Advent 2013: Prologue

Staff Weekly Bulletin: A typical working day

Inspired by a Times Higher feature on typical working days, our head of Marketing and Communications, Justin Marks, used our new automated news-gathering system to ask a cross-section of Burston Central University staff to share their own days. The system randomly dials a new person every day, and prompts them to talk about a typical working day. Then, the computer converts their speech to an article. So easy, anyone can do it.

Justin Marks

I like to get up early, it’s one of the Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m on my treadmill by 4.30am. A good healthy breakfast, and I’m at my desk by 7. In the summer,  that gives me a moment to enjoy the view across the park, and the changing seasons. Mock cherry blossom is followed by horse chestnut flowers. Lovely. Inspiring.

Once I’ve cleared my email, I have a wander round campus, ‘walking the floor’, as they call it in the management books, and seeing if there is anything news-worthy to be found. One of the great benefits of us moving to open-plan offices is the increased opportunity to bump into people doing interesting things. Give me a wave when you see me!

Then it’s back to the office to look at the latest communication impact figures – we collect data on all our social media mentions and press-cuttings. I may make a couple of follow-up calls to local or national journalists.

After a quick coffee and catch-up with my PA, I usually do a bit of report-writing. The VC likes me to keep him up to date. Then it’s home for tea – I’m a bit of a foodie, so I like to spend some time on that – and some work-related reading before bed. But of course, no two days are the same at Burston Central!

Martin, a busy lecturer and union official

I have an early start to walk to the station. Then I have the horrid experience of standing in a sardine-can and trying to avoid being elbowed by annoying office workers.  I do try to think of higher things, but the stupid car-parking policy usually occupies my mind. From the station, it’s only a five minute walk to the office, but it’s enough to get wet. Getting in from the car park would be much more pleasant as there’s a covered walkway into the main building, but most of us can’t afford the parking charges.

I used to make a brew when I got to work in the morning, but of course we aren’t allowed kettles in our offices any more, and I don’t have time to get to the canteen in the day. Too busy, plus, it’s shockingly overpriced. So I bring a flask in with me. I hate tea from a flask.

As an over-stretched union official, I sometimes have to start the day dealing with urgent union business. We get a time allocation but it’s not really enough. There are a lot of grievances at the moment.

I do quite a lot of phone networking, finding out what’s happening in departments. I also try to spend time keeping up with journals. I usually provide office hours to students at the end of the morning.

I try to take a full lunch hour to recharge the batteries. The afternoon is often spent filling in the latest forms, then I try to get away promptly so I can get a seat on the train – if you can get on it by 3pm you can usually sit down. Of course I have to take some work with me to do in the evening.  It’s never-ending.

Phil, an academic

Hello, Burston Central News! I used my iPhone to record this a while ago just in case the call came! You know, live, as it happened. And now I’m going to play it back to the system. Hang on. Just finding the app. OK, here we go.

Awake at 2.30. I wonder if I locked the front door before I went to bed? I need to finish that marking and get all the marks into the system by Friday. 300 scripts. How am I going to do it? Should I get up now and do it? But I’m so tired, I need to sleep. I must go back to sleep  so I can do the students justice.

8am. Shit. Slept in. Missed bus.

9.30. Arrive at work. Make coffee. Get out pile of scripts from locked drawer. Look at them. Decide how many I’ll do before I have a break (Eight). Look around the room. Spot Sally and remember I have to ask her about something to do with next term’s teaching. Better do it now before I forget.

10.00. Start marking.

10.45. Two scripts done. Make more coffee. Bump into Alison in the kitchen. Quick chat about (lack of) progress with periodic review.

11.15. Back at desk. Head down.

12.00. Early lunch break. Sun is shining! Hurrah! Go and sit in park with next year’s reading list.

13.00. Back at desk. head down.

13.15 Make coffee. Back to desk.

14.00. Meeting about next year’s marking schedule. Must go otherwise might get nobbled for something.

15.00. Shit. only done ten scripts. Need to finish another forty today.

19.00. Building closes. Pick up remaining 10 scripts and stuff into bag. Open locked drawer, remove another 10 for good measure. Might as well, since I’ve got to do some at home anyway.

20.00. Get home. Not much food in house. Toast some stale bread and eat it with sun-dried tomato paste. Not bad. Open bottle of wine. Switch on TV. Great. Come Dine with Me is on.

