Proofreaders – the goalkeepers of Quality Assurance

Danele Buso, Unsplash
Danele Buso, Unsplash

When you get on a plane, it’s filthy dirty and you watch the neighbouring plane having its luggage thrown carelessly out of the cargo hold, do you think to yourself, ‘I hope the mechanics were a bit more thorough’? Yet very few companies have their websites and service level agreements quality checked before putting them out in the public domain.

Then the trouble starts.  A client pushes their luck and there’s nothing you can do because your service level agreement has a gaping hole in it. Your website promises the earth because in your familiarity with the text, you didn’t notice you missed a word out.  That word is normally ‘not’, so you’ve just promised the exact opposite of what you’ve intended.

If all this seems logical, my question is, why aren’t you engaging the services of a proofreader?  It doesn’t have to be me, although of course I’d prefer it if it was.

Would any team, football, ice hockey or netball, take to the pitch/ice/court without a goalkeeper?  I think not.  Yet the majority of PhD students won’t pay to have their theses proofread until they’ve been given minor corrections.

If this seems like a false economy to you, why not change this?

What is proofreading?

Officially, proofreading is checking for spelling, grammar, punctuation and sense.  This is different from editing.  Proofreaders aren’t responsible for making sure you stay ‘on message’ or that you don’t have a glaring hole in your plot or argument.  In truth, those of us who are good, and who have a sense of integrity, are not going to set you up to fail like that. We  will go out of their way to pick you up on those things.

Markus Spiske, Unsplash

Officially, proofreaders don’t make changes.  They make suggestions for improvement.  Many of us have worked in some kind of training, teaching or other empowering roles, so our reports do sometimes read like marking, but we don’t use red pens!  In fact, these days we mainly use computers, but traditionally we use blue pencils.  My great aunt was a proofreader for the BBC World Service and I still have some of her reassuringly chunky pencils.  One is in a memory box; the rest are still being used for their original purpose on the rare occasions I get a printed out manuscript.  The work is in my blood.

So, my question is, do you treat your quality assurance and proofreading like a ropy Sunday League team, who puts the kid who turns up every week, full of enthusiasm, but with no aptitude, in goal?  Or do you treat it in the same way the first division teams do, investing in trained, experienced personnel, and encouraging and empowering them with as much information and support as possible?  If you want to move the quality of all your words to the premier league, contact us now.

Phoenix from the Ashes – Happy New Year!

My first company was called HG Phoenix.  It didn’t last long – I met Joyce and it quickly got absorbed into what is now CoomberSewell Enterprises.  As any business which has survived the ashes of 2020 may be doing right now, I’ve been thinking about the symbolism of the phoenix from the ashes. I’ve been thinking about the future and how sometimes to move forward, we need to acknowledge our backgrounds and how we are the product of our upbringings, for good or ill.

New Beginnings

When I started HG Phoenix, I’d just resigned from a job with a boss who later had a class action taken out against them for bullying.  The choice of Phoenix was the obvious one. I was rising from the ashes of my tattered confidence, but there was also a family connection.  My mum always told stories of a distant ancestor called Sarah Phoenix Perfect, who, she had always been led to believe ‘came from the gypsies’.  I couldn’t call the company ‘Perfect Proofreading’. That would be opening myself up to all sorts of trouble, but I had always had a romantic fascination with SPP, as I call her in my head. I never believed the ‘gypsy’ tales but resolved that if I ever wrote romantic or erotic fiction, this would be my pen name.  I haven’t written the novel (yet). Years on however, my parents have genealogy as their major non-faith pastime and it turns out its probably true. SPP is real, and she was adopted into the family from a traveller background.  As my theology colleague Steven Horne can attest, traveller records can be a little… oral, so after that, the trail goes cold.

Background

The HG was simple – my father’s middle initials, and I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl.  It was with my parents’ faith in me, and encouragement from an unforeseen quarter, that I set out on my new adventure.  The internationally renowned jazz singer and radio presenter Clare Teal, who I knew a little and whose opinion I value to this day, encouraged me to do what I was passionate about and made me happy. The rest would follow.  The path has been winding, but CoomberSewell Enterprises is a quietly successful business.  Some people question the use of the word Enterprises, but we use it as a reflection of our mindset; innovative, enterprising, hopeful and kind.

