and pick up their scholarly toolkits and put them to use outside the classroom. For students, FASS3000 provided a structured opportunity to gain the kind of workplace experience that can be hard to access without personal connections, a chance to explore career possibilities afforded by their degree, and, perhaps most importantly, to learn more about themselves and their majors by putting both to work.

Story by Dr Jessica Kean from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies.