If it wasn't for my personal tutor, I'd have left UCL: one student's story
9 November 2017
Rosalyn Christian is a third year undergraduate student in the Institute of Archaeology.
'The Institute of Archaeology has a long-established personal tutoring system. We meet our personal tutor when we start in first year and they're usually matched to our main degree subject. We stick to the same personal tutor throughout our time at UCL which is great for building a real relationship, though we have the option to switch if our degree interests change'.
Helping me see the bigger picture
The main thing my personal tutor does for me is to keep things in perspective.
Cori, my personal tutor, has a holistic approach to providing me with support. We don't just talk about how my course is going, but also how I'm feeling about lots of things and helping me prepare for life outside UCL - like ideas around internships and volunteering to get essential experience. We have a form to go through each term which help us plan our sessions.
I'm very hard on myself if I don't get a high mark and can take some feedback very personally. Although I'm happy to talk directly to the relevant lecturer about specific feedback (if I'm paying this much for my education, I'm happy to take the initiative and clarify things myself!), my personal tutor helps me to look at the bigger picture.
Even though you have lecturers, it's not like school - you don't get a parents' evening and sit down to be told if you're doing ok. You have to take ownership of your own education. You get an essay with a mark on it and you have to decide if it's any good which is a big change, from a student perspective. It's really nice to have the validation from someone who isn't your friend, teacher or parent that you're doing ok and that progress isn't linear. It's emotionally and academically reassuring. If you feel happier doing your work then it's going to be a better quality.
Cori helps me keep that perspective and reminds me that it isn't all study, study, study too!
Providing practical support in a crisis
In my second year at UCL I had a lot of issues. I was unwell and suffering from anxiety attacks, my mum was sick, I was struggling with some problems with other students and was just generally a bit of a mess.
I had decided the best thing to do was to leave UCL. I was looking at other universities to complete my degree somewhere else - running around emailing them saying 'I'm ready to leave, I don't want to be here'. I went to Cori in tears and needing someone to talk to who was a friendly face, but who was also a figure of authority who knew what was going on and how to help me.
She helped me realise that leaving wouldn't solve my problems and that I could get through it by breaking everything down into manageable pieces. She didn't approach it with 'You've got an essay in two weeks, how are you going to deal with those two weeks?' We planned day-by-day: 'How are you doing to deal with tomorrow?' which made the problems seem less intimidating. If it wasn't for her support, I would have left UCL.
A community of support
What makes the personal tutoring support really effective in the Institute is the atmosphere and sense of community. All staff are sent a list at the start of each year of personal tutors and their tutees. This means that if you're doing really well in a class, that lecturer can feed back to your personal tutor, which makes them proud, but it also means everyone is looking out for you. When I started missing some tutorials, my lecturer let Cori know and she made sure we sat down and talked about it, to check I was OK. When things were really bad, she was able to take some pressure off by letting other relevant staff know why I might miss a deadline or struggle in class for a bit. That sense of community and trust helps us, as students, feel invested in and supported so we work even harder to be the best we can.
Relationships that benefit all
Archaeology is a team discipline and staff and students work in partnership - doing research together from the start, completing field trips. We have to build closer relationships than some other disciplines by the nature of the work. The personal tutoring system helps enforce this by breaking down barriers and making staff really approachable. We see personal tutors and tutees interact with each other in class - they know each other very well so are more open and comfortable around each other. Other students then see the staff member as more approachable and feel more confident to approach them themselves. It creates a friendly environment where you feel confident to learn and make mistakes and are not intimidated by all the experts around you.
UCL is a high-pressured environment: we're all here because we work hard and take our education very seriously. My personal tutor has helped me keep perspective: to understand that I'm doing OK, prepare me for life after UCL and remind me that I'm also here to have an amazing experience - not just to get good grades.
Read about Rosalyn's Personal Tutor: why being a Personal Tutor is such a rewarding part of my job