Credit: Ava Gomez and Janika Gaona, January 2020

My experience interning in Spain… (minus the ‘S’)

The problem story

Last January, I transitioned from retail assistant in Wollongong to intern at a digital media start up in Spain, in the space of a few weeks. In this new role, I undertook digital marketing activities for the growing brand, We Love Martha. Conditions were not ideal; I was forced to work in what barely qualified as a co-working space, in the dead of winter. This “co-working space” was a half-converted factory with no windows, no heating, and no joy. Worse yet, my “mentor” knew nothing about the area in which I was supposed to be gaining experience. 

Needless to say, after weeks of the blind (mostly just myself) leading the blind (also myself) through research and analysis projects, a rewrite of the website’s copy, and the creation of a rusty social media plan, I was frustrated and annoyed. It didn’t help that my roommate snored all night, which meant I fell asleep at about 4-5am every day (lucky me!), but thats another story.

I had wanted to write about this aspect of my time abroad for months, but was always halted by my bitterness toward it. More than that, I felt so lost that I simply did not know where to start. However, when I came upon late Australian social worker, Michael White, and his work on what he terms ‘narrative therapy’, my internalised story began to unfurl.

You see, in White’s practice of narrative therapy an individual is encouraged to ‘seperate themselves from their problems’ (Walter 2018; Edwards & Walker 2019); and oh boy I had a problem—it clung to me like a parasite. My time in Spain was supposed to be a life-altering, self-reinventing experience that I would look fondly upon as the start of a successful career. Instead, it morphed into a memory of festering resentment that made my stomach churn.

White’s ideas are built upon by his contemporaries and successors who will also be referenced in this abridged version of a narrative reflection. The work of Carey, Walther and Russell (2008) is drawn upon frequently; two of whom were faculty at Narrative Practices Adelaide, the offspring of the Adelaide Narrative Therapy Centre opened by White in 2008 (Carey, Russell & Hall n.d.).

Narrative development

‘Every expression of life is in relation to something else.’

(White 2006)

The concept of the ‘absent, but implicit’ pervades White’s method of narrative therapy. It encapsulates the thinking that it ‘is not possible to talk about anything without drawing out what it is not’ (White 2006). For example, my problem experience interning in Spain was not one that catered to my preferences for structured, relevant skills learning in a positive and supportive environment. This hidden story of preferences and values is what Carey, Walther and Russell (2008) term ‘subjugated meanings’. 

To identify these subjugated meanings, a process called ‘double-listening’ must be employed (Carey, Walther and Russell 2008). This listening process gives attention to both the visible and invisible layers of the problem story, probing at the veiled ideas implicit in an individual’s self-expression (Freedman 2012).

According to Fleming (2003), by examining subjugated meanings an individual can ‘broaden their frame of reference, develop new meanings about their life, and become aware of new possibilities.’ Freedman (2012) expands on Fleming by describing this aspect of narrative reflection as a ‘gateway into that realm of experience where people’s most cherished hopes, aspirations, and commitments live and breathe.’

Thus, in surfacing the subjugated meanings which underlaid my problem story, I created fertile ground to re-author my experience for my future self (Courtois n.d.). I have revealed not only my preferences and values, but also possibilities as to where I can take my next steps forward (Walter 2018).

Upon further reflection, I had already been unconsciously attempting to re-author my professional identity since my problem experience occurred. This is evident as I relentlessly vied for another internship for months after my return, and I recently volunteered as the Vice President of the Digital Media Society. All of these experiences are ones that unconciously embody my values of positivity and creativity, and my preference for a comfortable working environment.

However, since I have now consciously deconstructed my problem story, I am better equipped with the awareness to answer a question that started rattling around my head when I left Spain in January…

“Where to next?”

Carey, Walther & Russell (2009) identify this moment as the final step in scaffolding narrative development because it connects a ‘person’s actions and experiences across the dimension of time.’ This step allows an individual to craft forward momentum in their life, and gives rise to an ‘experience of personal agency’ (Carey, Walther & Russell 2009).


