In response to student feedback FoNS has created a new faculty-level wellbeing function to enhance student wellbeing support.
The new Faculty of Natural Sciences (FoNS) wellbeing service has evolved in response to student feedback, such as that communicated via Student Reps at Faculty-Student-Staff committee meetings, and the most recent NSS results.
We sat down for a chat with our two new FoNS Wellbeing Advisors – Anna Goodwin and Ella Robson – to find out more about the ways in which they'll be supporting students, and how this fits in alongside the wellbeing support that’s available within departments and across College.
Hi both! Why have your roles been created at faculty-level, and what support will you be offering FoNS students?
Anna: Part of the rationale for us being based within faculty rather than departments is that it provides students with a channel of support outside of their academic team. We’ll be looking at student wellbeing from a slightly different perspective, providing a consistent experience across FoNS in relation to the support students receive within their departmental communities and from other central support teams. If a student has concerns, but they don’t necessarily feel like they need a specialist central service – they want to chat to someone, but they don’t want to involve their personal tutors – we’re another option.
Ella: Our work will be very varied – including one-to-one meetings with students, developing resources and training sessions for both students and student-facing staff, and working with departmental and central teams across College. Over the summer we’ve been on a wellbeing fact-finding mission, internally to map out what's already happening within Imperial, as well as looking externally at what's going on across the higher education sector more generally. We don't want to just duplicate the great things that are being done by other teams in College, so our service will develop as we learn how best to compliment all the other channels of support available.
Tell us more about the one-to-one sessions – what can students expect and how do they book?
Anna: FoNS students can email us to book a session, and we’ll find a convenient time for a chat – either online or in person. They can also be referred by a member of staff. These appointments offer a confidential space where a student can offload their thoughts and worries, ask questions, raise concerns or seek information. They might arrive and simply say, “I don’t feel great – I don't know why and I'm not quite sure what to do”. That's fine. The only time we would need to break confidentiality is if there was a real concern about the student's safety either towards themselves or somebody else, which is standard procedure. They don’t need to inform their department or personal tutor that they’ve come for a chat, unless they want us to reach out to their department for support for any reason.
Ella: It’s really important to reach out if you’re feeling overwhelmed, lonely, stressed, confused, low, or you just need a chat to reorient yourself. Some students feel that there needs to be a specific or urgent reason to get in contact, but there’s absolutely no harm in coming to us for a one-to-one check in. Sometimes it’s not one particular thing, or a crisis situation – it's just a general feeling of dissatisfaction. Anna and I are here as much for an informal chat, to help you untangle thoughts, throw ideas around and articulate the feelings you might be experiencing, as we are for more focused support with specific problems. We have no expectations of what the conversation should be, and no topic is too minor! If it’s on your mind and it’s bugging you, get in touch.
You don’t have to be in crisis mode to seek help – in fact, you shouldn’t wait until it gets to that point. Come to us for a chat. Anna Goodwin FoNS Wellbeing Advisor
Anna: The focus is on helping students to identify steps they can take so they leave feeling empowered to either seek further information, or try out a new skill or a strategy. It's not a counselling session, or a therapeutic intervention, but if that’s something that the student thinks might be helpful we can direct them to that kind of specialist support. A follow-up session may be offered if appropriate, or if there’s something else they want to discuss. Sometimes it can be about helping someone to develop a language around emotion and communicating their feelings that aren’t to do with their academic lives – giving people the space and opportunity to verbalise what’s going on, which may not be evident on the surface.
You don’t have to be in crisis mode to seek help – in fact, you shouldn’t wait until it gets to that point. Come to us for a chat – it might be that just a single conversation helps clear your mind. We might look at the ways in which you can make a plan of action that you can adapt as necessary to fit your interests and lifestyle. Remember though, if you are experiencing a crisis there are always people you can contact for urgent support.
Why is it important for students to be aware of warning signs that indicate they might need to take a step back and reach out for some help?
Ella: I’ve had many conversations with students who tell me that they haven’t got time to take an evening off for a cinema trip or to cook a nice meal with housemates, or even just to go for a walk or call a friend – but these periods of time out are as important as the time spent with your head down in the library. We all know in theory what we need to do to stay healthy – having a good sleep schedule, taking study breaks to get fresh air, doing a food shop so that you can eat well, checking in with loved ones – but it can be so easy to get caught up in your studies and let these everyday activities slip in practice.
