Practising professional skills – while still a student

Being able to see things from another person’s perspective, being able to communicate and collaborate smoothly with colleagues who have other skills – these are some of the “soft skills” needed in all professions. At Linköping University we have several examples of how students prepare for their coming professional roles.

studenter diskuterar kursen med en mentor

Working as an engineer and working in the caring professions have more in common than may first appear. Most jobs require more skills than simply a knowledge of the subject. When students enter professional life, they are expected to be able to work efficiently, collaborate, manage themselves and possibly also other people.

“These are skills that students must learn while they are still studying. Out in industry, it’s taken for granted that students can communicate in an effective manner and that they have experience of project planning. These are taught in management courses, but if the work of an organisation is to proceed smoothly it’s not enough that the managers have these skills,” says Aseel Berglund, senior lecturer at the Department of Computer and Information Science and coordinator of the “Professionalism for Engineers” course.

This course, which is the only one of its type at LiU, is obligatory in both of the master’s programmes in computer science and engineering. It focusses on personal efficiency and development, social skills, ethics and the professional role of the engineer.

See things from several perspectives

One of the things that make the course special is that it brings together students from three years, working together in small groups. Within each topic area, the engineers in training get to test various tools. One task may be to give feedback to people in everyday life, while another is to schedule their time carefully and then keep track of activities, so the students can see where the time really goes. The tasks differ between the different years, but belong together within the same topic area.

The students write a report in which they analyse what happened by describing the events from different perspectives. They also draw conclusions about why the results were as they were, and reflect over personal action plans. These reports are discussed in small groups in a dialogue seminar, under the supervision of a mentor. Aseel BerglundAseel Berglund

“There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a dialogue seminar: it’s a case of helping each other to see things from different perspectives and to reflect over experiences,” says Aseel Berglund.

Students Sebastian Callh and Johan Nåtoft agree that the usefulness and intensity of the discussions depend strongly on the mentor and the makeup of the group. The conversations can get a bit laboured, but it’s very useful when it works well.

“I’ve enjoyed taking the course. Sharing experiences with others has helped me realise what I can do differently,” says Johan Nåtoft, fourth-year student of software engineering.

Some of the subjects covered by the course have been difficult to relate to: others are more immediately useful. One of the lessons from the course that both have started to use is the active planning of how to use their time.

“The exercise in time planning was very practical. Now I enter everything relevant into my almanac, for better or for worse,” says Sebastian Callh, a third-year student of computer engineering.

Meeting others with different skills

In the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, students from different courses are brought together, rather than students from different years. Also in this case the students are to help each other learn. Students from most programmes study certain components together in what is known as interprofessional learning, or “IPL”. What is new from this autumn term is that the IPL components are not held until the middle of the term, so that the students have a chance to become familiar with the programme. After this, they meet students from other programmes.mattias ekstedtMattias Ekstedt

“We emphasise what is common to the various programmes, such as fundamental values, ethics and legislation. And we also take up what distinguishes the professions from each other, and becoming more conscious of one’s own area of expertise,” says Mattias Ekstedt, programme coordinator for the IPL components.

It is, of course, challenging to design course elements that bring together students with so many different specialisations and expectations of what their education is to contain.

“One of the challenges is to find the right starting points for tasks. These must be relevant for the students and stimulate their thought processes,” says Mattias Ekstedt.

Prepared to work together

Students Axel Bergström and Thea Sandqvist believe that they will benefit from their experiences in the IPL components of the programme.Thea Sandqvist och Axel BergströmThea Sandqvist and Axel Bergström

“I’ve become better at seeing things from the perspective of the other caring professions, and understanding what they can achieve. When working with patients, it’s important to understand that a patient does not belong to you alone. Sometime it’s the knowledge and skills of another profession that are required,” says Axel Bergström, third-year student on the Speech and Language Pathology programme.

“I’m sure that this is important for communication when working. The various programmes and professions have many preconceived ideas about each other, but during the IPL components we realise that our prejudices about other programmes and professional groups in the healthcare system are seldom accurate,” says Thea Sandqvist, third-year medical student.

The final parts of the course are carried out at clinical training wards, where students provide care for patients under the supervision of trained personnel.

“When students are interviewed after their residency it is noticeable that LiU students consider themselves to be unusually well-prepared to work together with other professions,” says Mattias Ekstedt.

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