UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities


Staff spotlight: Dr Samantha Rayner

25 August 2020

This month's staff spotlight is Dr Samantha Rayner - the Faculty of Arts and Humanities' recently appointed first Vice Dean (Wellbeing).

Dr Samantha Rayner
1. Hi Sam, congratulations on your appointment as Vice Dean (Wellbeing)! What were your motivations for applying for the role?

Thank you! I’m very excited to get started (see below!) I’ve always been involved in wellbeing-connected activity as part of other job roles, and have plenty of personal experience of learning how vital effective proactive approaches to wellbeing in a workplace are (and the negative impacts that can occur when they aren’t built in securely). In any kind of community, trying to take care of members, acknowledging different needs, learning about best ways to ensure people are happy and feel valued – all these things should, I believe, be central to management strategies. It sounds like a cliché, but I really do want to help make a difference, and with the Covid19 pandemic making us all so much more aware of how important looking after ourselves and each other is, this is the perfect time to try and do that! 

2. Can you tell us a bit about your priorities for the role? 

We have a wonderful, very dynamic, very collegiate ethos at UCL, but we are a huge organisation. This role is about supporting staff and students, so there is a lot of terrain to cover, and although there are already many great mechanisms in place (including the UCL Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2022, which I’ll be connecting strongly to), and research and people who already work on wellbeing-related projects, they aren’t always easy to find, or access, so one of my first key priorities will be to reach out to those existing networks, and make a roadmap to see where we are. Then we can start to see where gaps might be, or whether we just need to make routes to access these landmarks more well-known, and create our own Wellbeing Strategy for the next few years.

This coming year is going to be a challenging one for everyone, so I’ll be working with Departments and with UCL staff in Student Services and HR, as well as with the Students’ Union, and external partners, to try and find ways to help provide access to a range of support, from more formal things like training and online resources to more fun stuff (I’ve already had some great ideas from people on this front, and will be asking students and staff to feed in more at the start of term!)  Obviously managing working and learning online and remotely from campus will be a key area to focus on, especially in the first few months, but I’ll be keen to start planning a wider-reaching set of goals in the coming months, too, so watch this space!  

3. What are your short term and long term goals for the role?

Well, just adding to what I’ve put above, by the end of the first 6 months I’d like us to have established a coherent Wellbeing network in the Faculty, with students and staff able to identify quickly, via an online dedicated space, who to talk to or where to find information and tips about everything from more serious health concerns to financial advice, teaching and learning support to coping mechanisms. We’re going to put out a pilot guidance document around communications and working protocols, too, to help everyone with the online working environment, and set clear parameters for considerate behaviours. And - very important! - I want staff and students to feel they can use the newly activated email account, ah-wellbeing@ucl.ac.uk to get in touch with suggestions for things they feel we need, and comment on what’s there already, so we can better understand what our community wants, and react to that.  

In the future, I’ll be working on strengthening our wellbeing guidelines, learning from responses to what we started in the first term or so, and building on relationships made internally and externally to extend the support we can offer to students and staff, pulling together a working Wellbeing Strategy document for the Faculty.

I’ll also be trying to undertake some ‘vision quests’ with external companies who have won awards for their wellbeing strategies to see what we can learn from what they do, as well as looking at partnering with external partners to offer some wellbeing-focussed offers for our staff and students! Did I say there was a lot to do….?!  

4. What are you most excited about?

The possibilities!  UCL really encourages out-of-the-box thinking, but it can also be an overwhelming place, too: working within such a big organisation brings challenges, and whether you are a member of staff or a student, you should feel well and supported.  So I am excited to be able to use this role to work together with everyone to help these wellbeing aims grow.  I feel the responsibility very much, too, so it’s really vital people let me know how things are going, so I can keep recalibrating: I can’t promise not to make mistakes, but I can promise I’ll be trying my best to move things forwards.

5. Can you give us your three tips for managing life in lockdown?

It did take a while to adjust (and like everyone, am still adjusting, as things are still changing week by week!) – but here are three which have worked for me:

• Connect with friends and family: even if that’s via Zoom or a phone call, work on maintaining your own support bubbles. Check in on people.  This helps to keep perspective on things: letting off steam, sharing good news, or asking for advice – or just chatting about mundane things – it’s good to talk!  

• Get fresh air!  Working from home can mean you end up sitting at your desk for really long periods, and with intensive screen time.  It’s amazing what half an hour’s walk outside can do to relieve tensions (physical and mental).  

• Take breaks from work, and the news, and social media!  Lose yourself for a while in a good book, listening to music, watching a film.  When we can’t travel far in reality, we can still escape to other places via our imaginations.  

6. What song would you like to add to the Joint Faculties lockdown playlist?

I love a good anthem, the cheesier the better, so with the start of the new term ahead, how about Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, by Starship?!  (and there’s the little street cred I had gone…! #sorrynotsorry)