Reflective practice is a highly relevant and important attribute to possess, especially within the Bioveterinary Science sector. Reflection has been defined as “a metacognitive process that occurs before, during and after situations with the purpose of developing a greater understanding of both the self and the situation so that future encounters with the situation are informed from previous encounters” (Sandars, 2009). This definition allows contextualisation regarding what has been learnt during a specific encounter or period of time to help with further developments, both personally and professionally. The process allows the identification of strengths and weaknesses, therefore improving the ability to carry out certain tasks to a higher quality whilst also encouraging ongoing learning and continuing professional development (CPD) (Harrison et al., 2003; Koshy et al., 2017). Throughout my industrial work placement I believe that I have achieved a large array of skills that have allowed me to develop not only as a person, for example through improving my confidence and communication skills, but also professionally through being introduced to an imperative agricultural sector with many applications to the veterinary sector, the food industry and also to the Bioveterinary Science sector, to promote health and welfare.
Figure 1: Gibbs (1988) Reflective Cycle
Throughout this reflection, the Gibbs Reflective Cycle will be used. Figure 1 shows the model developed by Gibbs in 1988 which encourages 6 steps of reflection and action, with the final step feeding into the first for the cycle to continue again (Mondal, 2016). The model is unique due to the fact it incorporates the knowledge gained, actions, emotions and encourages the repetition of experiences, thus making it different to Kolb’s reflective model (Kolb, 1984). In addition to this, the cycle is also more detailed, consequently making it more comprehensive.
Throughout my industrial work placement, I have been working on an outdoor pig farm in Caythorpe, Lincolnshire with F L Pigs Ltd between the months of September 2019 and May 2020. Whilst there, I carried out a large range of tasks, including feeding, vaccinating, artificial insemination (AI) and assisting with difficult farrowing’s. Furthermore, alongside the everyday tasks, those relating to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, especially with regards to the piglets was extremely interesting and has been invaluable. Although vast in their nature, the principles often interlink and underpin one another to ensure the highest levels of productivity are achieved. Since the placement, I have been offered a job throughout the summer, which shows that the work I completed throughout the duration of the placement warranted further work in the future.
Continually, I have also had the privilege of experiencing a variety of opportunities. One example that is prevalent and taught me a large amount of the information I am able to apply to my work placement are the two AHDB Pork courses that I attended. The courses were the ‘Service and Dry Sow Management’ and ‘Farrowing Management’ development schemes. These courses not only allowed me to further my CPD, therefore providing me with a wide scope of information regarding the topics, but also allowed me to apply what I had learnt in a practical and meaningful way which benefited not only myself, but also my colleagues. Having these experiences has been extremely beneficial and has allowed me to express a key interest into the outdoor pig production industry.
In addition, a wide range of opportunities also arose due to the regular contact with the assigned farm veterinarian. Hearing opinions and thoughts regarding how to improve the efficiency and productivity of the farm, for example through improving feeding regimes and vaccination protocols, gave me an insight into the best ways to keep efficiency high whilst also trying to minimise the output costs. Vaccinations for both sows and gilts are carried out on a regular basis. Thus, communicating with the veterinarian enabled me to understand how the vaccines worked. This was invaluable, furthering the knowledge I had already gained whilst studying the Pharmacology module. Further to this, I undertook euthanasia training. Although daunting at first, gathering the concepts and principles required to undertake such an important aspect of pig production was highly beneficial and allowed me to greatly understand and respect professionals within the field. Continuing to learn about the practical applications alongside the literature surrounding euthanasia was vital in ensuring that I understood why the euthanasia was carried out on an individual basis, and overall this made me appreciate the process to a higher extent than I would have thought otherwise.
The distance learning (DL) aspect of the course was challenging yet extremely rewarding. The process of DL involved using a variety of IT methods to both teach and learn (Bollinger et al., 2011). At first DL was a hard concept to follow, especially as its start coincided with the start of my work placement. Having intense days whilst on the work placement meant that sometimes academic commitments were sacrificed or pushed to the side in order to gain the most out of the placement. Although a negative in some respects, professionally I believe that this helped me to prioritise what is important, alongside motivating me to ensure that all the work was completed on time and to the best of my ability whilst still enjoying what I was doing. The independent work that DL requires allowed me to discover what I was interested in and how this could be applied to current and future ambitions.
Throughout my time at F L Pigs Ltd, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work and opportunities I have experienced, both as an individual, but also as part of a team. Although some days can be extremely difficult due to the intensity of the work, and to some extent the euthanasia of animals, the positives outweigh the negatives. For me this was a great learning method as it shows that not everything goes smoothly all of the time, and in some cases negative experiences need to be present in order to appreciate the positive experiences. Further to this, I also believe that experiencing the euthanasia of a sow, for example, stands me in a good position for further education and employment. Alongside this, experiencing the euthanasia of individual animals, whilst daunting at first, allowed me to understand the greater good and reasoning for this, and how in the end this is for the greater good.
Initially, the abundance and intensity of work was a lot higher than I first thought it would be. This is most likely due to the fact that the farming experience I had previously was very limited. Due to the intensive nature of the work, it took me a while to get used to this and for around 2 months, this was a very overwhelming experience. As time went on however, I became increasingly confident, allowing me to flourish in the role, enabling me to enjoy it much more than I ever thought I would.
