Making of a better you: A student/staff collaboration

Photo credit: R(D)SVS

In this post, Dr Jessie Paterson, a Senior Lecturer in Student Learning at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, showcases the ‘Making of a Better You’ week, which is run by students and supported by staff, and aims to support students’ studying and wellbeing… 

What is ‘Making of a better you’?

For a number of years, the R(D)SVS has ran a very successful VetPALs scheme, where later year Vet students run sessions for first year and graduate entry students to aid transition into Vet School. In 2016-17, student VetPAL leaders, working with myself, decided to run a whole week of activities focussed on academic skills.. However, rather than aiming this at the early year students, we wanted to make this available to all students. This seemed like the next logical step in the evolution of a staff-run “Study Skills Week” to a largely student-run, but staff supported, “Making of a Better You” week.

This week ran for the first time in January 2017, with the theme a play on ‘a new start to the new year’, and took an all-encompassing view of academic skills to include study/non-study support. This proved a big success with a number of very positive comments from staff and students. From this initial step, we were keen to make this an annual event and make this something that was sustainable and useful in the years ahead.

Photo credit: R(D)SVS

As part of this we decided to put in a joint student/staff bid and were successful in obtaining a small amount of funding via the Student Partnership Agreement funding in 2017/18. This helped with the running of the January 2018 event, and has allowed us to put in place something that is now well embedded and seen as an annual event within the student calendar at the R(D)SVS. We were also able to produce some “Wellbeing” postcards and VetPAL pens that have become standard items of our annual event.

So what happens?

The week runs with each day having a particular focus and light touch sign-posting along with some fun activities. Topics have included: ‘Study techniques’, ‘Coping with stress’; ‘Leisure time and relaxation’; and ‘Studying as a graduate’. Each day starts with an all-student email and social media posting on the topic of the day. A student-produced board with resources or suggestions around the topic of the day is on view throughout the day for students to look at as well as some sort of activity for students to take part in. This may be something like their favourite study method posted on a post-it and added to a board, or a one-off yoga session over a lunch break, as well as other activities.

Photo credit: R(D)SVS

Each day has a small prize draw prize for student participation and other small incentives (such as treats or free give-aways). To share the work load between the VetPAL leaders, each year group takes responsibility for one day. The year group plans and runs the activities for that day, and ensures that someone is around at lunch breaks to answer any questions.

Photo credit: R(D)SVS

Is this transferable?

The simple answer is ‘yes’. From the staff side, there is a small amount of work in helping with the setting-up, from arranging poster boards to seeking permission for some motivational music to be played over the lunch break. But the main job is facilitating and helping the students to do what they want, and providing guidance and support where appropriate. The students need to be given the space and support, and they will do the hard work and make it all work. Annually, we now meet in late November to plan the topics for each day and decide who is running which day. The students then go off and discuss, and we all meet in early January to make the final touches and plans.

Does it work?

The week creates a “buzz” in the student community, and we hope makes them think a little about their studying and their wellbeing.

Jessie Paterson

Dr Jessie Paterson, is a Senior Lecturer in Student Learning, in R(D)SVS. Jessie is involved in the Professional Skills teaching as well as student support. Her main focus is around academic support and leads the School’s Study Skills Team but she also has a strong interest in student wellbeing. She also leads on the Schools VetPALs scheme and other student-led activities.

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