Two years ago, when I completed my practicum with the knowledge synthesis group at the Public Health Agency of Canada, I didn’t plan on enjoying it so much. But, here I am, working in the same office and on the same project, and still loving every bit of it!
That summer, I was able to not only gain knowledge about synthesis reviews and apply the theory I learned, but I also gained skills I would have never thought of gaining.
Sounds like a perfect practicum experience, right?
No, of course not!
I made a lot of mistakes and if I were to go back, I would approach a few things differently. But overall, I learned invaluable lessons about myself and the public health professional field that have helped me grow. Based on this experience, here are my tips on making the most out of your practicum experience:
Set goals & reflect continuously
Setting learning goals at the beginning of my practicum was a requirement – and I was thankful I had to. I had to share my goals with my supervisor, both at the beginning of my practicum and in the middle. Whether your program requires this or not, I strongly recommend all practicum students to do the same. Setting and sharing goals and objectives you wish to achieve sets a perfect opportunity for you to discuss with your supervisors what you hope to get out of your practicum. Similarly, they will be able to tell you what they expect from you helping you determine whether your goals are realistic or not. In addition to having long-term goals, get in the habit of writing personal short-term weekly goals as well. This would help you to prioritize and reflect continuously.
Setting a time frame was also invaluable as I was able to check off goals as I progressed through my practicum. If one goal wasn’t checked off by the time I had hoped to, I was able to reassess and refocus my work. However, keep in mind that sometimes barriers out of your control may arise and if you do not meet your goal by your set deadline, do not be disheartened. It is usual for priorities to change throughout the summer. Be sure to reassess and adjust your goals accordingly. With a practicum, it is about your journey, not the destination!
Don’t “settle” in
We always strive to settle into our work as we feel more comfortable doing tasks we understand. At this stage in our careers though, it is important for us to dip our toes into various assignments. How will we know what we like and dislike if we don’t try it out first? I always try to make sure that my supervisors know that I am available for tasks outside of my project. This has opened up opportunities for me in preparing presentation decks, presenting at conferences and assisting with risk assessments.
Find a mentor
My supervisors became my mentors. In the past two years since I finished my practicum, I have reached out to them numerous times before making a career decision. They have been very supportive and encouraging. I have also gained a lot from simply listening to their invaluable experiences.
Your mentor does not have to be your supervisor. They can be a co-worker, a classmate or a friend. They should be, however, someone you are comfortable with, someone you admire and someone whose opinions matter to you.
See challenges as opportunities
The protocol for my project was designed before I even got to my practicum. As such, I was able to start right away. However, a few weeks into the project, one of the stakeholders decided to add one additional component to our search strategy, resulting in me going back and repeating many steps over again. Since the protocol now had to be updated, this resulted in loss of time. However, it was also an opportunity for me to learn how to design a protocol. It is good to go into new experiences with expectations but in order to make the most out of it, it is very important to remain flexible.
As important as improving skills and knowledge are, your practicum is also a great opportunity for you to build a professional network. To enhance engagement in the office, I use the “knock before email” rule. If something can be said or asked in person, that is exactly what I do. I also try to engage with coworkers in activities outside of work hours whether that is going out for a birthday lunch, celebrating our successes at a “CHIK” party (my project is on the Chikungunya virus) or sharing our weekend plans over baked goods on Friday. Engagement also requires listening. You will learn a lot by simply listening to others’ career stories. Remember, communities require communication!