Finding fieldwork

Question: “where can I do fieldwork with displaced people?”

Answer: This post has advice for students who are:
• looking for fieldwork now,
• looking for fieldwork in the future,
• finding it hard.
If there are other things to consider in your country, or you have other information to help then please give feedback to make this post as useful as possible.

If you are looking for fieldwork now

Clarify your university requirements and resources.
What are the expectations of your university?
• An occupational therapist working in the organisation to supervise you?
• A supervisor employed a minimum number of hours?
• A supervisor with a minimum level of experience?
• Are alternate models of professional supervision an option?

An alternate model of professional supervision could be a work supervisor in a suitable organisation combined with an external occupational therapy supervisor.

Some universities provide external supervision to enable placements in emerging areas.

This is an investment in the relationship with a local organisation. This relationship may result in future fieldwork, projects, research, guest lectures or even employment.

Find out if there’s an academic willing to develop this relationship with a local organisation. Voicing your interest may help start the conversation.

Clarify what you need from potential external supervisors

If your university allows external supervision, clarify what you need:

• What amount and frequency of professional supervision is expected?
• Can professional supervision be conducted online?
• Does the professional supervisor need to live in the same state or country?

Some practitioners have the skills to support your fieldwork even if they have not been employed to work with displaced people.

Below are examples of skills that could be useful in supervising your fieldwork, that may have been gained in other practice settings.

Use the list to reflect about a potential supervisor:

• Personal skills: Would you look forward to supervision? Do you respect their practice approach? Do you feel safe and trust they can hold your learning? Do they have experiences and shared values to bring to this work?

• Practice skills: Do they have relevant intercultural skills, understanding of displacement and settlement journey, experience as a solo practitioner, or work outside of the medical model? Do they have an occupational justice lens?

• Practice context: Have they worked in the not-for-profit sector, in resource-poor settings, with people affected by disaster or conflict? Have they worked in an emerging practice area?

• Supervision: Have they supervised externally before? Have they shared supervision before? Have they supervised students in role emerging practice settings?

Most of the time you are asking a potential supervisor:

• to use their skills in a way they have not considered before,
• to use their discretionary effort to take on you as additional work,
• to learn with you whilst being a guide as you learn.

A potential supervisor is more likely to say ‘yes’ and view your learning as a mutual professional adventure if you demonstrate that:

• you are ready for this type of placement,
• you are ready for this type of supervision, and
• they will enjoy supervising you.

Allow enough time

Consider the locations that you’re logistically able to do fieldwork in. Research and contact each organisation directly.

You are the one who wants it, and you are the one with the deadline, so accept that there’s no shortcut. Just do it.

How large is your pool of potentially suitable organisations? Allow enough time to engage them all if necessary.

Ask in person or by phone. Determine who needs to be sent the written ‘ask’. Send the written ask so it is clear at a glance what you need, and all the university information attached for reference. Phone to check the information has been received by the right person, and there’s no immediate questions.

It’s your job to tell them what an occupational therapist does, and reassure them that your learning needs can be met with activities that promote health, healing and human rights of displaced people.

Find out when it’d be appropriate to follow-up. It may take longer than you expect because they might be waiting for the right meeting to raise it, they might have people on leave or other deadlines, or need approval from more than one person.

When confronted with a ‘no’, ask why so that you learn about barriers, and have considered how to demonstrate awareness or solutions to that concern when you ask the next organisation.

If you are seeking international fieldwork, allow significantly more time.

University lawyers will need to modify the standard university-organisation agreement so it refers to the laws of the country the organisation is in. And the organisation may need to check insurance terms and conditions.

Finally, you need to allow time so that you can arrange other fieldwork if you have not found a suitable organisation for fieldwork with displaced people.


Networks may put you in touch with potential supervisors or support you once you’ve started, but can not replace engaging organisations directly.

• Post on OOFRAS Facebook Page so it can be re-posted.
• Tweet and mention @OOFRAS so it can be re-tweeted.
• Other social media include ForcedMigration4OT and OTION.
• Message people in your country listed on the OOFRAS Map
• Join the relevant OOFRAS Google Group to ask for ideas about other communication channels to try in your country.

Remember the three points you’re trying to demonstrate to any potential supervisor when spreading your request across networks.

Communicating poorly results in creating unnecessary work for potential supervisors.