Moving Forward

As you shake the ashes of 2020 off your feet, whatever it has cost you whether that is your job, family members or security, I encourage you to look at the strong foundations your upbringing has provided you, however barren the landscape looks.  I totally acknowledge my good fortune in my upbringing in have hard working parents who instilled strong values in me.  No family situation is perfect, and others will have got their strengths and values despite their upbringing.  Nevertheless, that is where the stories we tell ourselves are rooted.  If you are having trouble seeing the wood from the ash, do contact us for a mentoring session with Joyce.

Work Life Balance at Christmas

Joyce and I have made the decision to close the business for a few days over Christmas for the sake of work life balance.  Actually, that’s not true, we’ve agreed that unless the work is already in the diary, from the evening of 22nd December to the morning of 4th January, we’re not taking any more work on.  I have one student to see and one small proof reading job in that time.  It’s time for some Us time.  I last opened an email connected to my school work on 19th December.  So, there’s the first commitment broken, that was supposed to be 18th December.  It’s the morning of 21st December and I’m already fighting the guilt.

Work life balance is a funny thing, especially if you are in any way self-employed, if you work in education, academia, or any of those other industries where the assumption that your good will means that you will go far beyond your job description.  Already, I have a list of at least 5 tasks to be tackled over our ‘leave’ and 4 of them are career or business related.

The See-Saw of Work life balance

For all of us, but particularly for the self-employed, balancing the see-saw (teeter-totter for my American friends) of work/life can be very hard.  There is a strong temptation to say, well, if I just do a half day on my emails, I can get a head start on the first day back… That is the thin end of a sticky wedge.  Yes, most of us went into self-employment to do what we love, but it is too easy to spend the quiet times on the bits we don’t love.  I’ve just spent nearly two full days catching up on the accounts.  Yes, it needed to be done, but did it have to be done right now, in the run up to what is left of Christmas?

Prioritisation

Often, I work with my students on managing both their study and their personal time, in the full knowledge that I could always be somewhat better at it myself.  There are many charts, apps and tables you can use to help with this – just google it, or look at Stella Cottrell’s Study Skills Handbook, a great investment for academics and students alike (The link is to Abe Books, other book sellers are available).  My favourite tool, however, was originated by Dale Carnegie.  I probably don’t have the copyright to reproduce the tools here, so let me just ask the pivotal question.  In your planning, do you consider what is important, or simply what is urgent? It sows the seed in our minds, that if something is only urgent, but not actually important, perhaps there is no need to do it at all?

Take a Beat

Unplug by Jess Bailey via Unsplash

So, as we run up to what is going to be a Christmas like no other (I write this while the news that we are in Tier 4 is still sinking in), I am asking you, telling you, maybe even begging you, to think about what is important, not what is urgent.  For me, this will be Zooming family and friends, going for walks, digging fresh spud and picking fresh Brussel sprouts for our Christmas Dinner.  It will be sitting through the Dr Who New Year special with the young members of the household, because they enjoy watching it with us.  It will be taking a breath.  So, by all means, contact us for mentoring, proof reading, or whatever else it was that is urgent that we can do for you, but also, sit down for five minutes to make important plans.

Ethical Dilemmas: Can you fake it till you make it with integrity?

This blog was partly inspired by communications I’ve had with close friends and family about confidence, imposter syndrome and the rational knowledge we have skills, whether we realise it or not.  My best friend, Lou, has launched a new career as a photographer, while also changing her day job, and we talked about the gender issues connected with confidence, and whether those thoughts still hold in the 21st century.  In that 2-hour meandering way that best friends do, we came to the conclusion that you just have to fake it till you make it.  But how do you do that with integrity?