Anna: There are so many factors that play into being successful in your studies, whatever that means for the individual. The process of adjustment after the summer holidays might be even more intense this year, as students try – like the rest of us – to navigate a life outside of pandemic lockdowns, and periods of unusual isolation or disruption because of COVID-19. For new first year students who’ve never lived away from home before the first term can sometimes be overwhelming – a big life change that requires them to get their heads around a lot of new information in one go. They may feel like they’ve been thrown into a very unfamiliar environment where they're having to make new friends, sign up to lots of new social activities, learn their way around campus, manage finances, develop life skills and alongside all that be a good student who seamlessly meets the step-change in academic requirements between school and university.
Students sometimes [feel] a pressure to be at the top of their game all the time. It makes sense to want to do your best, but it's also important to make your approach to studying sustainable. Ella Robson FoNS Wellbeing Advisor
Ella: Imperial students are all embarking on academically rigorous degree programmes, so there are lots of demands on their headspace in terms of study pressures. It's quite natural to dive right in and make big plans. It might be easy to keep the momentum going in the first term, but then find yourself completely exhausted after Christmas, or during second term exams. The pace will change throughout the academic year, with different stages and deadlines to negotiate, so being able to sustainably manage your studies around everything else that's going on in your life is actually quite a big ask.
Beyond that first term – or first year even – the pressures evolve. Students can sometimes find themselves dealing with things like impostor syndrome, and a pressure to be at the top of your game all the time. It makes sense to want to do your best, but it's also important to make your approach to studying sustainable, and to ensure that that you look after your wellbeing so that you can put yourself in the best position to make the most of your time here. Studying is a huge part of the Imperial journey, but it’s by no means the only part. To make the most of it, take advantage of all of the resources and support on offer.
Why is it rewarding for students to make time for extra-curricular activities, like the FoNS-MAD competition, and Enterprise Lab initiatives?
Ella: It's really important to reflect on your schedule, not only to assess how busy you are at certain points in the year and see what deadlines and work commitments are coming up, but also to create space in the diary to look after yourself in different ways. Making time for extra-curricular projects, like FoNS-MAD or getting involved as a volunteer at an Imperial Lates event for example, are great ways to expand your social network and learn more about the broader context of science, which can feed back into your studies in unforeseen ways.
Anna: Establishing a sense of belonging at university may seem to happen automatically for some people, but it might not for others for a variety of reasons. That sense of genuinely being part of a community is so important for all of us, whether we're staff or students. We're here to help students develop a sense of belonging if they're not able to find the extra-curricular activities and networks that are in line with their interests.
How will you support staff whose role involves student support?
Ella: We’ve been developing training for student-facing staff, that reflects on some of the difficulties students might be facing – particularly negotiating issues stemming from the pandemic, or transitioning out of lockdowns and how these events might impact their studies in various way. In future we’re hoping to offer shorter workshops that are focused on particular topics, such as the ways in which tutors can support students experiencing mental health difficulties.
Anna: We hope the workshops give tutors chance to reflect on the student wellbeing aspects of their roles – when a student is there in the room with you seeking advice, as a tutor it's good to feel confident about knowing how to help them navigate their issues.
Ella: This is a new service – we want to make sure it’s useful and expect that what we offer will evolve. We’re very open to listening to feedback from staff, so that we can develop workshops that meet their needs and fit into their incredibly busy schedules.
What’s the best bit about the job?
Ella: I love supporting students during their academic journey and being able to see how much they've achieved by the time they reach graduation. It’s rewarding to work in a role that helps people access the right support, that enables them to manage whatever they're dealing with around their studies, and ultimately just make the best out of their time here at Imperial.
Anna: Agreed! There's a lot of great wellbeing work happening in different areas of the College, and Imperial is such a respected institution – it’s been really interesting to consider student support within this environment and identify what its particular challenges are. It feels like a great opportunity to shape a new service that enhances the support already available in other areas of the College.
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Faculty of Natural Sciences