There is no set way to write a personal statement, but having a clear beginning, middle and end will help your personal statement to flow naturally.
Get straight to the point and begin with an opening sentence that will capture the reader’s attention. Course selectors are looking for someone who sounds interested in their subject and they want to hear why you are interested in it too. Clearly explain your reasons for wanting to study the course. If you are applying for an academic degree, such as geography for example, think about why you want to spend a long time studying this subject in detail and write about what you’ve enjoyed so far and what you want to learn more about.
Focus on your academic studies, work experience and extra-curricular activities here to show how you meet the selection criteria. This will also allow you to demonstrate your transferrable skills to show your suitability for the course. Consider what topics you have studied at school and how they relate to the course you are applying for. If you are applying for a history degree, for example, you could talk about specific topics within this subject area or demonstrate how you have gone above and beyond the curriculum by highlighting books you’ve read or taster sessions you’ve attended.
If you are applying for a vocational course such as nursing, you may find you focus more time talking about work-related experiences which demonstrate the skills and abilities you have which are relevant to the course. These experiences will enable you to write confidently about what you like about the profession and why you think it would be the right career for you.
Universities want to see that you are committed to university study. Show them that you are prepared to work hard. If you are interested in a vocational course, such as teaching, they will want to see that you have undertaken work experience in an appropriate setting. Having classroom experience allows you to decide on the year groups you would like to teach and will help you to write confidently about your observations in the classroom.
Universities are also keen on hearing about your transferrable skills from work experience or from extra-curricular activities: time management, coping under pressure, interpersonal skills, decision making and team working. To help you write about your transferrable skills in depth you can use the ABC model (action, benefit, course). This model allows you to describe an activity or role (A), detail the transferrable skills that you gained (B) and how these relate to the course (C).
For example, playing a sport requires dedication, determination and focus. These skills are useful for university when working towards varying deadlines and studying for exams each semester. Another benefit from playing a group sport is the teamwork skills that you will develop. Teamwork teaches you to communicate effectively and to be a good listener. These are important skills for participating in groupwork, for example, on a social sciences degree, as you will already have the skills to express ideas and opinions confidently during groupwork.
The end of your personal statement should summarise all the key points and talk about what you expect of yourself when you finish the course. If you have a specific career aspiration, tell the reader all about this and how your course will help you to reach that goal.
2. Consider your course choices carefully
You can only submit one personal statement for all courses so you should consider your choices carefully. When applicants apply for different courses which are specific to different vocations, such as nursing and teaching, it shows admissions staff that they may not be committed to either subject. This could harm an application, especially for competitive courses, and your place could be given to someone else who shows more commitment and passion to one subject.
3. Set a schedule
Many students worry about writing their personal statement because it could be the first time that they have had to write something personal about themselves. Writing something that shows your personality and enthusiasm for the course may take longer than you think. Don’t worry about the word count on your first draft. By setting yourself a schedule, you are giving yourself time to tease out what you want to display centre stage.
4. Ask for feedback
Ask people you trust to read through what you have written. They may think of something important to include which you may have overlooked.
5. Remember you have a lot to offer!
You just need to communicate what sets you apart from the competition by selling all the skills and experience that you have.
Kathleen Moran, Schools Recruitment Officer
For more information about courses at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/courses
With many of our usual pastimes affected by Coronavirus restrictions, people across the country have been finding solace in nature to help them through these challenging times.
Students and staff from some of our outdoor-related courses explain why they feel being in nature and looking after our environment is important for both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Dr Raeanne Miller – Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI
“This is where we live!” exclaimed a close friend and colleague many years ago, expressing the joy of living and working in a beautiful place, with endless opportunities to run in the hills, swim in the sea, cycle anywhere and everywhere, and pursue many other outdoor activities. It is a saying that stuck with me, shouted from the top of a mountain climbed after work or shivered between shaking teeth after a butter-smooth swim in the sea on a sparkling winter day.
Like many environmental scientists, I love to be outdoors (even when it’s wet). I could say that this is because I can see in nature the very principles that I study in my work or that because of my training I see greater detail in the plants, animals and landscapes around me. Or perhaps, at the intersection of working in environmental science and loving the outdoors, is a deep-rooted fascination and curiosity about the natural world. The latter is probably the most accurate statement, but in reality, it just feels really, really good to exercise outside in the wonderful highland landscape right on our doorstep.
In normal times I would be one of a handful of people washing away a stressful morning with a swim in the sea at lunch, looking out for local seals that following our progress. Or I would pound away a day’s ruminations while running up a local hill after work, leaning into the incline, feeling the wind on my skin and laughing as I sink a foot into a deep bog. During lockdown, our worlds suddenly become squeezed by the added stresses of uncertainty and homeworking, combined with a government-mandated travel restriction. We could no longer escape to the office for a change of scenery and we could no longer escape from the office to the sea or to the hills to clear our heads.
In my case, I know that outdoor swimming, running and cycling are essential to my wellbeing. In the final year of my PhD thesis I signed up for a challenging triathlon, which provided a different focus away from the stresses of work. The expansive views from mountain summits, on the other hand, are where I find seek comfort when the world feels like it is spinning – this was particularly true after my father died in 2013. But in lockdown, it felt different. Suddenly the small things mattered more.
Since March, I’ve watched frogspawn turn to wriggling tadpoles, the gorse flower and die back, jellyfish bloom in the nearby sea loch, and the bracken shoot up across the mountains.
I’ve discovered countless new paths, leading to intriguing ruins, waterfalls or hidden oak groves in the middle of plantation forest.
I’ve explored the five mile radius of my village more deeply than ever before and, after every excursion, I come back with some new finding, some treasure that makes me smile – a welcome relief from so many hours spent working in the home.
