Pawsing for support at Edinburgh’s Cat Café

CC0, Pixabay, sharonang

In this video blog post, Ben Marder shares a short video of Business School honours students visiting the cat café during exam study time. He believed it is a purrrrfect means for de-stressing and providing a relaxing environment to offer support on their dissertations…

I have worked at the Business School at the University of Edinburgh for nearly six years and have been heavily involved with teaching honours students. At present, I am the head of Year 4 and the dissertations. It has become very apparent that, year after year, honours students are becoming increasingly stressed and anxious. Students have told us that this is due to increased financial investment needed to attend university and the competitiveness of the job market putting intense pressure on the achievement of 2.1 and first-class degrees. Life stressors are often exacerbated with the use of social media, as students are constantly exposed to the ‘polished’ lives of their peers posted online. They also highlighted that dissertations were the most stressful piece of work they would do at University, as said by one student: “15,000 words are seriously scary”.

Given the feedback we were getting from students, Professor Mary Brennan (Director of Undergrad studies at the Business School) and I felt that we needed to provide ways to help students de-stress alongside supporting their studies. Putting our minds together, we decided to hire the Cat Café in Edinburgh as a different (fluffy) place to help our students unwind, whilst also providing any support for their dissertations as they approached their deadline. Stroking and being around animals is well-known for have a calming and therapeutic effect on people. It’s hard to be stressed when watching a cat, which looks like a cloud, trying to bat feathers attached to strings.

As the video showcases, the cat café event was a success. It was very popular amongst the students, who enjoyed coming along to play with the cats, drink some coffee, and eat some cake, while Mary and I were there to support with any dissertation-related questions. In addition to the cat café event, we provided one-to-one coaching sessions for our final years with a psychological coach to provide them with tools to help them de-stress and motivate themselves further in the final few weeks of their degree. We also offered group mindfulness classes aimed at teaching breathing exercises to calm the mind.

The mental pressures on students are increasing and it is our responsibility as teachers to help find ways to relieve this pressure. I strongly advocate that stress-reduction activities should be a key element within our teaching strategy, especially for final year students. In my experience, from having many stressed students come see me in my office, we need to make it clear that: 1) They are not the only one feeling stressed; this is normal and they are all in the same boat and 2) we, as staff, are here to support them, whether this be through specific schemes as above, or through regular emails/catch-up lectures from year/degree heads or course organisers. We need to get the message across that they are not alone, and we are listening.

Ben Marder

Ben is a Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Edinburgh Business school. He is head of year four and course organisation for undergraduate dissertations. Ben’s research expertise is in social media and has published in using technology as a support mechanism.

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