Your request needs to be so clear that potential supervisors:

• can quickly screen the essential elements of your fieldwork request to decide whether it’s worth reading on for more information (e.g. if dates are fixed, and they will be on holidays, they don’t need to read further).
• have all the information needed to decide whether they would be suitable, and that they would like to explore this, and
• have the university documents for reference and sharing within the organisation.

If you are looking for fieldwork for the future

In addition to the tips above, there are things that you can do now to increase the chances of an organisation taking you when you want to do fieldwork.


Write an article about refugee issues in your professional association newsletter so that more colleagues are aware and want to help you.

Consider using relevant United Nations observances as an opportunity to raise awareness within the profession about the occupational needs of displaced people, the role for occupational therapists, and the importance of fieldwork to strengthen the field of practice.


Identify the organisations you’d like to approach later.
Subscribe to their newsletters and social media. Read annual reports to understand who is served with what, and what funding sources are used. Attend events and network.

Brainstorm ways you could contribute. For example, an organisation that hasn’t done anything about including displaced people with disabilities might be interested to know what other organisations are doing, and what you could do as a student.

Prove it

You will be asking an organisation to invest in you because you’re interested in this field of practice. Show what you have done or already invested in this interest.


For you to be an asset to the organisation you need to align with their priorities. Your broad learning needs are about helping displaced people experience health and inclusion in the community with the necessary opportunities and skills.
As long as they provide you safety and that context for learning, be flexible and focus on the organisation’s needs. There is plenty of time for you to pursue a niche interest or project when you are managing your own career.

If you are finding it hard

If this all seems hard, that’s because it is.

Securing an organisation and supervision in an emerging field of practice requires more initiative, resourcefulness, networking and tenacity. It requires polished professional skills whilst you’re still learning new practice skills.

If you’re not ready pursue fieldwork in an emerging field of practice, you can still learn about human displacement by volunteering with a local organisation as a citizen.

Was this FAQ helpful?



New Zealand

19 October 2018

Question. . . “I would love to know if there is any work to be done here in Auckland. . .”

Answer: Resources shared in the response. . .

As a resettlement area, it may mark the end of a long period of uncertainty, but it also marks the beginning of many new challenges.

There are also hostels with asylum seekers who do not have the security of resettlement.

There will always be occupational rights to respect and defend, occupational needs to fulfil, and organisations trying to do big things on small budgets to ensure social and economic inclusion of new comers.

I was in Aukland a few years back for a UNHCR sponsored film screening of Mary Meets Mohommad and toured services with Aukland Refugee Council.

Have you built knowledge and connections with the local organisations working with displaced people? Start there. The needs and opportunities will soon come into view.

For example, work with the university so they can work with you in establishing practice placements in these organisations (e.g. Red Cross, Asylum Seeker Support Trust, ARMS etc)

Also build occupational therapy connections locally – Why not aim to host a ‘meet up’ aligned to one of the UN days such as International Day of Persons with Disability, or Human Rights day in December?

And build occupational therapy connections internationally – join #OOFRASchat each month for a practice focus. Some other ways of reaching out to fellow occupational therapists in New Zealand are listed on the contact page.

Addition: New Land, New Life: Long-Term Settlement of Refugees in New Zealand (2012) tracks long term settlement outcomes.

Networking in Sydney

18 October 2018

Question: . . .’networking opportunities in Sydney, Australia. . .’

Answer: Resources shared in response. . .

Occuaptional Therapy Australia has a Refugee Settlement Special Interest Group (RS SIG) with 600+ OT Australia members on the mailing list.
If you’re looking to arrange a Sydney ‘meet up’, I suggest adding it to the agenda so that it can be disseminated through the minutes.
There is a meeting / webinar Wednesday next week (usually every second month) so log in and register!

Therapy in refugee camp settings

25 September 2018

Question: . . .“work in the humanitarian sector, specifically in venturing out to refugee camps and doing therapy there . . . ”

Answer: Resources shared in the response. . .

InternationalRelief Web is a good site curating organisations and jobs. For example, search for Handicap International (Humanity & Inclusion) to explore rehabilitation and technical advice positions for occupational therapists.

AustralianAusAid has skilled volunteer program to do assignments of occupational therapy work with refugee populations.

Professional development – developing practice beyond individualised treatment (e.g. coaching and developing others) and an understanding how to mainstream things like gender (e.g. managing gender based violence programs in humanitarian emergencies, a free online course by United Nations Population Fund).