With lockdown easing, it has become clear to me that the mental health benefits of outdoor exercise don’t come from aching muscles and burning lungs (although for some people that helps!) Perhaps it is the scientist in me or maybe it’s mindfulness, but I think noticing the detail and richness of what is around you, from vast landscapes to the tiniest of garden insects, can help us to feel happier, more relaxed and grounded in our surroundings.
Anne Marie McPhilemy – BA (Hons) equine business management, North Highland College UHI
Living with someone who is shielded in these strange times is a worry, but we are very fortunate to have horses.
Horses do not judge – you can tell them anything and they always understand.
Once you are in the saddle and on the move, worries melt away, even pulling ragwort and clearing the field of dung for their welfare is therapeutic in itself with the sounds of nature singing in your ears. Grooming and caring for these gentle beings is an absolute joy for which we are thankful and grateful for every day.
Dr Euan Bowditch – Researcher, the Scottish School of Forestry, Inverness College UHI
Trees are always around us, working away, communicating, forming numerous relationships and living.
I am lucky enough that one of my passions and my professional life intersects. As a forestry researcher and former practitioner, I have had the fortune of visiting and working in some beautiful biodiverse-rich places, including jungles, rainforests, virgin forests and mountain forests, which introduced me to a new world each time and scale of life unseen before. I have learnt the names and characteristics of thousands of tree species, many of which I have forgotten and constantly need to become reacquainted with. In my mind, I am constantly planning tree trips around the world or ethnobotanical expeditions to seek out new species of oak. However, one thing about trees and forests strikes me above all others, the fact that they are, to me, time machines or organisms that navigate time, very differently from us.
I walk in forests at least twice a day as I have a young dog that needs to run and run and run – it never gets old. I have purposely planted up my garden with around 11 different species of trees, not counting the ones inside the house. When I enter a forest, I am always struck by the majesty and diversity of the forest environment, and how different it can be from day to day. Right now, fungi are blooming all over the place, some bloom and deteriorate within a single day.
For me, it’s not only the sight, the aromas, the texture to hand and underfoot that grabs me – it is the fact I can look at both the whole forest ecosystem and the individual trees, and see them grow 50 or 100 years into the future. I also find myself winding back the clock on a tree to a seedling and tracing the influences that have shaped its growth. They are guardians of memory, recording climatic events and personal traumas, stored within and throughout their woody body.
Walking in a forest or messing about in the soil never ceases to elevate my mood or enable me to work through a problem.
My muscles and mind are stretched, and wandering with my feet mirrors the wandering of my mind, thoughts meander easily and I stumble upon small epiphanies and somehow my posture improves and my eyes adjust to the pleasing palette of colours. Forests, trees and the living environment they enrich are always a source of solace and stimulation, and my ability to access this resource on a daily basis is indispensable to not only the continued maintenance of my health, but also enables me to thrive and gain much needed perspective.
Marie Stonehouse – BSc (Hons) sustainable development, Argyll College UHI
My journey with the University of the Highlands and Islands began with the hope that it would lead to exciting new challenges. Having a background in business, I eagerly sought a career change that would have a positive socio-environmental impact. In reflection, my time studying sustainable development was a fantastic experience.
The modules highlight the fact that humanity is in crisis, faced with a rapidly changing world. Changes due to issues such as anthropogenic climate change, species extinction and deforestation. Zoonotic diseases, such as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), have emerged in the last 100 years because of our encroachment on nature.
The sum total is global ecological collapse which will continue to impact economic stability, causing socio-political unrest and increase social inequality. These and many other global stressors demonstrate the need for global cooperation and sustainable solutions, now more than ever. The modules offered a holistic approach to understanding the colossal problems we face today, following the UN Sustainable Development goals, helping to equip students with the knowhow to move society forward.
This background knowledge and my desire to help make a difference at the local level, inspired my stewardship at Coves Local Nature Reserve. My volunteer work began in autumn 2017. Students were asked to create a pamphlet representing a local designated site, my choice was Coves Local Nature Reserve. While researching this site, I noticed that The Conservation Volunteers were responsible for land maintenance. I contacted the organisation and began to volunteer with the group. A long story short, The Conservation Volunteers funding for work at the reserve came to an end in December 2018 and, by March 2019, the friends of Coves group was constituted.
As Chair, I have led our group following the principles of sustainability, emphasising that our conservation work is an inclusive experience, seeking to empower the community, disseminate and advocate for this urban green space for long term resilience. It also follows the ethos of ecosystem services which identifies that healthy ecosystems equal healthier societies. Cost-effective economic benefits will be gained through clean air, water and improved food provision whilst reducing health care costs.
Caring for nature and giving it it’s place, improves human health, wellbeing and improves economic outcomes.
I organise weekly land maintenance events, monthly litter picks, safety inspections, plan special events, manage the social media platform, maintain equipment, fundraising and funding applications, plan meetings and liaison with the council, third sector and other organisations. As a group, we are part of Inverclyde Reforestation Project in which we have been planting trees since November 2019 and seek to become more involved in schools and with social prescribing.
Since the lockdown, volunteers have slowly begun to re-emerge onto the scene. Although we are an outdoor group, restrictions still apply and social distancing measure are observed.
Now more than ever, my work sourcing help with path widening is needed, as visitor numbers have increased by approximately 400%.
A large part of what I do is to engage with outside agencies and organisations to ensure continued and long-term resilience of this urban green space.
Kirstie Cownie – BA (Hons) equine business management, North Highland College UHI
Over the last few months of lockdown, I could not have been more grateful to have had my ponies to keep me healthy, both physically and mentally.
The lockdown meant I had gone from being an active, outdoor person who was barely in the house to being inside most of the time.
Being able to go outside and ensure my horses were still safe and well was essential for my wellbeing. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, this was a place to forget about everything which was going on across the world.
