The best thing you can do at university

showcase

Guest blog post from Imogen Palmer, Vice President Activities, UBU

I grew up in the countryside, where the biggest opportunities were writing the obituaries for the local paper and playing the young William Wordsworth in my hometown’s annual history walk. I was overwhelmed when I arrived at Bristol by the 200-plus societies and clubs it had to offer, and I went a bit overboard. I acted in a play but realised I didn’t like acting. I went to kick-boxing and decided I didn’t want to be a ninja. I was an editor for the student paper and found I didn’t want to be journalist. Doing UBTV, the student TV station made me realise I didn’t want to be a TV researcher.

The most common thing I hear undergraduates say is ‘I don’t know what I want to do’. Most of us dread the ‘post-uni’ question that family insist on asking every time they see us, but not knowing is no bad thing. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I arrived at uni and I’ve managed to narrow it down so far. I don’t know any other point in your life where you can try on this many different ‘lives’, so to speak, and figure out what really stokes your passion.

It’s not all about getting ‘transferable skills’ or plumping out your CV, even if that’s an added bonus. It’s about working out what you like and being able to make the most educated choice possible about which direction to go in, because there isn’t just one.

My involvement with activities led me to the firm conclusion that I love people and I love trying new things. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to campaign for a job that would involve enabling more people to try things, in the form of VP activities, I leapt at the chance.

And that’s not just for the first-years; it’s for the second-, third-, final-years and post-grads as well. Life doesn’t stop in the library. Go and seek adventure during UBU Showcase Month, try something new and see what happens. Remember: if you’re finding it too expensive to get involved with activities outside your course, you can apply to UBU’s fair access fund: ubu.org.uk/activities/committee_resources/funding/.

We’ve had great feedback from student groups so far about Showcase Month, with lots of people trying new things, from canoeing to cross-country running. Volunteering Week kicks off this week so get on it! May I particularly recommend ‘Bristol’s Got Talent’ on Monday 24th February and the Volunteering Fair on the 27th.

Bristol’s Got Talent: facebook.com/events/731175766900390/
Volunteering Fair:  facebook.com/events/750510671625775/
Full UBU Showcase listings: ubu.org.uk/events/

Imogen Palmer
Vice President Activities
University of Bristol Students’ Union

Some further info:

  • UBU Volunteering will soon be launching a new database where you’ll be able to sign up and join various volunteering projects. In the meantime, you can join the Volunteering Mailing List and follow UBU Volunteering on Facebook to be kept up to date with current opportunities:  ubu.org.uk/activities/volunteering/getinvolved/
  • Week commencing 24th Feb 2014 is Student Volunteering Week (SVW). SVW is a nationwide celebration of all things student volunteering! UBU Volunteering will be teaming up with Bristol Hub to put on a load of exciting volunteering events and competitions throughout the week. Find out what’s on online: ubu.org.uk/activities/volunteering/
  • As part of SVW, the Careers Service will be running the following event for students:

Careers in the Third Sector: How to sell volunteering on your CV – Tuesday 25th February, 3pm
This session is an opportunity to hear tips for accessing careers in the Third Sector, including useful resources and effective planning for your next steps.  There will also be an opportunity to talk with professionals who have successfully made the transition into this sector. Sign up here: careers.bristol.ac.uk/ViewEvent.chpx?id=206070

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

It’s that time of year when many students receiving their degree results have to make a sudden change of plan.  We’re busy right now at the Careers Service seeing people who are rethinking what seemed like career certainties just a few months ago, either because they didn’t get the class of degree for which they’d hoped, or occasionally because they achieved a much higher degree result than expected and they hadn’t applied for any jobs.

Whichever position you find yourself in, it can be a daunting prospect to be graduating into months of completely unstructured time, but this doesn’t have to be a disaster.  Employers are very interested in how people cope with setbacks, as well as how they demonstrate resilience and move on, so the focus should be on treating the unexpected time out as one big potential learning experience.  It could even leave you with a stronger CV than the one with which you start your unplanned year out!

Try to maintain a sense of purpose

What employers will be looking for when you do start applying for graduate jobs is a sense of purpose: that you were able to set goals for yourself, plan ahead and structure your time.  It can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself when you have empty days looming ahead of you after the bustle of university life, but it’s important to have targets both in the long term – the job you want – and in the short term.  What will you be doing each day to keep moving forward?  How will you organise your days?  It’s crucial to have something to aim towards so that you can maintain your motivation.  Staff at the Careers Service are happy to talk through your ideas and help you to plan ahead, and we are open throughout the summer if you would like to come in for a chat.

Get some work experience

A great use of a year out is to find work experience and sample some different jobs and organisational cultures, as this could help you to make much more informed career choices further down the line.  More work experience can also help to mitigate against the effect of a 2:2, as it can flesh out your CV and show that you are completely capable of doing the kind of work you want to do.  The media has done a great job of convincing people that there are no jobs out there, but we know from talking to employers that this isn’t true.  You will, however, need to be persistent to get your foot in the door.  You can start by looking at the vacancies advertised on the Careers Service web site, and there are several national newspapers that have excellent online job databases, such as the Guardian.

You will also need to make speculative approaches in person, by phone & email and in writing to employers that interest you.  To do this effectively, make sure that you have done your research before you make contact.  Read the company’s web site carefully and make sure that you are clear about the kind of person, skills and experience that they are looking for, as well as reading related publications and web sites to fill in the bigger picture of what is going on in the sector that interests you.  There is information on the Careers web site about how to make a good speculative application.

Finally, try to make use of any contacts that you have to find out about any work experience opportunities.  Talk to family and friends about who they know or get back in touch with any previous employers who could be useful to you.  You can also use the Careers Network of Bristol graduates who are all willing to answer questions about their work and career paths and, in some cases, may be able to offer work experience in their organisations.

Other options

Many students also consider volunteering opportunities, if finances permit, getting involved in a range of projects where you can develop and use skills that employers will value in your applications.  These can be local to your community or they could be an opportunity to travel abroad.  If you’ve always wanted to travel then this could be your ideal time to do it, as long as you can provide evidence of learning and development along the way by taking short-term work or getting involved in development projects.  However, don’t forget that applications for graduate schemes open in the autumn in the year prior to you starting work, and sometimes even earlier, so you will need access to a PC to submit yours on time.  You will also need to be available for interviews should your application be successful.  If you don’t get organised for this crucial period then you might be looking at even more unscheduled time out, so it will pay off to have a plan you can stick to.

Follow up and support

However you decide to use an unscheduled year out, do remember that you can continue to use the Careers Service for a further three years if you are a University of Bristol graduate.  We can provide advice, information and guidance in person, by telephone and also by email, so there is no need to panic if you are on the other side of the world and need someone to give you feedback on your CV!  Just remember to keep track of what you are learning from your experiences, and you should be a solid candidate for the jobs you start applying for in a few months’ time.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser