I’m Sofia, a Human Geography and Environment (HuGE) student, currently on a placement year as a research assistant at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), which is part of the University of Gloucestershire. My favourite modules from the degree are Megacities and Urbanisation, Food, Space, Culture and Society, and Development Geographies. This blog is about my placement experience so far, and being an Environment student with a disability.
A day in the life of a placement student
I am currently working from home for my placement due to an injury I did on my second day of work. (I spent a grand total of five days in Cheltenham). One of the few good things that came of the pandemic was remote working. It’s not ideal when you’re trying to get to know new colleagues, but it’s a big step forward for disabled people, who may be unable to travel to work or, in my case, need to live at home. Working remotely means that I haven’t fallen behind with work. And, I have still learned new skills, completed projects and met colleagues virtually.
A typical day
A typical (virtual) day starts with me getting ready in the morning, opening my emails while having my first cup of tea of the day. I check Microsoft Teams to see if I have any messages. I then move on to the outstanding tasks I may have.
In the three months working for CCRI, I have done everything from editing documents to conducting telephone interviews for research commissioned by a government department. I’ve transcribed various interviews and analysed scripts with NVivo (which you’ll learn to use in your degree). I’ve also done a lot of administrative work for the institute, such as uploading papers to the University’s online Research Repository, and even designing the Christmas card for social media.
I have an hour for lunch, and then do a few more hours of work in the afternoon. As I have been working for a few months now, I am able to manage my own time and don’t need as much input from my line manager. If I have any queries about the work, I will message or email whoever assigned the task.
I keep a record of what I do every day, and how many hours I work, in a written diary. This is a crucial part of keeping track of my workload. It is also helpful when I come to write my monthly blogs (a requirement of being on placement).
Placement top tip
A tip I have for anyone going on placement: if you are struggling to learn who your colleagues are, ask your line manager for a task which involves getting information from everyone. My first task was to get everyone to update their staff profile for the website. This enabled me to learn everyone’s name and face without being in the office to meet them – something which would have taken weeks to do otherwise.
Disability in the Department of Environment and Geography
I am a double leg amputee and an ambulant wheelchair user (meaning I can walk around without it). Hopefully I can impart some wisdom for anyone who may be apprehensive about joining the Department. I have personally never been a fan of oversharing when it comes to telling people about my disability. However, I would recommend getting in contact with the University’s Disability Services, and with your degree leader (or whoever you feel comfortable with in the Department). This is the best way to establish connections, and makes it easier to discuss any additional adaptations in the future.
Field trips as a disabled student
Field trips are a prime example of when I had to let my lecturers know what I could and couldn’t take part in, or what would help me take part in the activity. Knowing what you are comfortable with is a great start. For example, I did not take part in the hedgerow trip. The physical environment was not accessible to me, and I did not want to risk an unnecessary injury. I talked this through with the course leader, and they made sure I got access to the findings. The Department will do everything they can to make sure you can participate. Just make them aware of any hesitations you may have in advance – it’s always better to have more time to plan.
You will undoubtedly have to work in groups for certain projects. If you feel your disability may impact your ability to participate in the work, whether it’s being unable to go out to survey, or not having the energy to write up a presentation on a particular day, you don’t have to suffer alone. If you are worried that the group may think you’re “slacking” or “lazy”, mention it briefly to the group at the start (no need to go into specific details). You don’t owe them an explanation. They will most likely be understanding and willing to help support you. It is a team project, after all!