Header image credit: photo of myself shared with permission from Ava Gomez and Janika Gaona, January 2020

Please find references on page two.

opinion: the student experience is more fragile than what is popularly perceived

The student experience is bursting at the seams with responsibility: university classes, study, work, clubs, societies, volunteering… more. It’s the life that was sold to teens straight out of high school in brochures plastered with smiling faces, and it may be their downfall according to a recent student study*.

When entering the terms ‘university students’ into a search engine, the image results tend to portray clusters of young people: books, bags or even globes in hand, faces aglow with zeal. An examination via survey of a small, convenience sample of students reveals that this perception is paper-thin.

Beneath the mid-shots and the buzz-words, exist a cohort of young people grinding to get through their dailies. A majority of survey respondents identified that they have very little spare time in their schedules. A large portion of those who identified this way also expressed that they feel too exhausted and overwhelmed to make effective use of this precious time.

This may seem typical to the average adult. Unfortunately for university students, when our lives lack ‘wiggle room’ we are unable to form critical redundancies which would otherwise be key in these formative years. Consequently, students are unprepared and unsupported against an unexpected shock to their life. 

*(Griffith University n.d.), **(University of Wollongong n.d.), ***(Healy & Pekarek 2017), ****(Reynolds et al. 2017).

Approximately eighty-four per cent of respondents said their overall wellbeing would improve if they had more opportunities to work on it. Worryingly, the same respondents specified that they are currently not able to to form adequate mental health redundancy. The purpose of this redundancy would be to handle significant and unpredicted emotional or mental downturn without compromising or falling behind on pre-existing obligations.

But, if students were afforded more time to do this, what form would these redundancies take? What does the act of making these redundancies look like? 

In short, multiple respondents stated that they would use the time to stress less. Some elaborated that they would focus on rest and mental recovery, alluding to the emergent notion of self-care. When a student can actively form a reservoir of strong mental health as a redundancy to fall back on, they are less likely to experience burnout when faced with sudden trauma (Bressi & Vaden 2017).

Another identified redundancy that is significantly deficient in the student experience is time itself. Students may encounter a shock that does not only require mental space but also physical time to deal with. Responses indicate that many students are uncertain they have the time to handle the situation without serious compromise in other aspects of their life.

For example, one student recently had their life uprooted by an interstate move made on short notice. They say they are now struggling to catch up with university work because they simply do not have the time amongst all the other tasks they must also complete.

A different student highlighted that even though the university has academic consideration policies, and that workplaces have options for leave of absence, these processes also require a time dedication that some may not have. These alternatives also come at the expense of days or weeks worth of productivity and income lost that will be difficult to recover.

The final element in this honest portrait of the true university experience is financial redundancy. Despite common perceptions of the impoverished university student being widely accepted fact, a large portion of survey respondents indicated that they have adequate financial redundancy whether by savings or by income stability. A surprising fifty-seven per cent of respondents have not even had to dip into their monetary back-ups since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of these positive figures, many respondents felt further steps could be taken to ensure more students have secure financial redundancies in place. A very popular idea was a university-run class to improve personal financial literacy with a focus on saving and investing. Such a class may potentially reinforce a student’s ability to remain financially afloat and independent when hit with an unplanned shock, for example not getting their rental bond back.

However, a couple of respondents highlighted that healthy personal finances should remain just that—personal. They believe that university already offers adequate financial support to its students, and that anything more is the responsibility of the student.

Though non-representative, the study on redundancy in the student lifestyle reveals key insights for students, for universities and for other external stakeholders. University students will find value in a re-examination of their weekly schedule to implement redundancy-building behaviours. Simply adding more free time to their schedule or implementing self-care activities is a worthy investment in an unexpected future.

For universities and other external stakeholders, flexibility will always be key when interacting with students. Ruling with an iron-fist when scheduling and assigning responsibilities is a one-size-fits-all path of destruction for any student. It is important to avoid being fooled by preconceptions about the joviality of the student lifestyle and instead engage with empathy and understanding.