23.00.  Finish marking last script with last glass of wine. Bed.

Sunita, International Partnerships Director

I have young children, so I need to work fairly regular hours to accommodate childcare. Also, I have to travel a lot for the job, which involves long hours, so when I’m in Burston I try to make sure that I stick to regular times. My job is really varied. Sometimes I’m talking to potential partners about collaborations – we always do the first stage of the work with them, before they talk to any academics. I’m also likely to be trouble-shooting existing partnerships. Just to give you an idea of the kind of problem-solving that’s needed, we’ve got one at the moment where, without giving away too much, our partner from Eastern Europe is concerned about the match between their courses and ours. Their students come for their final year here. Unfortunately it seems that two years on Soviet accounting styles isn’t such a good preparation for our final year politics and economics course after all. I think I’m going to have to get some remediation courses put on, hopefully not too expensive or it will wipe out the profits from that particular collaboration!

Then of course there are all of the policy matters. I report directly to the VC, so I need to keep him up to speed with our policies and he sometimes has a few ideas of his own, too.

My team is brilliant and mostly get on with things on their own.

When I’m overseas I usually have to work in the evenings – receptions and so on – that’s a whole other column, isn’t it! But here, I get home around 5pm and switch off from the job. I think that’s key to a good balance.

Diane, Quality Officer

Ooh, thank you for asking me, Justin. I know everyone wonders what we get up to in the Quality Office! As you know, we’re responsible for making sure that all of Burston Central’s courses comply with the UK Quality Code. So a typical day for us involves going through course documents and writing helpful feedback to the course teams. We may then spend a bit of time updating policies and procedures and preparing them for presentation to all of the important University committees. All of the ‘P’s, really!

In fact, we have a useful motivational slogan up on the wall in our office: ‘Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance’. It does help us a lot when course teams get their documentation to us on time (hint, hint).

Oh, and if I could just dispel a myth, we aren’t extra picky with the documents when people are late with submission. It’s just that people who leave it to the last minute often make mistakes (hint, hint, again).

Quentin, Student Information Centre Officer

Hi! I’m Quentin and I work at the SIC. We don’t really have typical days. Every day is different when you’re answering student queries. We open at 8:45am which gives us about 15 minutes to check the email and voice mail and then sort out any cancelled nine o’clock classes – we send the students a helpful text to let them know if staff are absent and the session is cancelled.

Before we had the technology, we’d have to run around putting notices on the doors, so students wouldn’t know about the cancellation till they actually turned up to class. Now they get advance notice! So that’s a definite service improvement which I hope will find its way into the National Student Survey data!!

After we’ve sorted out the absences, we open up the counter of the SIC. Students come to us with all kinds of queries: what to do about getting an extension, how to find rooms, where their Student Loan might have got to, why we can’t let them know about cancellations before they’ve got to campus, and so on. And we also take in their assignments and give them a receipt.  Pretty busy! We close the SIC at lunchtime for a welcome respite, and then reopen until 3.30pm. After that, we do that all-important audit of daily queries which helps us to improve the service.

Hazel, Head of the Centre for Academic Practice

As I’m sure everyone reading this knows, the Centre for Academic Practice, or CAP as we like to call it, is there to support everything to do with learning, teaching and assessment. My job is to manage the centre, make sure that our hard-working staff have everything they need, and that our teaching qualifications are all to the right standards.

A typical day? Well, we like to start with a coffee together at around nine-thirty, and a little catch-up on how things are going. Sometimes it can be a little bit, how shall I put it, hostile? No, that’s too strong, let’s just say that sometimes staff can find the requirement to engage with us a bit challenging, or we maybe catch them at a bad moment. An informal debrief over coffee helps to keep it all in perspective.

Then I’ll do some admin with my PA, and after that there are usually official meetings to go to: Staff Development committee, Faculty Management Boards, Quality Panels, you name it, CAP is represented on it. I’m usually back in the office by about three-thirty and then it’s paperwork until the end of the day. Drop in and see us sometime, there’s always something going on!

Shannon, Head of Strategic Planning

Um. I’m not sure anyone will be interested in what I do? You know, numbers, horizon-scanning, projections, that kind of thing? Well. Maybe it will be useful. I come into work early. The VC has usually sent me some links and emails overnight, stuff he’s seen in the Times Higher or press releases from the mission group about what’s happening in the sector. I have to interpret those, you know, how they apply to Burston Central. Then, I’ll get back to some of the bigger analyses – what does the NSS mean? Why are the DLHE figures disappointing? Can we do something like PISA for graduates? How are our benchmark institutions doing on the same indicators? You know the kind of thing.

Justin, let me know if you want me to expand any of the acronyms. Bye!

Note from the Editor: This article was corrected on Saturday to replace ‘dilly’ with DLHE and ‘pizza’ with PISA. Clarification is still pending on ‘benchmark’ and ‘mission group’.

The VC, Bill Noakes

I don’t have time for this kind of crap, Justin. I’m busy. And I’ll be looking carefully at the contract of anyone around here who does have time to answer you.


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