I found myself in a lucky situation as my ponies are in a secluded field next to my parents’ house which meant they had to be managed daily. I heard stories from several friends who have horses stabled at livery yards and weren’t allowed to see them for weeks on end, I really felt for them.
I often took my two year old daughter out to the ponies with me as I felt it was important for her to also get out of the house and have a change of scenery, be able to spend time with the ponies and interact with them.
I generally find my ponies to be a place where I can de-stress and, through this awful situation, they have been a blessing in disguise. I feel these last few months have allowed me to appreciate them much more than I perhaps have in the past.
Graduating was an exciting time of celebration with my friends and family, finally letting out a breath of relief and reflecting on all my hard work over the past four years. For me, this also meant it was time to start thinking about my career path and searching for my first graduate job, whether it was in my field of study or something completely new.
WHAT IF I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO NOW THAT I’VE GRADUATED? I was uncertain which career path I wanted to take upon graduating. I knew gaining experience, rather than saying ‘here’s my degree’, would be key for my CV to stand out to employers so I decided to apply for internships at first. This allowed me to experiment in different career fields, gain knowledgeable insight, create contacts for the future, collect reference letters when applying to jobs, meet like-minded people and most of all – have some fun. I used my university’s careers service resources for their advice on cover letter writing and their CV templates. To search for positions, I used Indeed, Erasmus opportunities, word-of-mouth, attended career fairs, looked at adverts on social media and asked event organisers if there was any way I could get involved in volunteering. My internship positions varied from an English teacher in Spain to an interviewer with Scottish Hockey in Glasgow.
MY FIRST GRADUATE JOB. It felt absolutely fantastic after 6 months of daily job searching, CV updating, travelling to interviews, cover letter writing, and working part-time to build up funds to get a call back confirmed I had got a job as a Digital Marketing Assistant with the University of the Highlands and Islands! I was delighted to get my first ‘adult’ job. No matter how many rejection letters you receive, you will often find they are a blessing in disguise. Although they are disappointing, it’s important to keep your hopes up and the right opportunity will find you with perseverance and hard work. Although I studied history at university, my research, analysis, writing and technological skills were transferrable to this new role.
AND THEN CAME LOCKDOWN. Two months into navigating a new full-time job, lockdown was announced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, I had a work laptop with all my work resources easily accessible online, allowing me to work from the comfort and safety of my home. My employer also ensured I had materials needed to carry out daily tasks. I use a range of communication tools to keep in touch daily with colleagues including Skype for business, Cisco Webex Teams and Meetings, Microsoft Teams and email.
HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED. I have found it a smooth transition moving to working from home and without the usual office company. I know it is important to maintain a routine and to always get dressed for ‘the office’, I also give myself at least one goal a day to stay motivated. For example, going for a new walk route at lunchtime, cycling, baking, meeting up with a friend at a social distance, calling my family, Zoom calling my grandparents, online gaming, woodworking, embroidery, growing a herb garden, attending online Gaelic lessons, online shopping just to have something to look forward to in the post, book swapping and making plans as lockdown restrictions continue to relax. A break from an office environment has been good and allowed for a relaxed, comfortable work zone at home. I have also had more time for activities I’ve always wanted to try and don’t have to travel to work, turning my attention towards better relationships with friends and family.
SUPPORT. A support system is key. It can be easy to feel lonely or isolated in lockdown. It helps to talk to family and friends when looking for career advice or try to find a mentor who can offer advice on the next steps in your career. If you are a current student of the University of the Highlands and Islands, you also have access to the Careers Team via the FutureMe service. Graduates can also take advantage of the Graduates for Life offer and join our Alumni benefits.
Still considering your study options for September 2020? Clearing could be open to you…read on to find out more.
What is Clearing?
Clearing is a service where universities and colleges (like us) fill any places they still have on their courses for the next academic year.
From July 2020, you can apply for a course using Clearing if you’re not already holding an offer from a university or college, and the course still has places.
Do I need to use the Clearing system?
The Clearing system is your route to find a suitable course at university or college if:
you are not holding any offers from universities or colleges you have applied to
you didn’t meet the conditions of your offer
you are applying after 30 June. While Clearing is usually associated with school leavers looking for a place after exam results, from the end of June, it is the pathway into university for everyone including mature and late applicants.
Clearing is not necessary if you have used the UCAS application system to apply before the 30 June; have been made an active offer from a university or college and have met the conditions made in the offer and you wish to accept it. Remember to check the acceptance process to make sure that your place is secured.
Want more information? Speak to one of our dedicated Course Information Line team on 01463 279190 or message us.
UCAS also offer a Clearing advice line to candidates: 0371 368 0468 (UK callers) or +44 330 333 0230 (if you are calling from outside the UK).
How do I find out which courses have places available?
Whether you know exactly what you’d like to do or you’re still unsure, there is help available to support you to find the right course. Do some research. Find courses that interest you.
ask for help and information about which of our courses are available and what qualifications are needed for entry. Contact our dedicated Course Information Line Team on 01463 279190 or send us a message
The University of the Highlands and Islands, the only university within our region with our partnership of colleges and research institutions, want to let you know WE’RE HERE FOR YOU and we are ready to help you find your own unique learner journey.
We continue to offer a full range of courses for school leavers right through to adult learners, whatever your entry point. You can start where you need to and pause or exit with a qualification when the time is right for you.
By putting you in control of your journey and enabling you to study from wherever you are, you can fit learning around other interests and commitments. Whether you can join us on campus, online or a combination of both, you won’t feel alone as our staff will support you every step of the way.