Integrity

Now, I have to say, I have a roller coaster ride relationship with integrity.  In my Civil Service days, I hadn’t even considered the need for it, and was quite happy to get down and dirty with and against my colleagues, stealing placings and whatever it took to hit target.  Now, I see integrity as an ideal that, as soon as you accept that it can never be reached, you get a lot closer to attaining.  It is impossible to get through life without telling small fibs, these are called tact and discretion.  Nobody needs to know everything, all the time, indeed, if they did, it would be disastrous.

Integrity is about the small things.  If you say you will be at a meeting at 9am, be there at 8.55.  If you promise somebody some work in two years’ time, and then fall out with that person, as has happened in my working life once or twice, do the work anyway.  Be the bigger person.  You don’t have to become their best friend again, just keep your word to the best of your ability and move on.

Fake it till you make it

Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

But what about that old career adage, ‘Fake it till you make it’.  The problem is keeping control of the fakery.  Dressing for the job you want rather than the one you have is all very well, but is it ok to tell people you already have that job when you don’t?

Well of course not.  Is it OK to display confidence in your knowledge when you still have information to check?  Yes, within limits.  I always had more respect for my trainers when they answered one of my notoriously nitty gritty questions with ‘I’ll check that over lunch and get back to you’ than waffled on with what was obviously a shaky answer on a very narrow foundation.

Imposter Syndrome

There are times when you have total integrity but it feels like you are faking it.  This is really the epitome of imposter syndrome.  Here is mine: I am the world’s leading academic researching Joyce Grenfell.  This is, at the moment of writing, a true statement, and has been for the last 5 years.  There are 3 other experts on Joyce Grenfell: Janie Hampton, Maureen Lipman and James Roose-Evans.  None of them are academics and none of them have done any active work on Grenfell for nearly 2 decades.  Therefore, the statement is true because I am the ONLY Joyce Grenfell academic in the world.  Other academics acknowledge the validity of my claim to the leading academic in this field,  but it feels like a lie. So, we can say then that imposter syndrome is when you have integrity but it feels like you don’t.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I have a Joyce CoomberSewell who has, throughout our married lives, coached me in my continuing journey to building a stronger relationship with integrity, taught me skills to fake it till I make it with that integrity still in tact and has booted imposter syndrome out of my life on a weekly basis.  If you would like her to do the same for you, CONTACT US today.

Engaging with the Gatekeeper

There are lots of ways to build the profile of your business, your academic expertise, your passion.  Joyce talked about networking groups the other week, and I’ve attended many networking opportunities, including exhibitions and conferences.  It is when we go to follow up these initial links that many of us fail. We forget to follow up, or find it awkward and therefore avoid it.  Often we become so intent on building rapport with a CEO or other figurehead, we forget to build rapport with the de facto key person: The Gatekeeper.

Who is the Gatekeeper?

Even in the 21st century, in this world of online meetings and directors managing their own emails, there is still a large percentage of gatekeepers and they are mainly female!  I am of course talking about the army of mainly women who hold the title of PA, receptionist, occasionally Private Secretary, Chief Administrator and so forth.  There are some really good blokes doing this role and I am sure some would identify as non-binary and trans, but that is not my rabbit hole for today.  I’m talking about relationships, power, and how we can wield it with integrity.

Photo by Laura Davidson on Unsplash

In 1952 Betty Marsden debuted the Joyce Grenfell sketch ‘Private Secretary’ which, in addition to revealing a secret, explores many of the contradictions of these roles.  By their nature, they are often unseen and undervalued, yet they hold the key to information, action and attention.  Rather than asking ‘Who watches the watchman?’, perhaps we should be asking ‘Who gatekeeps the gatekeeper?’. I’ve met some shocking ones in my life, including the school secretary who on the first occasion I ever asked to speak to the head exclaimed “Why do you keep bothering him, you’re useless to him?’.  As I was offering training and support for parents and staff, that school lost out.  Embarrassing!

