Summer School Experience for Career Guidance and Counselling Doctoral Students


Freda Zapsalis is an experienced career practitioner with a history of working in the higher education sector. She is currently a PhD student at RMIT University investigating the employability of humanities students through multidisciplinary team projects. She recently attended the 2022 ECADOC summer school held at Universum College in Pristina, Kosovo.

A few years ago, I read an article from Dr Jason Brown about his online experiences of participating in the European Doctoral Programme for Career Guidance and Counselling (ECADOC) summer school during COVID. I read this before I started my PhD, and I thought if I ever did start one I would seriously consider applying.

Earlier this year, I applied and subsequently attended the 2022 EDADOC summer school held at Universum College in Pristina, Kosovo. The event was hybridised and held concurrently with the Network for Innovation in Career Guidance and Counselling in Europe (NICE) conference. It was my first overseas trip and conference since Australia’s borders were closed for more than 2 years. 

Where is Kosovo? 

Kosovo is a landlocked country in the Balkans, located in Southeastern Europe; it borders Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. It is a relatively young country with a complex history having gained unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008 after a war between the two nations in 1998-1999. 

An interesting fact -  more than 65% of its population is under the age of 30! This fact alone tells us a lot about why Kosovo was chosen as the location for this summer school.

One of our sessions was about career development in higher education institutions in Kosovo, a country that is slowly rebuilding after the war and developing its nation-state identity. Kosovo has a very high youth unemployment rate (just over 50%), and a low bachelor’s degree completion rate (30% graduate).

Universum College, which is a private university, is initiating many strategies to develop its students' employability including having all students complete an internship and study in one foreign language (English for most courses, but German if students are studying health sciences) and partnering with European companies to offer study-work programs. They also offer career development opportunities for prospective students (i.e. high school students) to try various university subjects for one week, as the schools do not have career guidance programs.

Summer school - themes and presentations

The theme of the summer school was “Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Career Guidance and Counselling”. Twenty doctoral students from Europe, Australia, North America, Africa and Asia were in attendance, either face to face or online.

We heard and learnt from esteemed career guidance professionals on social and emotional learning and its relationship to career development from a global perspective, as well as topics related to qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.

One of the areas I didn't know much about but was inspired to learn more on was Professor Siobhan Neary’s presentation on the career readiness of students from military families. One of the examples she provided was students’ lack of access to experiences due to the remoteness of certain military bases.

We also got to hear from Dr Anthony Mann on the OECD’s report of the impact of career readiness. One of the examples he shared was the value of career conversations for students transitioning into work. From longitudinal studies, the OECD found some of the long-term predictors of low unemployment, higher wages and career satisfaction as adults was holding numerous career conversations as students with familiar people such as teachers, family members, and friends. 

Motivation and learnings

Two of my strengths are love of learning and collaboration. With these fuelling my motivation to attend this school, one of my goals was to meet and learn from doctoral students studying career education and guidance especially from other countries.  

My PhD topic sits in the crossroads of pedagogy, employability and career development learning - the role of multidisciplinary team learning in the enablement of career identity and career adaptability, specifically for humanities students. At RMIT University, I haven’t had the opportunity to formally collaborate with other doctoral students in careers education, let alone in Australia.   

I applied to the Summer School as I felt its interdisciplinary nature (as well as the diverse applicants involved) - students and experts with backgrounds in teaching, career education and guidance, psychology, public policy - would be a breeding ground for great ideas and friendships. In the end, the experience helped me think of my topic from different perspectives and methodologies.

I was motivated to attend this school to present my thesis topic and get some feedback before my Confirmation of Candidature. One of the activities was to take part in the Collective Academic Supervision (CAS) sessions. This involved being in a group of 4 research students and 2 supervisors where students present their thesis proposal in a structured presentation and feedback session. I learnt more about myself and my topic. It made me think about the assumptions I held about my topic and the link between concepts that needed to be made more explicit.

This, I think, became more evident to me as I was explaining my work to some members of an audience whose first language wasn't English. I learnt to view my work from an outsider’s perspective which helped greatly. My CAS team - Carine from France, Anette from Norway, Ifza from the UK and supervisors Associate Professor Lea Ferrari from Italy and Dr Chong Park from the United States had much to offer so we could reflect and develop on our ideas for our thesis back home.

The sessions also gave me an opportunity to provide feedback to other students, something I was quite nervous about. Internal conversations of “what value can I offer?” soon gave way as I realised I could offer some useful advice on methodology, linking topics with relevant career theories and other relevant resources.

Through these sessions, I also learnt about other career topics and concepts new to me. The notion of green guidance was one of them, and one that I have subsequently been reading more on since my return to Australia.

Networks and beyond for Australian researchers

I made friends and developed networks with people who had similar career interests beyond my Australian bubble.  My inspiration to write this blog post comes from the idea of developing a similar arrangement for Australian researchers, especially postgraduate research students, in all things career development - higher education, secondary schools, private clients, etc. If you would like to get in touch with me, please email me at [email protected].