Our students are at the heart of all we do. Our blended learning approach has connected our student community here and across the world for over 20 years, and we can connect you to fellow students, lecturers, and support services through our:
video conferencing and online technologies
face-to-face teaching and support (when and where it is safe to do so)
By Alana MacLeod, Curriculum Development and Employer Engagement Officer University of the Highlands and Islands
So…what is mentoring, and what are the benefits?
The term has ancient Greek origin! However, it has been adopted by the English language as the term for someone who imparts wisdom and shares knowledge to aid another’s development. Finding ways to stay connected and supported is essential, especially in times like these when faced with uncertainty and change, from the way we study and the nature of employment, to the way we socialise and interact.
We all need champions, role models, and a supportive network to motivate us and to provide opportunities for further growth and development – these are valuable, positive, and powerful influences that can boost confidence, mental well-being and help prepare for future paths.
Why choose to join a business mentoring programme?
Iain Eisner, Careers Manager at the university, shares his view on what makes mentoring programmes so valuable to students.
From a career development perspective, one of the biggest benefits our students receive from mentoring is the sense of encouragement. Often, we can find ourselves stuck and unsure how to move forward. This can often be a confidence issue.
Having a mentor can help to advise on options to remove barriers, providing personalised support, encouragement, advice and can offer a different perspective. All of this makes confident decision making a lot easier and less daunting.
The benefits gained can be wide-ranging for students (and business mentors) that take part in mentoring arrangements and programmes, including:
access to in-depth information on trends, developments, and visibility of current or emerging jobs in the sector you want to work in
advice on how to transition from university to the workplace and gain valuable CV and interview advice, hints, and tips
exploring how to find employment, gain work experience, or get a placement in your sector of interest
enhancing and developing transferrable skills, whilst building a professional network
increasing your confidence and self-esteem – giving you a real sense of personal development
The first mentoring class of 2020
Despite the onset of Covid-19 challenges, students and business mentors completed this year’s three-month programme in April. Dr Iain Morrison, Dean of Students reflects on its success.
The group adapted remarkably and have emerged positively from the challenges that were presented by the introduction of lockdown half-way through the programme.
Our programme attracts employers and industry leaders from across the region from a range of very different organisations and sectors. Everyone found it a beneficial experience, both as a mentee and a mentor, remarking on how much they had learned and that it had been a powerful development experience.
Most significantly, students had gained further developed personal confidence to recognise their skills, had structured opportunities for personal reflection and growth to become clearer about what they want from their post-degree careers, and imagine their future no matter what hurdles are presented.
What did the student mentees say?
“This experience has allowed me to see that careers are not always linear and that every experience is valuable and can add to your career. In addition, I have gained valuable guidance on how to apply my skills in the third sector, as well as obtaining key contacts within the industry.” Natalie Dunbar, BA (Hons) Business Management with Marketing
“By being part of the programme, I now have more confidence and it made me feel comfortable and at ease in approaching people for advice. Being able to talk to and learn from an expert in the events industry was really valuable, as I know I am being guided in the right direction, by a person who already works in the sector I want to be in.” Kelly Muffet, BA (Hons) Event Management
“Listening to my mentor discussing his career path and how he got to where he is, was hugely impactful. I also gained new knowledge and specific information about the third sector, including practical signposts and resources on how to find employment opportunities.” BA (Hons) Business Management student
Why employers are helping to shape their skills pipeline?
Student are the workforce of the future. Our business mentors are passionate and actively get involved in the programme, giving their mentees an opportunity to openly discuss career aspirations, employability prospects and opportunities, and developments or trends in their areas of interest.
Mentors can often help you to re-imagine the roles and opportunities awaiting and help to identify work experience or employment opportunities. They can give you insights into their career path and experiences – how they got to where they are today and how to navigate through unexpected challenges.
One of this year’s mentors, David Bryan Hub Manager for the Highlands and Islands Social Enterprise Academy is one of the many businesses that recognise the importance of mentoring.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to provide some mentoring support to the university’s students over the last few months. I have been in this sector for a few decades now, but not that long that I can’t remember how utterly ‘stuck’ I was on completing university.
“How to get that first job? Where to be looking? Who to be speaking to? What to expect? Nothing like this was around 30 years ago. I hope I was able to share my own learning, as well as my commitment to a sector that is capable of changing the world.
How can I apply for a place on the University of the Highlands and Islands business mentoring programme?
Our students are at the heart of what we do. This means making sure that they have the tools and support needed to complete their qualifications and helping them to make plans to start, or continue, their education in the autumn, when we start the next academic year as planned.
The Business Mentoring Programme aligns with the university’s mission and the reasons for which we were established – yes, we provide international-class education and research, but we are also focused on meeting the needs of employers in our region and helping our students develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to build successful careers.
Applications for the 2020 business mentoring programme for mentors and mentees will open towards the end of the year – so keep an eye on the website and follow us (@UHICareers) more information. For help with your application, you can contact email@example.com or schedule an appointment using FutureMe.
The economic situation surrounding Covid-19 and the path to recovery will create a whole new set of opportunities in many sectors and industries. As a result, the nature of employment may change, but the university partnership stands ready to play a vital role in supporting the recovery of our region. We will continue to combine academic excellence with vocational training to equip our students with the skills that employers are looking for.
This programme is just one of the ways that we can encourage committed, passionate, and motivated students that can learn from employers, make important contacts, and find their opportunity to thrive in a 21st century workplace, with the confidence to excel.
Alana MacLeod is part of the Curriculum Development Employer Engagement team at the University of the Highlands and Islands and works closely with the employers and businesses across region. You can find out more about studying at the university by visiting the website.
As colleges and universities across the UK braced themselves for the suspension of face to face teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at Inverness College UHI we knew we were in a better position than most to adapt to this ‘new’ normal. After all, it is just what we do. Our staff have been delivering higher education courses to students across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership through a blended approach to teaching for over 20 years, connecting learners across a vast geographical area though a combination of video conferencing, remote learning technologies and face to face teaching. This innovative approach to learning and teaching is engrained in our culture and a key part of what makes our tertiary partnership of 13 colleges and research institutions so unique.
