Solve real-world problems

It was a great opportunity to apply some of what you learn as an HDR candidate in finding solutions to social problems.

PhD candidate Sreang Chheat, from the School of Political Science and International Studies, has recently completed a placement with the United Nations Development Program, Cambodia. It was a very positive experience for him, and he talks more about it below.

What was the motivation for you to do a Placement?

I think placement is a great opportunity to put some if not all of your research and transferable skills into practice in the real world of work. It does not matter if you have work experience or not, the opportunity offers you a chance to get to know more people in the sector which you might not have been familiar with or that you want to engage professionally with after you graduate.

How did you source this particular opportunity?

I was fortunate that I had a friend whom I got to know briefly during my previous career. Do not misunderstand me, knowing someone does not automatically land you a placement. I would have sought to somehow make connection and introduce myself even if I did not know the person.

Being proactive is what I am referring to here. By that I mean, after learning about the organisation you are interested in, you should proactively source the opportunity to present yourself and the placement as a mutually beneficial relationship for yourself and the host organisation.

If you fail the first one, I believe there is always a next potential host out there.

Logistically, how did you organise and manage a placement with your PhD research commitments?

Indeed, this might be the most difficult question so far. After you get the placement, managing it alongside your PhD research commitment can be a challenge. If you have that feeling, you are not alone.

Being transparent about the need to maintain this balance to both your research supervisor and the supervisor at the host organisation is crucial. By doing so, you can create an environment of flexibility for both commitments.

Of course, the support from your supervisor is first and foremost.

As for the placement, it might be easier if it is an office-based engagement as that would give you a clear idea of what days of the week and time you are supposed to be at the host organisation and the rest is to be dedicated to your research.

I was not that lucky because COVID-19 did not allow me to travel and I had to do my placement remotely. Of course, the upside of the nature of engagement is that you can do it from your office in Brisbane. The downside is that you might need to be more innovative in terms of developing a clear work schedule that works for yourself and the host organisation.

If a definite output framework is not feasible, you should engage in continuous discussion with your host supervisor to keep aiming for rolling outputs, to the extent possible, so that a clear expectation is understood to everyone involved. In the meantime, this arrangement should allow you to commit to your research output too.

This balancing act can be tricky, but trust me, it is a learning curve for everyone. And it can be done.

What did you actually do while you were on the placement?

I was lucky to be hosted by the United Nations Development Programme, Cambodia. It is a well-known international development agency that implement a wide range of programmes aiming to alleviate poverty and bring about positive change in the country.

One of the projects UNDP Cambodia is undertaking is Youth Employment Project under which I was placed. Given the nature of the placement, my engagement was limited to writing short articles, commenting on research projects, and mentoring.

I wrote two magazine articles related to youth and employment in Cambodia.

Due to the fact that UNDP also has a few research projects running, commissioned to various research organisations in Cambodia, I could also engage as a resource person to provide comments on data analysis and presentation and report structure. This is where my research skills came in handy.

Moreover, my regular meeting with my supervisor at UNDP provided me a valuable opportunity to learn more broadly about the project at the conceptual level, and share what I think may be appropriate interventions as the project evolves in response to the changing political, economic and demographic conditions in the country.

How would you sum up your placement experience?

My placement with the UNDP Cambodia was an amazing experience despite the mode of engagement. It was a great opportunity to apply some of what you learn as an HDR candidate in finding solutions to social problems.

Moreover, the opportunity afforded me a chance to broaden my knowledge of the host organisation and the work they do to address the development challenge in the country.

To be honest, placement is an exciting experience that I would recommend any HDR candidate to seriously consider.