*This opinion article is based on a student study, conducted by myself, which examined a small sample of students from my BCM212 class, for which the article is a set assessment. DO NOT cite this source as fact; it is simply an experiment in research and writing skills.

provider brings moral-cavalry to the future of Aged Care

This feature article is part of my PR Writing Miniseries for QPS Benchmarking.


QPS Benchmarking’s reporting is more effective than ‘gaming the system’ under new quality indicators, recent enquiry demonstrates.

The Aged Care industry. We like to imagine it as a place of graceful twilight years; the cookie jar always full. Amanda Smith, owner of Apex Aged Care, is confronted with the hard truth each day; Aged Care is a business. Figures. Facts. And now, audits.

The Australian Government’s July 2019 introduction of a compulsory National Quality Indicator Program has codified patient care into a series of audits. These laws were introduced following the ongoing Royal Commission. Though the intentions of the program are benevolent, they put extra strain on the already fatigued providers.

At a recent industry conference, Smith witnessed another provider’s admissions to gaming the system by ‘cherry-picking’ prospective residents. These divisive moves motivated by self-preservation. Smith herself confesses, she cannot stomach such actions.

‘The right way’

Smith sought an alternative to keep in-step with her competition—one which maintains unwavering patient care. She works with the General Manager of QPS Benchmarking, Adam Holcroft, and his skilled team to implement their new National Quality Indicator app.

“Adam makes me feel confident that I am doing right by my staff and our patients. He and his team are responsive and highly knowledgeable about the system; which is why Apex can balance the increased busywork with actual patient care. Absolutely no compromises in sight,” Amanda said.

Cloud-based and tablet compatible, the QPS Benchmarking app utilises a simple data-input workflow that saves time. The required reports are automatically transferred to the My Aged Care portal, no extra effort needed. 

“Backed by rigorous research, the app streamlines the complicated and makes ‘doing the right thing’ easy,” explained Holcroft to Smith.

QPS Benchmarking’s cutting-edge solution ensures Smith does not have to be subversive to tackle the industry changes and still come out on top. By auditing in the right way, Smith has the knowledge at her fingertips to improve for the sake of patient betterment.

Hard work. Caring hearts. Improved care. Accuracy and compliance. It’s Amanda Smith’s mission for Apex Aged care. It’s QPS Benchmarking’s vision for the future of the Aged Care Industry.  

Find out more about QPS Benchmarking here.

internal reports failing? QPS Benchmarking can help!

This corporate blog post is part of my PR Writing Miniseries for QPS Benchmarking. I also tried my hand at writing an infographic in this post.


QPS Benchmarking knows Australian healthcare organisations struggle with a lack of precision in their reporting. The good news is: we love reports. Our reports are accurate and effective—thanks to our meticulous and all-important data cleansing system.

“A HUGE thanks to you and your team for the benchmarking results… they were really clear and gave a good indication of where we are.”

– Manager, Aroha Care Centre

The path to information-based decision making.

Data cleansing is the process of revising or removing inaccurate, incomplete or irrelevant items found within datasets.

The removal of these ‘dirty’ items is the most crucial part of the QPS Benchmarking journey. Without this process, company data is disorganised, unsafe and inexact; a detriment to making sound management decisions.   

Clients using our reports are backed by a data cleansing system which emphasises validity, reliability and accuracy. This process ensures clients have the highest quality information at their fingertips, guaranteeing increased productivity and better successes.

Our data cleansing makes us unique. 

To maintain our superior standards, we use a unique three stage process…

Healthcare providers wishing to enjoy the benefits of our data cleansing processes can find more details about our services here.

exposed: QPS Benchmarking is secret weapon for healthcare industry success

This corporate blog post is part of my PR Writing Miniseries for QPS Benchmarking.


To lead the market, you need to be able to beat the market.