As programme leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice and Graduate Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare, my ‘old’ normal is the ‘new’ normal for so many educators as both courses are, and have always been, offered fully online. I am also responsible for delivering a Master’s module on the Theory and Practice of eLearning – my doctoral research and more recent projects focus on the experience of online learning and the nature of online authentic practice. I have also written and presented numerous papers on the subject of online learning and teaching across the world.
Over the past 15 years, I have often found myself in discussion with colleagues who believe they need to develop a new skillset to deliver learning and teaching remotely. However, from my experience, the technology is not the master that determines our success but rather it is the human connection within the online space and how we interact with our learners that matters. Often what is actually required is a change of mindset: the online context is just a different classroom space. Yes, of course, we do need to have an understanding of technology and the tools available, but our focus should be on creating a space that fosters connections and enables positive learning experiences.
I have coined the phrases ‘humanising the machine’ and ‘becoming more human’. Ultimately the key for delivering successfully online lies in an educator’s ability to build relationships and make connections: skills that lie at the heart of the learning and teaching process regardless of the context. It is human connections rather than the technology that promotes potential transformative learning experiences; the technology merely offers the platform in which these experiences take place.
More recently I have been considering the concept of ‘love-led practice’: where educators value their learners as fellow human beings, with their own unique characteristics, their own challenges and their own lives. Each learner comes with their own lived biographies. Our role as online educators is to acknowledge this and recognise the ways in which this affects the overall learning process for our students. It is therefore important that educators present a human online persona that aligns with who they are. This fosters an environment which is based on trust, creates a space that is warm, caring, and compassionate, and where learners feel safe to engage, learn and interact. Whether face-to-face or online, the experience of learning may cause discomfort for our students, it may push them out of their comfort zone. As an online educator you need support students to embrace the discomfort in an online space where they feel safe and secure to experience new things.
How you do this in a practical sense is down to you as an individual, but, there are simple things you can do like using your students’ names during your interactions online, getting to know them and regularly checking in – although you are not big brother, your role is not to ‘police’ the online space. Show your own personality – my cat and dogs regularly make an appearance – make your sessions fun, show humour, create a social environment for students, share content that resonates, ensure you stay connected, and above all, communicate how you feel and what you think. The online space is not a place to hide but rather to be present, open and recognise that as humans we are far from perfect. Being vulnerable makes us human and helps to break down the barriers students often face when they enter the online space. As an online educator, you should also never underestimate the impact the written word can have on learners.
In a world where people feel less connected to their friends, families and colleagues, becoming more human online is even more important as we navigate through this crisis.
Dr Alice Mongiello
Programme leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice and Graduate Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare
When I got my first email address at Aberdeen University in 1977 we thought it was SO cool. We actually said, “This is great, but what can we use it for?” We finally used it to keep in touch with student parties – the earliest online social media?
When I returned to Lewis in 1982, I began to work with Rurtel, a text-based online conferencing system developed by the University of Guelph in Canada. My introduction to it was through my involvement with the Arkleton Trust for rural development and I still remember the excitement in the house when we first saw the messages coming in on our international conference.
Delivering our first online courses
When I delivered the first online course from Lews Castle College UHI in 1993, it was Rurtel that we used. That EU-funded course was on ‘tourism and heritage for rural development’ and the participants were (specifically) young women drawn from every area of the Highlands and Islands. We thought that we were very advanced (and so we were), but the online connectivity that we have today is like comparing NASA with stone-age technology. Nevertheless, it was a successful proof of concept and though the University of the Highlands and Islands did not exist in its present form, it helped to establish the subsequent thinking for the developing network of colleges.
Very soon after this, when the word wide web became publicly accessible, we began to develop digital resources for the university’s first networked degree, our undergraduate programme in rural development studies. Those first online modules were uploaded straight onto the new web, with no ‘Blackboard’ or ‘Brightspace’ and no password protection required! The web resources and navigation were rudimentary (remember Netscape?), but essentially it did most of what we do today, although not quite as smoothly.
Two things happened very quickly: local students began working from home (or the college library) and attendance at lectures became pretty relaxed and optional. Secondly, we began to get requests for places on the course from further and further afield. Fortunately, as the embryo University of the Highlands and Islands was flexible and innovative on scant resources, this move online was regarded as an institutional opportunity, rather than a threat. The rest is the detail of history.
Coronavirus – adjusting to the new normal
In the late Spring of 2020, as we sit at home trying to work online, it has become a different environment entirely. Suddenly there are fewer options for learning and teaching. Suddenly, even colleagues who have been reticent to put anything online are seeing the advantages of being able to use educational technology to communicate in a semi-normal way with students and other staff members.
The massive changes and challenges of responses to COVID-19 are facing millions of individuals, businesses and organisations, but, unlike most, the University of the Highlands and Islands has a long history of adapting to the culture-change that is required for online design. This is a crucial issue, for surprisingly the technological matters are relatively easy to resolve, but the ability (and willingness) of many people to make the cultural adaptions to new ways of thinking is notoriously more difficult.
As I move into my eleventh week of working from home, I have made several key observations. Firstly, most of my workload continues as normal (without the commute and chats in corridors) as much of what I normally do is online anyway. All my teaching is through our virtual learning environment, Brightspace and most tutorial discussions with research students are by video conference, as are most of my network meetings and committees. The frequency of video conference meetings has stepped up a notch, because there are few other options, but the flexibility and the brevity of (most) meetings is better and more focussed. There are occasional ‘catch-up’ meetings with colleagues in the university and other institutions that would normally rarely happen, as many people are reaching out to colleagues to check how they are and to replicate in some form the randomness of chats over the group printer or the office kettle.
