In this post, Lesley Ross, Pre-Arrival and Induction Team Leader, reflects on her experiences of starting something new (be it university or a job) and the value of student inductions for supporting and preparing students in their university journey…
Thinking about when you started something new, be it a job or study, and reflecting on your first interactions and how it left a lasting impression on you, can be a useful way to think about ‘student transitions’.
For me, starting something new ignites many emotions – mostly excitement, but also taps into the anxieties I have about being good enough, what other people will think of me and my abilities to cope with unexpected challenges.
I think back to my first day as a ‘Waitress’ in a large sporting pub in Dublin. It was a Saturday, the 6 Nations final was playing and it was also St. Patrick’s Day! The feeling of sink or swim could not have been truer. I survived it somehow, although I spent the next three years in that job feeling like I had to prove myself. The tone was set from the start: survival seemed to be the only aim of that job.
I dreaded my first day as a ‘Communications Intern’ in a Dublin Council office because I had to drive on a motorway after just passing my driving test, I had just been told that a family member was in critical care and I was behind on my uni assignments. On arrival, I was greeted, given a guest log in to a computer and left alone. They had no idea that I was struggling. They didn’t care. They didn’t ask. They didn’t even know my name. My feelings of gratitude for the work experience quickly turned to bad feelings about the overall company, their values and the people in it.
Then I think of my first day as ‘Events Administrator’ in the Law School in 2014. They had specifically organised a session for all new staff, professional services staff and academics together. We heard from the Head of School and then each team manager introduced themselves and explained what they do. There was a free lunch and a printed pack of information that I read later. I sat beside another new administrator and whilst both of us are now in more senior roles elsewhere, we are the best of friends now. I will always be grateful for the opportunity that they gave us to meet and to feel valued on my first day. It allowed us to feel part of the law school community, it gave us the chance to be part of the overall university and now, six years later, I remain a very proud member of that community.
In my view, starting university is very similar to starting a new job. How you are initially welcomed (including your experience of applying and accepting the position) will have lasting impressions: how and when you were given information, how you were introduced to other people and encouraged to nurture those connections, how comfortable you were made to feel, and how included you felt in the new community.
When we think of organising and delivering student induction, it can be helpful to consider the overall goal of any induction programme. In a job, it is to ensure that that the new employee has the information, connections and wider knowledge to do tasks well and without constant supervision. Successful student inductions are similar by ensuring students feel safe and supported, have the information they need to get a few first tasks done and the space to work it out for themselves.
New students will be unfamiliar will almost every aspect of University life and will start their studies with their own expectations, life experiences, future plans and unique personality. Their university experience will be part of their overall life transition and will change them in ways that they cannot prepare for (much like a job does too). As employees of the University, we are responsible for helping students make sense of their surroundings (physically and digitally), giving them support and guidance in building confidence and taking ownership of their own student journey, inspiring them to engage with the university in their own way and, ultimately, making them feel like they belong.
I started two degrees and one Masters in Ireland, and I felt that I never received an adequate induction at any point (although it was also the mid noughties!). I had no idea about the opportunities that could have helped me through some tougher times and, worst of all, no one knew who I was, especially in my first year in ‘Arts’. Unfortunately, my first experiences exaggerated the anxieties I already felt about starting something new and dampened my excitement about getting involved. Subsequently, I spent less and less time on campus over the years and even though I am fiercely proud of my academic achievements, I would now not feel part of those alumni communities.
I do not blame the institutions for my lack of connection because, in hindsight, I now understand that it was my responsibility to be more proactive in seeking support and finding my people, but it probably would have helped if I had some guidance at the start about what I was expected to do…
With some effort on our part we can all ensure that no students get lost or left behind by initially welcoming them, reassuring them with adequate information and by repeatedly giving them opportunities to integrate socially and academically to their new community.
Understandably, this academic year presents more challenges in being able to deliver a quality induction, but the principles will remain the same: can you show each student that they are valued, can you show each person that you care and can you commit to supporting and informing them throughout their journey?
Next steps: Induction Guiding Principles plan to be published in July to help guide all colleagues in developing achievable induction programmes and individual activities for this unusual start of term.