Learning beyond the classroom: biomedical science students' narratives of volunteering and developing employability skills.

Sheila Cunningham, Deeba Gallacher


This case study focuses on a work that developed from a Higher Education Academy (HEA) teaching development grant which investigated biomedical science undergraduate students experiences of engaging with health related volunteering opportunities and the link with maximising employability skills in a North London university.

Biomedical students recognise theoretical knowledge and practical skills as essential to employability but have limited opportunity to apply these with sparse placement opportunities especially within hospital or laboratory environments. Graduate employability skills are generally accepted as the knowledge, skills and attributes to be effective in the workplace.  Reports on graduate employability highlight communication skills, team-working, integrity, intellectual ability and self confidence as the five most important attributes sought by employers (Archer and Davidson, 2008).  UCAS (2012) expands this (biomedicine profile) by including creativity, initiative and flexibility and with what could also be argued as important: wisdom, (Schwartz, 2012). This is a tall order for any curriculum and in reality embraces more than classroom or laboratory learning environments but the whole undergraduate experience. This particular work was a partnership endeavour with undergraduate students to seek science related volunteering opportunities and the potential for developing the skills for biomedical employability.

The methodology in this case study was primarily action research with its iterative cycles. These were: identification and development of science or health volunteering opportunities, employers' perceptions of the use and value of such volunteering and articulation of the skills and qualities from such experiences.  One key 'data' output was a record of students' reflections and narratives as they contributed and drove the volunteering activity. Students maintained diaries of their experiences, skill development, personal growth and achievements and of working in partnership with staff and independently. Students' reflective blogs revealed several benefits and challenges and their approaches to address these illustrate their creativity, endurance and flexibility. This is a 'snap-shot' but presents 'voices' or 'narratives' of partnerships which enhance the students' learning (and teaching) experience. It also presents students' attitudes to volunteering and how they feel this contributes to their employability potential. Insights gained are invaluable to academic staff in appreciating the social constriction of learning and the extension of formal academic provision into the third sector


Skills development, Volunteering,

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ISSN: 1759-667X