There are three BIG changes that have happened over the last couple of months, almost without us noticing them (unless they affect you directly!)
Online learning is becoming mainstream
Firstly, tutor online learning communications with students, between the students themselves and among groups of education professionals has (almost) become normalised. From being an ‘alternative’, it has become mainstream and some of the anticipated demons and obstacles have faded or disappeared. True, there are individual technology glitches and online design issues that remain to be resolved, but the sting has been taken out of the tail. Every week we see universities across the globe rushing to consider moving their work online. Some will manage this successfully, others will crash and burn because they are not prepared, culturally or technologically, for such a move.
The University of the Highlands and Islands has the advantage that many colleagues have been embracing online delivery for many years. We have seen the future and we know that it can be a very effective, worthwhile and enjoyable experience, both for students and staff members (and not just academic teaching staff). Radically, students are setting up their own networks and even inviting their own guest lectures. The prospects for personal development and heutagogy (self-determined learning) have never been better.
News opportunities for connection and collaboration
Secondly, the shift online means that I am now even MORE connected with the wider world of academia than I was previously. Colleagues in many disciplines have opened up their seminars, shared their guest lecturers (both internal and external to the University of the Highlands and Islands) and encouraged interdisciplinary contributions in a way that has rarely happened before on such a networked platform. In the past month I have sat in on a dozen interesting sessions on topics that are not my mainstream discipline and, in most of them, I have received (and contributed) knowledge in ways that have inspired me.
There is now a realisation that this interchange of ideas does not need to end with the cessation of lockdown. We have the technology, we have the will and now we have the cultural capacity to engage in new ways of thinking and working that can be both specialist and interdisciplinary. With some careful planning and an open attitude, the University of the Highlands and Islands may be able to take academic networking within the Highlands and Islands (and beyond) to unprecedented levels of accomplishment.
Online meetings support geographical inclusivity
Thirdly, there have been several discussions on social media which note ruefully that the road from south to north seems longer than the same road from north to south – similarly from west to east. The geographic argument of population numbers and transport links that make Inverness, Edinburgh, and Glasgow (to name but three cities) venues of convenience for meetings of physical networks and committees, is now destabilised.
While colleagues in the Central Belt, London or even Inverness, can ‘pop into’ meeting rooms to benefit from collegial meetings, those of us who live in the islands and the decentralised mainland are effectively handicapped by high fares and high time costs. (I am often surprised that colleagues who are so empathetic to equality issues in other ways are so blind to geographical exclusivity). Most full-day meetings on the mainland require at least one overnight (adding to the cost) and need to be considered carefully for the cost/benefit ratio. Although many mainland venues may have the video conference facilities, they only rarely prioritise this option for access (and frequently have such poor awareness of video-conferencing training that any benefit is ruined).
Now many are on the fast-track to learning the new online etiquette as universities, small businesses, third sector organisations and even governments are being compelled to use this means of communication if their members are going to meet at all. Many are finding it incredibly efficient and cost-effective. Whether this revelation becomes sufficiently embedded to survive and thrive beyond the immediate lockdown will be interesting to observe.
For my part, as an early convert, I would prefer not to regress to old ways.
For now, what was once ordinary is now extraordinary. We have found ourselves entering into a world where our daily routine has been disrupted and we’re discovering new definitions for the meaning of normality.
So, what do we do with our time now that we are forced to stay at home? Although the future remains very uncertain, there are some things you can do right now to help you prepare for life after university or college. We recognise that students will be adapting to new ways of working and dealing with the pressures that brings, but this situation also presents some opportunities.
Why not capitalise on this unique place we find ourselves, embrace this downtime, use the extra time constructively and emerge from the other side of it motivated, prepared and ready for whatever our new normal may be? For once, we actually have the time to reflect on what fuels us, how we want to make our mark on the world and how we can best become ‘future-fit’.
“Future-fit is being ready and prepared for whatever challenges you may face and never giving up in the face of adversity. It’s about being strong, confident, focused and determined to succeed” – University of the Highlands and Islands student
“I can become future-fit by understanding my own needs and how I can best express them in the world, without being compromised or compromising the needs of others” – University of the Highlands and Islands student
Iain and Helen from the university careers team offer a range of support, information and guidance which is available to all students through the FutureMe service. To help you navigate this unusual situation, they have also put together a list of eight ways you can maximise your time during lockdown.
1. Identify your incentive and recognise your skills
What gets you up in the morning? Use this break in your regular routine to think about your future career. If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at the Career Centre website for a range of self-help resources, exercises and activities.
Or why not attend a webinar jointly organised by the careers team and HISA – one will look at ways to make the most of lockdown and the other aims to identify what’s in your virtual ‘skills rucksack’. These webinars might help you recognise what drives you and look at ways you can align your values and beliefs into your future career path and decision making. Find out more about these webinars in the events section of FutureMe.
This could also be a time to reflect on what you are learning about yourself during lockdown and your style and approach to study – do you prefer a structured or unstructured day? Are you spending more or less time on social media or watching TV? How do you feel you dealing with the new normal?
2. Revisit networking
Social distancing doesn’t stop you networking, in fact, it’s more important than ever. We are all reaching out more, not just with family and friends, but with fellow students, old friends and work colleagues.
So, connect, keep in touch and turn the extra time to your advantage by joining virtual groups which you may not have prioritised before.
You could even set up your own group or take part in one of the many virtual careers fairs, conferences and webinars being organised across the world. Ways to network
3. Perfect your CV
This is especially important if you’ve recently been furloughed or had your contract terminated. If you’ve been made redundant, then you might be thinking about making a fresh start and getting yourself ready for applying for new roles. There are things you can do to lay the groundwork now and strengthen your CV. And, if you need a little guidance, you can get some help and feedback by connecting with the university careers team through FutureMe.
