Volunteering and work reflection to facilitate students’ career planning


We supported psychology students’ to reflect on their experiences gained in part-time and voluntary work and link these to their career goals.


Dr Maxine Swingler




  • College of Medical, Life and Veterinary Sciences
  • Level: Undergraduate Honours, Postgraduate Taught
  • Subject: School of Psychology and Neuroscience

Key Features

  • Typical group size is large (>100)
  • Focus on subject specific work-related learning, but also raising awareness of relevant skills through reflection.
  • Teaching session is delivered as one 2-hour lecture over a 5 week course 
  • Regularly occurs as part of a student selected 10 credit professional skills course with total teaching time for the activities 2 hours or less.
  • The learning activities are fully integrated into learning & teaching, assessments, and the course PIP
  • Staff workload includes preparation of formative and summative assessments, learning activities, written generic feedback on formative student assessments, and individual feedback on summative assessments.
  • Technology: Activities are a blend of in class and independent study time and can be delivered in person or online using the Moodle VLE and Zoom. Activities also involve use of Mentemeter and Microsoft forms for class discussion and to collect students’ input into the activities.



The advantages of a work placements are well known, but it can be challenging to establish placements with employers and offer flexibility to accommodate students’ career aspirations (Jackson et al., 2016; Moores & Reddy 2012).  In this case study we scaffolded reflection on experience gained in part-time and voluntary work in the context of students’ career goals both within psychology focused careers and more widely.   Students focus on critical incidents or crucial events (e.g., a difficult situation, conflict) and explain its’ relevance, what they have learned from it, and how they will change their future practice (see  PDF version of infographic with active links).  The activities can be used flexibly and online, as a discussion task, a formative or summative assessment.   


Students completed an initial reflection on a critical incident experienced at work or while volunteering.  In class we encourage students to articulate their reflections, ask questions, voice concerns and uncertainties and they receive formative feedback on their initial reflection.  Using a reflective writing framework (Gibbs, 1988; Johns & Graham, 1996) students developed their initial reflection into a reflective assessment which contextualised their experience within career ambitions and professional development planning.  In the lecture we also focused on the importance of being reflective as a psychology researcher or practitioner.  Examples of the reflective assessment demonstrate students’ personal development as critically reflective learners across a diverse work experience (Barton, Bates & O’Donovan, 2019; Fowler, 2008).

The assessment criteria for the summative assessment are:

The reflection will be graded using the 22-point scale using the Schedule A marking criteria (see Feedback Information Sheet for more information) on the three ILOs which are weighted equally:

Quality of the Knowledge and Research

    1. Provide an evidence-based justification for how the chosen role and associated skills are relevant to career aspirations.
    2. Describe a relevant experience with an appropriate level of detail.

Quality of the Comprehension and Evaluation

      1. A balanced and objective evaluation of the experience.
      2. Demonstrate critical and analytical thought by outlining what you have learned from the experience, citing relevant evidence to support your learning.
      3. Demonstrate development of skills & attributes by discussing how learning will influence future practice, providing specific examples.

    Quality of the Academic Communication

      1. Communicate knowledge of professional skills clearly, concisely and in the appropriate form.
      2. The reflection is outlined clearly using an appropriate framework.
      3. Demonstrate good practice in reflective writing in the language and writing style.
      4. Includes evidence to support points where appropriate.

    Further details of the assessment can be found in the assessment information.


    Students reacted positively to the volunteer and work reflection activities, and the activities prompted students to ask questions about their own work experiences, and if these were suitable for the reflection.  We encouraged students to be specific about the crucial event they want to focus on and what they learned from the experience rather than a general description of the perceived benefits of volunteering / work.  The formative class feedback was helpful in guiding students to suitable experiences for the summative assessment. 

    Analysis and evaluations

    What worked well? How did the activity benefit students and staff?

    Students’ overall satisfaction in the quality of the course increased by 30% in 2020-21 and this was partly attributed to the introduction of formative feedback on the reflective activities.  Students commented: “I enjoyed learning about the importance of reflection and about the skills needed to carry me forward in my career.”  “I thought the formative exercises were really useful and good feedback opportunities.”   The formative class feedback was an efficient way of delivering feedback that reduced workload for teaching staff. 

    What could have worked better? What challenges did you and/or your students face and how did you overcome them?

    Flexibility is key in the reflective assessments, in that students have the freedom to reflect on the skills and experience that align with their interests and that teachers can adapt the activities to their context.  It can be challenging for students in the sciences to adopt a reflective writing style (Marsh, 2004), and providing a framework, exemplars and opportunities for feedback can foster experiential learning (Coulson & Harvey, 2013).    An additional challenge is engaging students in reflective practice beyond the assessment for the course.   Emphasis on the importance of being a reflective learner in the subject and the wider graduate job market and inviting former students to talk about their own career journeys helped students to see the value in reflecting on their longer-term goals. 


    The reflections on volunteering and/or work could be adapted to any subject that requires students to reflect on their practice and could easily be extended to other programmes and levels of study.  The resources use Microsoft sway and can be adapted for other courses and subjects.

    If you are interested in finding out more, get in touch with Maxine.swingler@glasgow.ac.uk

    Supporting documents and references

    Infographic with live links to resources https://tile.psy.gla.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Volunteer-and-work-reflection.pdf


    Barton, E., Bates, E. & O’Donovan, R. (2019). ‘That extra sparkle’: students’ experiences of volunteering and the impact on satisfaction and employability in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(4), 453-466. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1365827 

    Coulson, D. & Harvey, M. (2013) Scaffolding student reflection for experience-based learning: a framework, Teaching in Higher Education, 18:4, 401-413 https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2012.752726 

    Fowler, J.  (2008).  Experiential learning and its’ facilitation.  Nurse Education Today, 28, pp 427-433 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2007.07.007 

    Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. Birmingham: SCED.

    Jackson, D. & Bridgstock, R. (2020).  What actually works to enhance graduate employability? The relative value of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular learning and paid work.  Higher Education, 81, 723-739. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00570-x 

    Johns, C. and Graham, J. (1996) Using a Reflective Model of Nursing and Guided Reflection. Nursing Standard 11 (2) 34-38. 

    Marsh, C. (2014). ‘It’s quite weird to write … you feel like a nut job’: the practical and emotional consequences of writing personal reflections for assessment in psychology. Reflective Practice, 15(2), 190-202. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2014.883310

    Moores, E. & Reddy, P. (2012). No regrets? Measuring the career benefits of a psychology placement year. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(5), 535-554. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2011.553668