Work Study Balance

Stipend Ambassador, Zoe Grasby, shares advice on maintaining a good balance when it comes to studies and work opportunities, especially now we are studying and working online

How long have you been an ambassador for and how has your experience changed over time?

I’ve been a stipend ambassador since September 2019, having learned of the opportunity via an email that told me I was still eligible for the Stipend scheme, despite having missed the boat on applying for it previously due to being a UCAS Clearing student. So, that was definitely a welcome surprise.

I struggled at first – of course, I did, it was another new thing in my new University chapter. Using public transport to make my way to all these schools I hadn’t heard of before was terrifying; meeting new ambassadors and office staff even more so. But, I was so excited about everything I was doing, it kept me strong and motivated to get those hours in.

It also helped a lot when I did make friends. It’s not easy, especially right now, but there are so many ways to reach out and maintain contact. I met one of my friends at one of my first events and swapped social media handles at the end of it. Thereafter, we spent a few months messaging here and there online – until we regularly started attending things like the Stipend Meeting together, and really bonded over our shared experiences in Outreach work, as well as both being carers. I’m grateful every day that I have someone to talk to about balancing those kind of things. What made that connection really was keeping in touch over social media and checking in about whether the other person would be at x or y event. There’s never any harm in asking the ambassadors you encounter if they’d like to stay in contact.

When you see a work opportunity go live that you are interested in doing, what is your process in applying?

My first step (after going on HEAT) is going to be pulling up my online calendar – as well as my Moodle course pages. It makes sense to apply for an event on a day you have no seminars or commitments to worry about, but it might end up being your last free day before a major essay deadline.  It’s great if you can manage lots of different things at once, but make sure you never feel like you’re pitting your work and degree against each other.

When I do apply, I always make sure to write in the notes as prompted or to give additional information about why I think I’d be good for the role. For example, it’s a good idea to include in your notes that you study, say, English Literature, if there’s an upcoming event or series of workshops for young English students.

Have you ever found that University work has become overwhelming and you have had to slow down on the amount of work opportunities you accept? If so, how do you overcome this?

100%, and for me, it wasn’t just University coursework. It’s everything you get swept up into – societies, hobbies, new friendships, and relationships, whilst navigating mental health in the chaos of it all. What helped for me was keeping organised, but also not adding too much to my plate. I was also lucky to have other people around to give advice and support. Due to my Disabled Student’s Allowance, I have mentoring weekly, as well as a disability advisor, and solid mental health support links – it meant when things were getting too much, and I wanted to take the world off my shoulders, we could sit down and work out not what I wanted to do, but what I needed to do and could realistically achieve.

The important thing is communication and transparency. People will make accommodations, so don’t let things snowball. It’s always better to tackle things on – but don’t worry, it’s never too late to come back from things, either. Keep in close contact with someone from the office, whether that’s your mentor if you’re a Stipend Ambassador, a member of the safeguarding team (Shauna is one contact) or anyone at the other end of the or emails. They wouldn’t be in this line of work if they didn’t care about and understand what student welfare means.

Big point here: If you need a break, take a break!! There’s always more time to get your hours in when other things in your life are feeling more settled. For now, relax. You’re appreciated no matter the work you’re able to put in.

What does it mean to you to have a good work and life balance?

Everything. As someone who was only diagnosed with ADHD this year, I’m still figuring out what it means for me. Because work and life balance really is unique to the individual. I have some friends who get everything done well ahead of time, in structured blocks that run from 6am to 9pm.

One symptom of ADHD is time-blindness, which means you can over or underestimate how long it will take to do things. That’s anything from a piece of coursework to an Outreach assignment. In tackling this, I didn’t change everything about how I work, I didn’t start doing things days in advance. That’s not always realistic when you’re dealing with a learning disability, or a mental health problem, or carer responsibilities, or any number of things that can be going on in a student’s life! Instead, I’ve made a point of adding at least an hour to everything I do. If I get things done quicker, great, but it’s compensating for the fact I’m not always accurate with my planning.

No matter how you balance things, and how others judge you on it, it’s about how you feel at the end of the day. Are you happy about how things turned out? Is there anything you could work on going forward?

Can you give any tips for ambassadors that are new to the scheme, on the best ways to fit in work opportunities whilst not negatively affecting Uni work?

Combine schedules with a to-do list to help you better divide your tasks. Printables and/or apps are great for this. It’s wonderfully easy to google anything like ‘project planner’ or ‘work schedule’ etc. plus ‘free printable’ and find what you’re looking for. The Tiimo app is also great for time management, especially for neurodiverse students.

Always keep in touch with Outreach and your fellow ambassadors. If you’re struggling to make contact, check out the Facebook group or send an email to outreach.

What jobs have you found are the most fulfilling, and what sort of jobs have you found that are accessible to complete whilst maybe working on a deadline for an essay/submitting coursework/reading lots of material for your course?

The most fulfilling work is with students, as you’re getting immediate feedback from everything you do. Helping students work together, congratulating them on their progress, sharing your own experiences with a course a student is looking into.

Most accessible, however, is the admin and behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s not always great for me to always be on webcam – a few weeks ago, my brother nearly barged into my room whilst I was talking to students. So, it’s nice to do things at your own pace like voice recording scripts, or compiling documents in Adobe. Keep an eye out on HEAT, and there’s never any harm in reaching out to Outreach directly to offer any help.