4. Practise video interviewing
Coronavirus aside, this is becoming the new norm for interviewing. Familiarising yourself with how this scenario works is good for your confidence so that when your next interview happens over Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, you’ll be in a strong position. Tips for video interview preparation
5. Gain some virtual work experience
With a high chance for us not being able to resume our normal life for a few months, some of you may need to re-think your plans for the summer.
Consider having a look at virtual internships (more and more organisations are offering these) or draft an email introducing yourself to companies you would like to work for to see what might be on offer.
Or how about some freelance work using some of the skills that you already have, such as online tutoring or editing? Or perhaps you can find an organisation or company to volunteer with – there has never been more demand for it than now and this will give you skills and experience much valued by employers, as well as giving back to your community. Signposting to volunteering opportunities
6. Look into LinkedIn and build your online brand
This is one activity you won’t regret in the enforced downtime, as LinkedIn becomes more popular than ever (currently more than 660 million users). As well as getting your LinkedIn profile up to scratch, remember to connect with the university LinkedIn account.
Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to have conversations about your passions and interests. If you enjoy books, share your latest reading. You can always start your own project, share your enthusiasm and show off your expertise online through a blog, podcast or a YouTube channel. This way, you will be developing a highly employable online brand for yourself.
7. Explore post-coronavirus options
No idea about what to do with your life after you complete your studies? Or you know which sector you want to go into, but you lack details about which roles you could perform in it? Do you already know what you want to do, but feel unsure about how to get there?
Career research can help you with all of these, because becoming more knowledgeable about what the labour market has on offer for you will help with your career development.
Drop an email to that company whose projects intrigue and interest you. Inform yourself about what it takes to enter a certain profession and contrast your findings with your own interests, skills and values. Then decide if you want to give it a go by gaining some work experience in that area or simply move to the next job on your list.
8. Adapt to whatever comes next, be resilient
Remember that this list is just a guide and that you don’t need to do all of it to be successful in your career. Your starting point should always be to keep yourself safe and sound, perhaps followed by asking yourself a few questions about your career motivations and priorities to determine which options are more appropriate for the path ahead.
We don’t know what’s going to happen to the job market in the future and we don’t know how this pandemic will affect our careers.
What we do know is that there will still be jobs available for you out there once a sense of normality returns, so maybe the best approach is to steer through this current situation in whatever way feels right for you, not worrying too much about what the future has in store for us, while doing your best to continue to develop skills that may prove to be key. Remember that a bright future awaits you and that by preparing now you will reap the rewards.
“Being Future-Fit means preparing myself to adapt to changes in the workplace, by being motivated to learn new skills, by using new tools and techniques and by being ready for tomorrow.” – University of the Highlands and Islands student
Career Centre – Still open, online and here for you
There has never been a better time to make use of university Career Centre. We are still open and all our services are available online. We can support you in your career development, help you plan and prepare and, most importantly, we can help you polish your employability skills and guide you while you make sense of your current situation, tailoring our advice and guidance to you and your unique career aspirations. Get in touch today through FutureMe or contact Iain or Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lessons in lockdown – preparing for the new normal
Dr Sarah-Anne Munoz, a Reader in Rural Health and Wellbeing at the University of the Highlands and Islands, considers some of ways COVID-19 is affecting our rural communities.
Over the last four weeks of lockdown, I have been acutely aware that I am in a very privileged position – an academic who can work from home for a university that was perhaps more prepared than most to shift to totally online working and teaching.
COVID-19 has, however, had major impacts on my day-to-day life. I miss working alongside my team in the Centre for Health Science and the ability to carry out ‘in person’ research – as a qualitative researcher my main tools are interviews, focus groups and participant observation.
Before COVID-19, I took press enquiries about issues such as improving primary care in rural areas and how to facilitate mental wellbeing among the rural population – concerns that are very close to my heart. The last few weeks have seen that shift to being asked to comment on how rural communities will cope with COVID-19 and what the potential long-term impacts for rural communities and residents will be.
As researchers, my team and I have had to respond to a host of funding calls asking us to put our social science expertise to use in the fight against COVID-19.
This has seen the Division of Rural Health and Wellbeing team spending much of the last four weeks identifying the key concerns for rural residents and communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have applied for funding (in partnership with the James Hutton Institute, Voluntary Health Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the National Rural Mental Health Forum) to progress research in some of these areas and we are actively seeking further collaborative work.
We thought it may be useful to share some of our reflections and questions with you – these are the things that we suggest need to be addressed by research and policy.
The mental health and wellbeing of frontline NHS staff in rural areas
The current crisis has potential negative mental health implications for all frontline NHS staff and it’s vital that we seek ways to support their mental resilience. Particular attention needs to be paid to those working in rural areas where teams are often small and lone working can be the norm. Rural healthcare staff are often intimately embedded into local communities and will inevitably be providing care for their friends, neighbours and loved ones. It’s important to understand how we can best support these staff through the current crisis and with any longer-term impacts on their mental wellbeing.
People living with long-term conditions in rural areas
We need to understand the current and potential future impacts of COVID-19 on those people living with (often multiple) long-term conditions within rural areas, particularly as levels of anxiety and depression are likely to increase. Social isolation may be compounded as levels and durations of formal care are reduced. It will be really important to understand how to reach those living with long-term conditions in rural areas during the lockdown and how best to support them when this is over.