Benchmarking—provided by our Wollongong-based company, QPS Benchmarking—is crucial in achieving a competitive advantage within the healthcare industry.

We supply Australian clients with next-generation performance measurement and industry comparison. Our tools help clients understand their industry position: where their healthcare business is thriving, and what needs improvement to push ahead of the competition. 

“…the QPS Focused Benchmarking Network has been a value-adding component to our Quality program.”

– Anne Crouch, Eye Tech Day Surgery.

Our trusted services are designed with the client in mind.

QPS Benchmarking provides high-tech reporting with custom key performance indicators that are relevant to each client. These reports innovate the board-room experience as they provide easy-to-understand, actionable and authoritative data.

Our advanced services transform client operations by achieving efficiencies in regulation-compliance and risk management. This allows our clients to work smarter—not harder—when working to achieve organisational objectives.

Benchmarking is also financially rewarding. In helping our clients improve their healthcare provision, we secure patient preference and repeat visits. By ensuring compliance with legal-requirements we also assist clients in avoiding hefty fines and sanctions. 

Summitcare wins the Gold Award at the ‘Australian Business Excellence Awards’, thanks to their work with QPS Benchmarking.

We care about our client’s end users.

When we help our clients successfully maintain quality and service, their patients can feel the victory too. The betterment of the organisation means the improvement of every life touched, making for the ultimate customer satisfaction.

an examination of redundancy in the student experience

The world has descended into crisis; pandemic has a choke-hold on the lives of billions. Leaders must decide the fate of nations—how to save a dying economy, a dying population, and a dying way of life.

As Australia shuts down, a generation of university students must begin to tread unknown waters. The shift to online classes is a minor inconvenience compared to the imminence of unemployment. Whilst rent and other bills remain the same, income for young people is stifled.

As a university student, one of my biggest worries is money. How much money will I earn this week? How much money will I spend this week? Where can I save? And why did I just blow my whole pay cheque on a shopping-spree?

Now, with no income, job prospects or eligibility for welfare payments in the face of this crisis, my worries have trebled; and I don’t have to look far to see these concerns echoed by my peers.

I see my reality reflected in the work of Williams and Oumlil (2015). They note that vulnerable groups such as students are more likely to be financially excluded from mainstream financial service provision. This lack of resource access is compounded by irregular income; consequently increasing a university student’s vulnerability to external financial shocks and uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am interested in learning about other university student’s spending practices and how they have changed since the switch to remote learning and social isolation. Do these students have redundancy plans in place? What happens to those who do not?

The question I propose is twofold: how do university students spend and save? Are these habits adequate to survive a global crisis, such as the COVID19 pandemic?

An informal, exploratory poll I designed for Twitter yielded the following results:


Though not conclusive, the results of the poll demonstrate that students may be very concerned about their money amidst the current crisis. Yes, a large 38% of respondents are ‘somewhat confident’ about staying afloat financially over the coming months, but a majority 56% lack that confidence to variable degrees.

That only 5.6% of respondents are confident about their money? It does not bode well; hence the need for deeper research to understand why this may be and how this vital aspect of the student experience can be enhanced.

Further Research

A review of existing literature regarding the finances of young people highlights that most studies are older and likely obsolete. Given the dynamic nature of the economy, one could assume that modern student finances have evolved since the early 2000s when research on this topic boomed.

Roberts and Jones (2001) early work suggests that consumer culture and consumption are an epidemic to young people; they link our depression, anxiety and low self esteem with compulsive buying. This source may be out-of-date, but it does start us out on an interesting path to uncovering more about student finances.

A more recent 2017 study by Sundarasen and Rahman concurs with the idea that young adults are drowned by the temptations of a consumer culture induced lifestyle. They identify students as being saddled with debts and unsettled credit cards. This study goes further to suggest that for students, money management/literacy can bring about financial freedom. This study inspires my inquiry into how students save and invest their money, as opposed to only how students spend their money.