Gatekeeping with integrity

There are two gatekeepers I’ve encountered in my life however, who have operated with integrity, kindness, communication and skill, both professionally and personally.  It is to these two women I’d like to pay tribute today, now that they are both exiting my life.  Sheila Wraight, one of the Graduate College Administrators at CCCU retires at the end of this week.  It’s jokingly said that one of the other Administrators ushers you into the Grad College and Sheila looks after you through the last 6 months and ushers you out.  This is so true.  Sheila has been the focus of many a frustrated email from students over issues that are nothing to do with her. Every time, she has steered us with calm, clarity and kindness to the right answer, person or process.  It was a real moment of sadness for me when we went digital because of COVID and I could not therefore place my three bound copies into Sheila’s devoted hands.

The other is my Godmother Gloria (Goy) Fuller.  Rather like the Private Secretary in the sketch, Goy professed no real ambition, but ended up in a range of rather senior positions in the Civilian support staff for Kent Police. These included gatekeeping for a Chief Inspector who was notoriously almost never at his desk.  She was Assistant Secretary and Treasurer to the Police Social Club, a role which probably led to more decision making and action taking than the actual treasurer, and she continued this post long after her retirement from her day job. Goy died this month, and I did not realise how much I would hear her voice in my head. Though neither of us knew it at the time, from an early age Goy taught me about a different kind of ambition – an ambition to have integrity, build relationship at work and outside work, to enable the young ones even when they are infuriating (I was a very gabby child), and to simply be kind.  The rising through the ranks to a position of trust often comes quite accidentally from there.

So, what are my concluding thoughts today?  Whenever you want to make a lead, make a friend first, or at least a friendly acquaintance.  Don’t just ask to speak to the boss.  Make sure you know the name of the person who picks up the phone and who checks their emails for them. Ask after them, pass a few friendly comments.  At worst, these are the gatekeepers, who can shut the gate in your face as well as open it. At best, they will be people who will enable that business relationship, so make sure you genuinely appreciate them.  They are your de facto key person.

Can study be good for business?

I think we all know that as a PhD candidate, of course I think the answer to the question is yes!  There’s a lot more to my views on this and how they were formed though.  I’ve made some mistakes in balancing work and study over the years, but here are some of the reasons why I think study and business support each other, and some tips and tricks to make it work.

Reasons

  1. If you work in another field, learning theory will improve your practice and vice versa.

I was fortunate enough to have my Masters paid for by me then employer, the Civil Service.  As a front line worker in JobcentrePlus, it was not until I started examining policy formation and strategy that I began to comprehend:

  • how my tiny cog fitted in to the machine which is public service,
  • how that related to the political party in power at the time,
  • how the Civil Service keeps its political neutral role while advising its party political masters, and so much more.

Nobody is saying that the only study you should do is work related, but it can help with your relationship with the office.

2. If you work in education, continuing to study, and being open about it, helps your students trust you.

As a study skills tutor, I hold some teaching qualifications, of course, but I find that talking about my own challenges and how I have overcome them builds a sense of trust with my students.  Got a deadline?  So do I?  How can we both meet them?  Don’t understand the brief?  This is how I analyse mine – are these techniques useful to you? Got a bogie module?  Have I ever told you about my relationship with Economics and Governance?  (No, really, somebody ask me – I’ll happily tell you how I slew that dragon).  Being a student yourself creates a sense of rapport with your students that nothing else can forge, and you will both reap the rewards.

Tips

  1.  If you are studying something relevant to your job, make sure your colleagues know about it.

I learned this one the hard way.  I initially kept my Masters studies to myself and was accused by several colleagues of being both lazy and privileged.  How dare I, as a single white woman under 40 be working part time?  What gave me the right to laze around the rest of the time?  They had made a wrong assumption that I was a lady what lunched, who played at work to remove the boredom.  They had missed the part that when I wasn’t in the office I was studying, in lectures, or travelling the four hours each way to get to Uni. One stand up row later, a now educated colleague became the first to volunteer to take part in the research for my dissertation.  My point is, you may inspire respect, a new reputation for yourself or even somebody else to go and learn a new skill.

  1. (A tip) Organisation is key, as is a touch of ruthlessness.

In the 21st Century, time is a precious commodity. Taking on study is only going to make it more precious.  This is a key example of working smarter, not harder.  You will need to get your family on board.

