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How work-integrated learning can kickstart a career

Deakin student Eva Cotsell took on a work-integrated learning placement hoping to build her experience in research. The opportunity led to much more.

When Eva Cotsell decided to take up a research opportunity in her second year of a Arts/Laws degree, she could not imagine it would lead to paid work and a valuable mentor who would champion her through university and beyond. 

But that’s exactly how things panned out for the 22-year-old Ballarat local who’s just completed a double degree at Deakin.

Ms Cotsell, who completed her studies online and also works as a paralegal in Ballarat, said she enrolled in the work-integrated learning (WIL) unit because she was keen to better understand how academics work. 

“I think it’s important to have knowledge of how different types of lawyers work, separate to the different areas of law. Obviously, there are private practice solicitors and barristers, but there are also academics, government lawyers and in-house counsel,” she said.  

“What I really like about Deakin is that they put such a big emphasis on practical learning, including the Deakin law clinics and the work-integrated learning program. I felt I already had experience working with clients through my job, and my mum was a barrister so I know how court works and how being briefed by a solicitor works. What I didn’t know was how an academic works.” 

“That was only my second year of my degree, and I was in the mindset of wanting to try everything, because you really can’t rule anything out until you try it.”

Deakin’s work-integrated learning program ensures students can graduate with work experience by using an elective unit for a WIL internship or placement. 

A valuable connection

Through the program, Ms Cotsell was paired with Dr Vicki Huang, associate professor at Deakin Law School and the university’s 2022 Teacher of the Year. Her placement included researching, editing and proof-reading material for Dr Huang. 

Ms Cotsell said although the internship was relatively brief, the learning curve was steep. The program allowed her to gain invaluable knowledge in empirical research and writing articles for law journals, and understanding what’s worthy of research.  

“I learned a lot from that [internship]. When you’re putting your research into practice and Vicki was putting my name as a research assistant on these articles for the Sydney Law Review, it feels important.” 

And after the formal internship ended, the benefits continued. 

“It’s been a really great opportunity and Vicki has been very supportive,” Ms Cotsell said.

“That’s another thing that comes out of putting yourself out there and getting practical experience because you also make connections. Vicki and I kept in touch, it led to paid work for me, Vicki wrote me a great letter of recommendation for Hall & Wilcox and other firms I applied to. When I got my graduate position, she was really happy for me.” 

“I’m so grateful because she didn’t have to do any of this.” 

A bright future

Ms Cotsell plans to take a gap year in 2024 to live in London, work and travel. The following year, she has already secured a graduate position at Hall & Wilcox where she completed a seasonal clerkship during her studies. 

It’s a big change for a young woman from a regional area but Ms Cotsell said she could not be happier with the way her career is developing. 

“Hall & Wilcox is a national firm, it’s huge, hundreds of lawyers. It’s a very tightly-run ship and they have lots of processes, it’s a whole different world for me and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” she said.

“I assumed it would be quite formal and intimidating, but when I got there I was pleased to find it’s very comfortable and flexible environment. They do a lot of pro bono work, and at the same time they’re working on high-level, complex matters for big clients and in areas I’ve never been exposed to. I’m just so excited to have that experience and exposure to these mind-blowing things.”