Student Support Roles

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With the advent of much higher fees there has been an increased interest in UK universities in the issue of student satisfaction, with many faculties and departments hiring specialists to perform student-facing support roles to supplement the pastoral work of academics and administrators.

Why might this interest you?

In many ways, this is the ideal job for someone who wants to work in academia but is unable to secure a permanent lecturing or research position, perhaps because they don’t have the flexibility to move far from home. It suits someone who is familiar with the systems and procedures of a particular university and so a finishing PhD student would be ideal for this job. A PhD student would also have some experience of working with students and understanding the needs of students who struggle or need extra support.

Of course, there are other routes into this job too. People with expertise in aspects of university administration such as recruitment and admissions would also be good at this role, as would those with a background in counselling or careers advice who want a new challenge.

What sort of skills/knowledge do you need?

There are three distinct aspects to this job. You need to be able to relate to university hierarchies and negotiate your way around the different policies and procedures at central, faculty and departmental level as you will be receiving information and direction from these areas. You will be working alongside managers and administrators as well as academics, so being able to talk the language of both will be valuable.

You also need to be a very good organiser and administrator because you will have large numbers of students under your care. You might have to deal with record keeping in both online and paper systems, and maintaining a proper paper trail in your work is vital, especially as some of your work will involve sensitive issues and distressed students.

And that’s the final aspect of the job that you must consider: do you actually enjoy working with young people on a one to one basis? While you won’t be involved in teaching them subject specific material, you will be offering support, skills and assistance that will be vital to their university experience. You will help them to negotiate challenging bureaucratic systems as well as providing pastoral care and offering a sympathetic ear. Some of the problems you will be faced with will be traumatic, others will be frustrating, and therefore you must have patience and empathy.

Challenges in this role?

It is important to get the balance right between offering individual support to the most needy students and helping the broadest range possible. This sort of role isn’t for everyone because you can feel as though you are being pulled in many directions by the university policy makers, by academics, by students and even by their parents. However, on the plus side, it will never be boring and no two days will ever be the same!

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