If you are already studying and your family are not supportive, now is the time to sit down and have a full and frank discussion with them.  What are the benefits to them of you getting this qualification?  What practical skills can your other half/young ones/house mates learn or take over that will help free up your time?  Batch cooking, putting their own washing away, dusting and hoovering, these are all gender neutral tasks. It is important that you carve out time for your study then guard it with your life! If work is a more conducive environment for study than home, go in early, or stay late (clear this with your employer first). Make sure that you don’t suffer from study guilt – you do matter and the more you prioritise your study and empowerment, the more positive role model you become for those around you.

In conclusion, then, if you’re thinking about studying while you work, get on and do it, but make sure you have your loved ones on board before you start.  If you’re already studying and have got a bit stuck in the mire, I understand, why not give me a ring and see if I can help?

The Viva – what happens next?

My Viva was a surprisingly joyous experience.  I am fully aware that not everybody is as lucky, even if their thesis is sound in the main.  I’ve had several friends who have had a truly rough ride.  One was nearly broken by their viva experience and it was an act of will for that person to continue to the end result.  I admire those who keep going under those circumstances and they will always have the support of CoomberSewell Enterprises if they want it.  There are other ways for showing collegiality, by the way.  We offer 10% discounts to students and alumnae of our Universities:  Canterbury Christ Church, Liverpool Hope and the University of York.

But I digress.  As I predicted, preparing for the Viva on the day became a much more practical task than any other exam I have sat before.  In addition to thinking about what clothes would not only make a good impression, but would put me in the right mindset, the room I was being examined in (our bedroom/office) had to be tidied to ensure that my Kermit Onesie was not visible and a cat couldn’t gate crash.  In the end, every member of the household was locked out – including the wife!  We probably had better hope the examiners never read this, as I have to admit to being beautifully presented from head to toe, but with a blanket wrapped round everything below camera level – it was cold!

So, when the opening remark of my viva was to the effect that the decision had already been made that I would be passing with minor corrections, did I feel a fool for being so thorough in all my preparations?  Heck, no!  The efforts I made put me in the right frame of mind for what would come next – an invigorating and largely enjoyable interrogation of a variety of issues, which led to my correction list.  I was (inevitably) asked a theory question.  Foucault is not an easy read, and apparently, neither was my interpretation of him.  I was also asked what I might research next and what was original about my work.  Honestly, if you don’t know these two are coming, shoot your supervisor!

I have 3 months to make my corrections.  On paper, there are five of them, and three have already largely been dealt with.  There is, however, another document I have been sent, the internal examiners annotated copy of my thesis.  While I don’t have to take these into account, I’d be daft if I didn’t.  In a way, this process of corrections is a good thing, not only for the standard of my finished and final thesis, but for the transition period I find myself in. This gives me three months to make my corrections, write up a couple of tangential research projects I have bubbling along.  This will help me ease myself out of the student mindset and back into the full time world of work, in whatever academic or alternative-academic form that might take.

What does this mean for CoomberSewell Enterprises?  Increasingly I will be looking at research work, archivism or museum projects, quality assurance of documents.  These all use and increase the skills I’ve gained and grown to love through my studies.  I was going to say that this is a new adventure, but increasingly I am aware that it is simply another chapter of the same adventure, one that I can shape and form, which is a rare thing in these COVID days.  It is a precious gift and I invite you all to kick me should I ever take it for granted.

Guest Blog – ‘Let me interrupt your experience with my confidence’ – Yvonne Bennett

I heard the above quote on the podcast Fortunately which is by the wonderful Radio 4 presenters Jane Garvey and Fi Glover. It was from an email a listener had written in and explained her ‘imposter syndrome’ when it came to her job and men. That these men may not have been as qualified as her didn’t matter as they would ‘interrupt her experience with their confidence’. She had been the first female bomb disposal officer during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It was a lightbulb moment for me and could not have come at a more fortuitous time.

I am a final year PhD student, due to submit mid-December, and was tackling the Reflexive section of my thesis. I am researching conservative Presbyterian churches in the Outer Hebrides (very niche, I know) and looking at how women navigate between the patriarchal church and equality driven social spheres of their lives. I have discovered that not only do women comply to the codes of religious practice, they choose to do so and actually uphold the patriarchy. After listening to the podcast, I realised that I too was upholding the patriarchy when I was carrying out my fieldwork.

