Last week, I had my final shift after six months as a Study Skills Leader within the Study Skills Centre of King's College London's libraries. For three hours a week, I helped students to improve their academic writing skills.
The following is what I learnt.
This is an obvious one but you would be surprised at how many people do not actually put this in to practice, most likely because it requires a lot of time + patience! Handing someone an answer is an unhealthy way of helping. Guiding a person away from the wrong answer will lead them to the right one. It must, however, be noted that sometimes there is no right answer, which is why it is important to let a person come to a conclusion that is logical to you + them, based on evidence. The best way to guide is to ask questions.
Most of the time, what is obvious to you is not obvious to someone else. Learning this in recent years is in fact what has given me confidence to speak up + ask questions in research meetings. This is also why I included the previous point!
The same point works in reverse: what is obvious to others may not be obvious to me. It is because of this that I was able to learn so much from the students that visited me. I learnt about the history of the United Nations; a lot about nutrition + even about teaching algorithmic thinking to school students!
Life as an undergraduate student is tough. Of course, I have been though this myself from 2010-2013, however, it is a feeling you forget until you witness someone else going through it. I also think as time goes on, it is only getting tougher. There is more competition, there are more students, and there are less resources. Helping students is not like a business transaction. Sometimes they enter the room with tears in their eyes, or indeed leave the room with them after they have opened up to you; I have experienced both. Helping people without getting too emotionally involved or getting too personal is an art. I wouldn't say I have mastered it, but this job helped me to develop this skill significantly.
No matter how comfortable or informal a student is with you, always be professional. I pride myself in being professional pretty much all the time. However, sometimes when we see others behaving informally we feel comfortable enough to do so ourselves. Maintain a standard and never allow yourself to slip - that way you will have no regrets.
This is another obvious one but helping people feels so good. I only worked for three hours a week + I only saw each student for 45 minutes (sometimes it did end up being two hours!) but it amazed me how many students left the room with a smile + said that the session helped. As each session was so short, a realistic aim would be for them to learn one new and small thing.
That brings me nicely on to my final two points: the two most common things that I believe students were reminded of by me:
Create a skeleton structure for a piece of writing before you begin to write the text. This ensures that as you write the piece, you don't forget essential points or sections. It also ensure that there is a logical flow: a story is being told clearly.
Take breaks! Many of us believe that working hard is the same as working smart. Breaks refresh your mind so that you can look at an old piece of work in a fresh, new way. Taking a one-hour lunch break is better than staring at a screen for three hours, stuck on one thing and trying to eat lunch but feeling sick and anxious because you are stuck.
Finally, a massive shout out to Tom, Jason and Alistair for being great managers + training all of us. If you are a King's student + need help with academic writing (not proofreading!) click here to book an appointment with a Study Skills Leader.