Everyone is familiar with the academic skills required to work in a university and undertake successful teaching and research. But increasingly academics are required to use skills more often associated with other professions as well.
Every tutor has experienced a student in tears in their office at some point in their career. Dealing with this can be distressing and embarrassing but it is important that you handle upset students in a firm but kind manner. A student being disappointed with their mark may start to cry but aggression is also a possible reaction here. Make sure that you know where to go for help if a situation does escalate.
As personal tutor you will often have to counsel distressed students. Issues range from regular concerns such as boyfriend or girlfriend trouble and homesickness, to serious illness, money worries, bereavement or being a victim of or accused of a crime. You must ensure that you give students a private, safe space to air their concerns (usually your office) and that you are understanding and take their worries seriously. While sometimes offering a friendly shoulder to cry on is all that is needed, you must refer the student to for further help, not to avoid responsibility of dealing with their problem, but because you are not a trained counsellor and can only do so much.
If you are involved in developing strategies for student recruitment, either as admissions tutor, or programme leader or simply as a member of the teaching team, chances are you will find marketing skills very useful. If you intend to redesign your unit or an entire course you might be required to set up focus groups or surveys to undertake market research.
In these challenging times you will be asked how to grow student numbers, either from the domestic or international market. Publicity materials must be designed and targeted at a relevant market. Academics are not expected to do all of this by themselves. Your university has a PR department, a marketing and recruitment team, perhaps a business development team, all of whom can help you with this aspect of your job. But it is still useful to have some personal understanding of marketing.
Linked to marketing, when being asked to recruit students, for example, at open days, staff have to ‘sell’ their course to prospective students and parents. A good sales person understands the practicalities of their market but is also able to use psychology to appeal to the emotions of their potential customers. You need to know your competitors and what makes your offering different and better than theirs. Just providing a list of courses or topics covered is no longer enough. You need to be able to describe what is good about the entire university experience, including aspects such as extra-curricular activities, student support, exchanges and the experience of living in a new city or on a campus.
When you run your own workshop or conference, you have to be very good at managing large and disparate pots of money. You may have received funding from a number of sources and have responsibilities to these funders that must be met (for example awarding postgraduate fellowships). Managing resources so that food, drink and accommodation have been paid for without you being of pocket can be a very time-consuming job.
If you are applying for a large grant to undertake research, you also have to be good with figures when calculating how much you will need, although your university’s research development office will also be able to help you with such complicated formulae.