I am, and here I am appropriating Phillip Pullman’s phrase, a Christian atheist. I love a good sermon, love a church wedding and a baptism but have no faith. I am interested in religion from a sociological perspective and have spent the past 14 years studying it. When I am collecting data, I go to church in the community and take part in weekly Fellowship. On more than one occasion I have had men trying to direct the course of my research. During my MA, one went so far as to ‘hide’ all my questionnaires. He told me that researching the history of the community was better. I ended up writing about fundamentalism on that particular island and his actions formed the basis of the research. To this day he doesn’t know and thinks I gave up my studies. During my PhD, whenever men tried to tell me what to do, who to talk to and what to observe, I actually agreed with them, I agreed to let their confidence interrupt my experience. I then totally ignored their direction and continued on as planned. However, I am upholding the patriarchy in this church. I allow those in positions of authority to take control, albeit for a short period of time. I allow them to believe that they have directed my work.

A previous supervisor said to me ‘you are a product of your age and gender’. Before anyone starts jumping up and down in indignation, he was right, although I would also add class to his list. I was at school in the 1970s (yes, I am that old) and girls were not encouraged to have a voice or to go on to university. I attended a comprehensive school in a large industrial town west of Glasgow and girls of my academic ability became nurses or secretaries or bookkeepers. Of my peer group seven of us went into nursing. Girls did not speak up in class and those who did were seen as troublemakers or tomboys.

This is not a man bashing blog. I also allow women to talk me down. Recently I was in my local pub and was talking (from a distance of 2 metres and sitting down) to a couple I vaguely know. On two occasions the woman contradicted what I had said. On both occasions I was talking about events that had happened to members of my family. On both occasions I had the experience of the events, she, however, had the confidence to tell me I was wrong. One concerned the date my dad was diagnosed as having COVID-19, the second was concerning a university offer my daughter had been given. She continually spoke over me saying I was wrong on both accounts, COVID tests were not available then and the university in question did not offer that course. I assured her that COVID tests were being carried out at the end of March and that LSE did indeed offer Social Anthropology (to be honest I began to doubt myself on that one and googled it on the way home) but she refused to listen.

So, where does that leave me? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? What is this blog about? I am aware of what I do and why. I hate confrontation and know that I will continue to allow those with the confidence to believe they have the authority and power to direct my work. They do not. It has made for an interesting Reflexive section and being self-aware is no bad thing. The object of this blog is to say to all student:, be aware and do not doubt yourself. Stand tall and say, ‘Let me interrupt your confidence with my experience’.

Yvonne Bennett

THE VIVA!

I’m preparing for my Viva this week.  For those of you who may not know, the Viva is the culmination of the PhD.  Most people think it is the Thesis, but in terms of the stuff that will stop a PhD candidate in their tracks, frozen and blank, it is the Viva that strikes fear.  But it shouldn’t.

Now, ask me again in a couple of weeks, when I’ve actually done the thing, but with the right preparation, the Viva should and can be a rigorous but invigorating exploration of the Thesis, your ideas, and your brilliance.  After all, in this brief moment in time, in this tiny specialism you have carved out for yourself, you are the country’s, if not the world’s leading expert in your thing. You have helped to choose your viva panel and you have written the thesis, read the thesis, re-read the thesis and done some additional prep by this point.

The reality is that many Viva candidates have waited far more than the much-talked about 3 months since hand in to have their Viva, mainly due to COVID this year. (Viva Voce – a verbal, rather than written examination, lasting anywhere between 40 minutes and several hours in which examiners attempt to dissect your work for strengths, weaknesses and simply to test it is as well thought out as it seems or not).  This means that focus on preparation is hard.  For me, this has had to be fitted in around dealing with the pandemic, running the business, working one part time job, one casual job and all the usual detritus of grown up life in a house with grown up children.  Whether it is cleaning the chickens out, cooking the dinner or realising that I haven’t bought any parsnips, there is normally something far less interesting, but much more demanding of my attention going on.  So preparation is not as easy as you might think.  For me it includes thinking about what to wear, even though it will be on Zoom.  This is not for the examiner’s benefit but for mine as it helps me get my head in the game.

