Introducing PGR Study Advisers in Economics, and beyond! 

Emma Mayhew, Associate Dean (Education) and Alex Mandilaras, School of Economics 

Last year we knew that some Economics students were struggling with study and writing skills, especially as they transitioned into higher education. We wanted to explore new ways of supporting our students so we created a new role, an ‘Economics Study Advisor’.  

We wanted this adviser to be a postgraduate research student who would be able to offer study and writing skills advice to any foundation, UG or PGT student. It was important that the PGR students came from within the disciplinary area and we were also aware that some students felt more comfortable speaking with a PGR student rather than their own lecturer or personal tutor. The ideas was that the Adviser would run two hours of sessions each week. Students would be able to pre book short slots within those hours. 

So we created a job description and sent out an open call to all PGRs within the School asking for expressions of interest. A panel agreed a candidate and informed Unitemps. Our new Study Adviser started a few days later, during the second semester in 2020-21. 

Although the DLT remained the key contact point, the new Study Adviser was trained and mentored by the Library and Learning Development team so that they had a good understanding of the boundaries of the role. They also knew when and how students could be signposted to additional support outside of the school. We wanted this to be a joined up institutional approach.  

Our new Advisor advertised her role and hours to all the students and they were popular. Students asked Maria to help them with a range of issues including time management, essay structures, referencing, revision methods, study techniques, searching for data, managing to work effectively with the amount of material provided within hybrid education, exam preparation and revision strategies. Students fed back that she had brought more structure into their work, helped their confidence and highlighted a range of resources available to them that they didn’t know about. Library and Learning Development colleagues reported an increase in Economics students accessing Academic Skills and Development, and Maths and Statistics Advice, following our Advisers recommendations. 

Reflecting on our experience we could see that the success of project depended on the individual appointed. We needed to appoint a PGR student who had the knowledge and experience to advise students but who could also show initiative and willingness to establish the role and ensure that there was widespread awareness among students of their availability. It was really important to provide focused training and to ensure that our Adviser had a consistent point of contact and continued to be supported throughout. We also learned the value of setting up the right kind of booking system. And the limitations of Microsoft Forms. We are also now looking to establish a FASS PGR Study Advisers group to share experiences and provide mutual support. 

We were really pleased with this initial pilot, so we have extended the approach to two other larger schools in FASS in 2021-2022. We will continue to evaluate the impact of the Study Adviser role and have a plan to more thoroughly collate evidence of impact towards the end of the academic year. We’ll be able to share this with any interested colleagues who might like to try this idea in their own schools or departments! 

For more information contact Emma Mayhew