The rural third sector
Third sector and voluntary organisations do a lot to support the social, cultural and economic fabric of rural life. Many of these organisations were already operating ‘on a shoestring’ before the lockdown and the loss of income from sources such as paid for services, grants and donations has the potential to force rural organisations to close. Many rural third sector and voluntary organisations rely heavily on retired and older volunteers – these are some of the people most at risk from COVID-19 and likely to have to remain shielded for the longest time. Third sector and voluntary organisations provide vital services in rural areas – often where there is no private or public alternative – such as transport services. It will be important to capture the impact on the rural third sector and support as many vital organisations to survive as possible.
Rural economic resilience
We are already seeing big impacts on the rural economy. Many rural residents are self-employed or part of small businesses – these are likely to be hardest hit by lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural areas are also heavily reliant on tourism income, which has entirely dried up. A loss of economic resilience within rural communities will have huge implications for residents’ mental health and wellbeing.
The longer-term effects of social distancing
But it’s not all bad. The Rural Services Network has brought together some examples of how rural communities in England are “working together” to mitigate the negative impacts and we know that similar initiatives are taking place throughout rural Scotland: https://rsnonline.org.uk/covid-19-rural-communities-pulling-together-week-2 . We are hearing informal stories about rural residents rediscovering local outdoor spaces that they had previously considered to be ‘just for tourists’; about levels of volunteerism and neighbourliness increasing; about people ‘meeting’ neighbours over the garden fence or having a conversation through an open window (at an appropriate social distance) for the first time. We hope that capturing and understanding these more ‘positive’ impacts of the current crisis can also from part of our ongoing work.
Research on the impacts of COVID-19 in rural communities is led within the University of the Highlands and Islands Division of Rural Health and Wellbeing by Dr Sarah-Anne Munoz (Reader in Rural Health and Wellbeing), Dr Mark Grindle (Senior Lecturer in Digital Health), Dr Janet Heaton (Research Fellow, Sociology), Dr Sara Bradley (Research Fellow, Social Gerontology), Dr Hannes De Kock (Research Fellow, Psychology) and Dr Ania Zubala (Research Fellow, Arts Therapy).
As the University of the Highlands and Islands prepares to launch Scotland’s first new optometry degree in 50 years, lecturer Judith Banks explains why the profession has so much to offer and why Scotland is leading the way in providing world-class eye care.
I am no longer a particularly young person, but I remember clearly (for the most part) my school days, my time as an undergraduate and the twenty years of my career to-date. It was quite a different proposition to the challenges, opportunities and technological developments that young people and career changers face today.
My field is optometry and I think it’s safe to say that some of the advances made in this area would have been hard for most of us to accurately predict two decades ago.
Traditionally, optometrists would largely be involved in assessing someone’s need for spectacles or contact lenses, providing these and detecting any disease or abnormality, with a view to referring to an eye clinic.
Over time, this role has evolved and optometrists can now offer a wealth of services. More eye conditions can be diagnosed and managed within a community practice setting. Some optometrists have additional qualifications to allow them to prescribe medicines and treatments, rather than referring to a GP or ophthalmologist. There is, in some areas, an opportunity to work in increasingly extended roles.
Technology too has moved forward, with tests like optical coherence tomography, where the layers of the retina (which are structures that are not normally visible) can now be imaged and inspected at your high street optometry practice. This has offered great advances in the care of those diagnosed with certain eye conditions and reduced the need for other, more invasive procedures.
As more of us live longer and more treatments and technologies become available, there will doubtless be increased demand on eyecare services. Hospital departments such as accident and emergency and eye clinics are already overstretched, and optometry is well placed to make a significant contribution towards addressing this issue. We can forge ahead with further evolving and refining the services we can offer and continue to support our patients and our hospital services. While there are challenges, this offers exciting opportunities. Indeed, it has been suggested that optometry practices could become “hubs of care in the community.”
Scotland has led the way with this, taking a big step forward in 2006 when universal, publicly funded eye examinations were made available to the entire population of Scotland, without means testing. In tandem with this, a new contract for delivering these services was negotiated with the Scottish Government. This required all optometrists offering NHS work to undergo additional assessment and required that all practices be equipped to a similar standard, in order to offer even more comprehensive eye health assessments to the public.
NHS Grampian went further, launching the Eye Health Network, which further embedded optometrists as a first port of call for patients with acute eye care needs. This service uses formal agreed protocols to achieve consistency of care, with support for optometrists from a Clinical Decision Unit. Audit of results has shown that it relieves pressure on the hospital eye clinic and on local GP practices. And so, we have already seen practices become the first port of call for many patients who would previously have gone straight to their GP or accident and emergency unit. It showcases what optometry can already offer from a public health perspective.
However, despite the introduction of comprehensive eye examinations which are free at the point of need, uptake of this service varies. Research undertaken by the University of Aberdeen has shown that less people access eyecare from an optometrist in poorer socio-economic areas. Research by Glasgow Caledonian University has previously shown that access to an optometrist is fairly evenly available across all socio-economic areas. This suggests that another important area for optometry to explore is how to promote uptake of our services in areas where this has not traditionally been the case, identifying possible barriers and working to break them down.
The rate of change and the challenges of predicting how future services will look will probably require all of us to have a flexible approach, hone our problem-solving skills and think creatively. Of course, many optometry professionals do this to a great degree anyway, but nonetheless, it can be challenging to keep pace with change.
Change is also afoot in the realm of optometry education, with the University of the Highlands and Islands developing a new BSc (Hons) optometry degree, due to welcome its first cohort of students in September 2020. There are many strands to the decision to develop this programme, including a dearth of optometrists across the Highlands, widening access to the profession and offering a programme that has a special interest in remote and rural practice.
Optometry is a discipline which has so much to offer; the opportunity to help others, diverse career opportunities, continued learning and development, scientific advances and research opportunities. It is a profession which has taken great strides over the last decades and, in Scotland, it can look forward to continuing to be at the forefront of delivering world class eye care services.