Throughout the duration of my time on placement, my confidence has increased greatly. I believe that this was due to working in a small team for the majority of the time whilst at work along with vastly improving my communication skills. In my opinion, this is most likely down to the fact that working in a small team encouraged me to voice my thoughts and opinions regarding certain aspects, which as a secondary resulted in my confidence and communication skills flourishing. The variety of the profession was also something I enjoyed significantly. No two days were the same, and as a result the variation besides the day to day running’s were vast and of a very interesting nature. Whether this be carrying out mass vaccinations, AI or fostering piglets, I believe that I have gained a huge amount of skills and knowledge surrounding the sector which will greatly help me in the future. Carrying out tasks on a regular basis encouraged me to become more competent and confident. Having this ability shows an increase in professional confidence; a dynamic, maturing personal belief understanding the scope and significance of the practice (Holland et al., 2012).
From all of the work I have undertaken both whilst on placement and throughout the duration of the DL scheme, I have concluded that whilst the work has been challenging, it has been a very rewarding process. Due to this, I believe that it puts me in a good position with regards to future studies and employment as a result of my improved ability to work independently in a demanding situation, whilst also being more prepared with regards to time management and prioritisation. Further to this, being offered a summer job has allowed me to again further improve on my confidence and will also allow me to fully embrace the experiences that I have been offered.
For me, the most negative aspect of the work placement was the demanding nature with regards to time. The days were extremely long as previously mentioned, and therefore motivation was lacking after a day’s work. This however improved over time as I was able to balance the placement and academic work more effectively, allowing me to enjoy both aspects of my final year studies. Overall, from all of the experiences they were more positive than negative, therefore contributing to the enjoyment I have experienced throughout the academic year.
Reflection is extremely important in order to analyse the actions and experience one goes through (Caldwell and Grobbel, 2013). This is especially important with regards to industrial work placements as a whole, most importantly to understand, develop and learn from both the positive and negative experiences one has endured. From the overall situation of both the work placement and DL aspects of the course combined, I believe I have learnt a vast amount, not only about outdoor pig farming and the Bioveterinary Science sector, but I have also learnt a lot about myself as an individual. The skills I have gained not only encouraged me to grow as an individual, but also as a professional within the field of work, thus making all the work I have completed of great benefit to my CPD.
Out of all of the tasks, carrying out AIs is one of the most interesting and applicable tasks I have been lucky enough to partake in. When carrying out AIs it is important to ensure that the sow or gilt is on oestrus, identifying this has allowed me to apply the knowledge I have collated from modules in second and third year, namely; Reproduction and Genetics. In addition to this, research regarding the process of AI in swine was important to understand the intricate procedure, the importance in carrying it out correctly, and thus, the importance to the agricultural livestock sector. This application continues to allow me to develop not only in a professional manner, but also in an academic one, furthering the knowledge I have gained throughout the duration of my undergraduate degree course. Following on from this, developing the deeper knowledge behind the process allowed me to apply it to a wider field of science, thus making it highly applicable and insightful regarding the Bioveterinary sector as a whole. Using this method of self-directed learning is considered one of the most appropriate strategies that coincides with CPD, contributing to my competency with regards to this particular task (Jeong et al., 2018).
Completing the DL aspect of the course has made me a more open-minded person. This is most noticeably due to the fact that having discussions with both peers and lecturers has allowed me to gain an insight into a wide variety of experiences and sectors amongst the field of Bioveterinary Science. This therefore allows for connections to be made between the contrasting areas to observe and understand the differences and similarities between them.
In retrospect, there are a few things that I would go about in a different manner. The first being to have a better work-life balance. Working long hours in a highly demanding job often meant that I was extremely tired upon finishing a day’s work at my placement. Resultantly, at times, it was hard to focus on the DL aspects of my course, and sometimes this was a hindrance to my learning. To overcome this, I would express more profusely to my placement provider, alongside colleagues, the stress I was experiencing. This would allow them to guide me to a greater extent regarding the best option to ensure that all of the work I completed was to the best of my ability and completed within a sufficient time frame.
Although both my placement provider and colleagues were extremely accommodating and understood any of my worries regarding completing my work, I often felt as though I would be letting the team down if I asked for time off to carry out more of my university work. Looking back on this, I know this would not have been a problem due to my placement provider always informing me that my university work was my main priority. This is therefore something which I wish to work on in the future; having the ability to speak my mind and concerns regarding certain aspects of my life to ensure that I do not suffer in silence as a result of not wanting to let the people around me down.
In the future, I would love to carry on working within the livestock sector, encouraging the health and welfare of the animals involved within the production system, whilst also improving productivity. Further to this, as I will continue my work placement throughout the summer, I am able to develop and improve the skills I have gained throughout the past 9 months will be extremely beneficial, especially as I am able to fully submerge myself into the work required of me. Applying the information, I have learnt throughout the completion of my placement project to the farm will be advantageous, not only to my learning, but also to my placement provider. One example of this is looking into how seasonality affects production, therefore suggesting ideas and implementing adjustments to the farm to encourage the highest levels of productivity possible. If the situation arose again, I would be more inclined to identify the issues and inform my placement provider or colleagues of the concerns I was having.
Further to this, all the skills I have developed including the farm work I have completed, the DL attributes alongside the personal skills I have incurred will be extremely helpful to apply to future studies and employment. Developing academically, professionally and as an individual is extremely beneficial to continue developing in the future and being able to reflect on the past experiences have also been priceless. According to Smith et al (2007), work-based experience benefits are based deeply on the extent to which reflection has occurred alongside conjoining this with the academic content and context relayed to them, therefore reflecting on the experiences has been highly beneficial.
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