Now, if you have ever written a large document, by any standard, put it to one side for a while, and then come back to it for a re-fresh, there will almost always be a moment when you wonder what illicit substances you were imbibing while you were writing, as it all becomes very surreal.  For me this moment came about 5 weeks ago.  This is an important moment for checking in with your support network – other people who have been there before you, and those who are in the same place.  It is important to work out that this is natural, we all feel like it, and you almost certainly have not made a huge error.

It is also important to realise that very few of us get a straight pass, certainly in the UK.  It is a rite of passage to get a pass subject to minor corrections, or even majors.  Very few people get a straight fail either.  What makes you so different?  We have a short break planned immediately after my viva (pandemic dependent) and I fully intend to take my laptop and use that time to make my corrections.  Blast through them, resubmit and get to the silly robe bit.

Finally, remember to blow your own trumpet (not my strong suit).  Those of us who get this far are special, your twitter feed may be filled with Dr this and So-and-so PhD, but in the real world, there are not many of us to the pound.  Make sure you publicly celebrate every milestone, every publication, every blog and every move forward – and do me a favour, remind me to do the same!

Working with your new lecturers

In this Coronavirus world, things are even more unsettled than usual as we start the new term.  Let’s face it, you may have moved away from home, you may be commuting, or not yet even sure whether your lectures are going to be on campus or on the internet yet.  Despite all this, there is one thing above all that has not changed; if you want a good Uni experience, you need to give good Uni experience!  There are two things you need to understand in order to achieve this:

  • You are not at Uni to be taught; you are at Uni to learn
  • You are responsible for building good communication habits with your lecturers and seminar leaders, with course administration and with your cohort.

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?  I acknowledge, in a way it is, but these are things that most Universities won’t tell you, and they really should!

So, what do these two things really mean?  With all due respect to my many valued teaching colleagues and friends, school and college is about being taught.  Your teachers teach you the content of the syllabus, they teach you the exam techniques and they teach you, basically, how to get to the answers.  At Uni, lecturers will deliver, wait for it… lectures.  These will often be quite broad in their subject material, or even very specific (I once sat through 2 hours on the difference Augmented and Neapolitan Sixths with a music student).  These will often be backed up with seminars, where between you and your colleagues you will develop the skills to investigate further, around structured tasks and goals.  Note that – you will not necessarily be taught the skills, you will develop them.  The difference between being taught and learning is where the proactivity comes from – and now it needs to come from you, the student.  You lead the learning; yes, you need to answer the question, but you can start tailoring those answers to the things you are passionate about from day 1.

But how can I develop these skills, I hear you cry! (Well probably not, I’m not that exciting a writer!).  The answer lies in my second point – be honest with your lecturers and seminar leaders from day 1 (Be appropriate, they don’t need to know you wear Sponge Bob pyjamas!).  If you have a concern, or a question, or are particularly enthusiastic about something, let the session leader know!  Normally, you would be able to stop for a (short) chat at the end of the session, but there’s a good chance that this won’t be happening this year.  Use Private Chat on Teams, send an email, or book a virtual appointment.

All Uni teaching staff have to provide ‘Office Hours’ for students to consult them.  Some have these as first come, first served, others use a booking system, but there is nothing more tedious for a tutor to clear their desk for 2 hours when they are in the middle of research and have no company at all for that time.  You are NOT a nuisance, you do NOT look like an idiot – go see them (virtually or otherwise).  You will look like an idiot if you don’t ask.  While we are on the subject, if you have an additional need, such as handouts on blue paper, only an idiot will not tell their tutor.  Yes, they should have had a copy of your learning support plan, no, they won’t have had it.  No, they won’t want to know the inside of a duck’s bottom about your condition, they just want to give you what you need to achieve, so help them out – give them a heads up!

In my next blog – the finer points of making your communication clear

Have a lovely week

Jane