Bramforth and Guersen (2017) look into the notion of student savings in their small Melbourne study of university students. They identify three distinct approaches to student money management: conservative, creative and entrepreneurial. An examination of what these money management strategies look like in the UOW cohort may be an interesting pathway in understanding how student finances will be impacted under the pandemic crisis.

Continually, the economic, social and psychological factors affecting undergraduates’ money management behaviours, as identified by Bamforth, Jebarajakirthy and Geursen (2017), will provide greater depth to understandings about student money management both in normal times and during the pandemic crisis; particularly compared to the traditional and two-dimensional focus on undergraduate financial literacy commonly seen in academic works in this field.

In my own research, I will tie these insights together in a comparison of university student money management and redundancy planning duringa crisis. I hope to highlight the very real struggles faced by students in their university experience, and the consequences of this on our lives and livelihoods.

(edited 25/04/20)


References

Bamforth, J & Geursen, G 2017, “Categorising the money management behaviour of young consumers”, Young Consumers, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 205-222.

Bamforth, J, Jebarajakirthy, C & Geursen, G 2017, “Undergraduates’ responses to factors affecting their money management behaviour: some new insights from a qualitative study”, Young Consumers, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 290-311.

Roberts, J & Jones, E 2001, “Money Attitudes, Credit Card Use, and Compulsive Buying Among American College Students”, Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 35, pp. 213 – 240.

Sundarasen, SD & Rahman MS 2017, “Attitude Towards Money: Mediation to Money Management”, Academy of Accounting and Financial Studies Journal, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 1-13.

Williams, A & Oumlil, A 2015, “College student financial capability”, International Journal of Bank Marketing, Vol. 33, pp. 637-653.

the second pitch

I have previously established that I am to conduct an ethnographic case study of the Sydney restaurant, the Grounds of Alexandria.

I will be looking at the symbiotic relationship between tangible, constructed spaces and the intangible mediascapes which they shape.

The ethnography

I am to be a participant-observer and experiencer both in the physical restaurant and in the online spaces where this phenomenon has etched its culture. These online spaces include but are not limited to: the official Grounds of Alexandria social media pages and website; the Grounds of Alexandria Instagram hashtag; third party content such as articles on Timeout; and customer reviews on websites such as Trip Advisor.

This project will involve a high degree of collaboration from a number of different sources; my approach will align with Erik Lassiter’s (2005) ideas about collaboration that avoids ‘othering’. To effectively be a participant experiencer I will need to be accompanied by at least one friend or family member when I visit the restaurant. Whilst here we will need to engage with the space as other patrons are, this may include: ordering and photographing food and drink as well as photographing each other in various places around the restaurant.

I will also need to record my observations of the other restaurant patrons, effectively turning them into my collaborators as well. Additionally, I plan on conducting unstructured interviews of some of the employees present at the restaurant, such as my waiter. Their comparatively high level of contact with the space may provide other insights that can not be not gained from participants alone.

Regarding the study of the online mediascape, I will again need to be a participant experiencer by sharing my own content in the same way that others have when engaging with this phenomenon online. I also will need to observe the media I find online and plumb it for information regarding the influence of the physical restaurant and how they work together.

Key details

Stakeholders for the project include the Grounds of Alexandria themselves, but also other restaurants and marketers. These groups would be looking to leverage their brand’s physical spaces to create publicity in paid, earned, shared and owned media forms.

It is important that I conduct myself in accordance with the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics. This highlights the importance of ‘honesty’, ‘fairness’, ‘independence’, and ‘respect for the rights of others’. I will commit myself to these values throughout my research to ensure I do not cause distress or harm to others. I will avoid naming specific participants, especially if they are employed by the restaurant; and I will ensure I have consent to take photographs and publish interviews.

I will communicate my final project on a dedicated website, likely produced through Wix. The primary inspiration for this comes from Sarah Pink’s study of Energy and Digital Living (2014) where her research was laid out in a digestible format across a single website. Additionally, I may take inspiration from Marsha Berry’s thick description conveyed through her use of vignettes. These were constructed based upon her participant’s interview responses and observations about their media use. 

From preliminary research, it is my understanding that the online mediascape surrounding the Grounds of Alexandria phenomenon is highly visual. I will therefore also need to include pictorial elements across the presentation of my findings.

Dear readers,

If you have not been to the Grounds of Alexandria, what have you heard about it? What have you seen about it online?

THANKS FOR READING! JOIN THE NERD HERD TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH NEW CONTENT.

References

Lassiter, E 2005, ‘Defining a Collaborative Ethnography’, in Lassiter, E (eds.), The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 15-24.

LEEDR 2014, Energy & Digital Living, viewed 27 September 2019, <http://energyanddigitalliving.com>.

Media Entertainment & Arts n.d., MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics, viewed 27 September 2019, <https://www.meaa.org/meaa-media/code-of-ethics/>.

the first pitch

The Grounds of Alexandria is popularly known for its design not as a restaurant, but as a social media backdrop. Word of mouth suggests that its atmosphere is abuzz with the chattering of lens shutters more so than the clanking of cutlery. 

As a food-lover, I find this situation to be highly intriguing.

My purpose

To perform an ethnographic case study on this phenomenon by examining the symbiotic relationship between the tangible, designed space and the intangible mediascape which has subsequently, and quite intentionally, arisen. 

Background research

A forerunner to my research is the work of Marsha Berry (2015). She explores Hjorth and Pink’s (2014) notion of the ‘digital wayfarer’ as an individual who engages with media perpetually as they move through their lives. This lifestyle gives rise to the entanglement of contemporary life with media production and digital spaces. As such, the conceptualisation of space is re-examined to encompass the notion of place and non-place in synonymous existence.

Ingold (2008) also provides valuable insight regarding emplaced visuality and sociality. He highlights that mobile technologies allow users to contribute to a ‘bigger picture’; that is, the user is pivotal in contributing to the foundations or sustention of a digital culture through their media production. Hjorth and Gu (2012) expand on the idea of emplaced visuality by noting the overlay between place, ambient images, and geographic locations.

The ideas explored in these texts provide an invaluable springboard from which I may begin to traverse my research. Berry’s (2015) study is particularly useful because it takes an ethnographic approach. 

Ethnography in action

Berry (2015) states that interviews were a significant part of her research process. She invited individuals who were heavily involved in her area of study, via social media, so that she could then probe them for their knowledge. She then went deeper by observing their public interactions with others on social media.

My personal experience as a researcher has not been so complete. I have been a participant observer and experiencer when inquiring into the cinema experience, media use on trains and the use of technology in a shoe store. I have also conducted a reflective form of auto-ethnography when looking at a critical TV memory from my life. However, I have not yet taken the opportunity to conduct collaborative ethnography through memory conversations and interviews.

I will conduct my case study on the Grounds of Alexandria by drawing on my own experiences whilst also considering Marsha Berry’s approaches to research. Participant observation and experience will be pivotal in learning about the tacit details of the relationship between the engineered place and non-place. Additionally, interviews will also enrich the findings by providing unstructured and spontaneous information that may be unattainable from overt and covert observation and participation.

Dear readers,

Have you been to the Grounds of Alexandria? If yes, what stood out to you most about media production whilst you were there?

THANKS FOR READING! JOIN THE NERD HERD TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH NEW CONTENT.
FIND THE SECOND PITCH HERE.

References

Berry, M 2015, ‘Out in the open: locating new vernacular practices with smartphone cameras’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 53-64.

Hjorth, L & Gu, K 2012, ‘The place of emplaced visualities: A case study of smartphone visuality and location-based social media in Shanghai, China’, Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 699-713.

Hjorth, L & Pink, S 2014, ‘New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualizing camera phone photography and locative media’, Mobile Media & Communication, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 40-57.

Ingold, T 2008, ‘Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World’, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, vol. 40, no. 8, pp. 1796-1810.