Why you should meet your university personal tutor in your first term

students in discussion

'I would have dropped out if it hadn't been for my personal tutor'

An often-overlooked perk of being a student is the personal tutor system.

Once you become a university student, you're given the details of your own personal tutor. This is someone who's there to lend a hand with whatever aspect of uni life you need help with.

Don't let the 'tutor' part of their title mislead you; they're not your lecturers or academic tutors. In fact some universities now use the title 'academic adviser' to make it clearer what these people are there to do.

But many students don't make the most of this great resource. Read on to find out more about personal tutors and why you should contact yours as soon as you get to uni.

student and professor talking in front of a chalkboard

'My personal tutor's help has been crucial'

Zahra Ben Allal-Telemcani Santos, explains how she credits her personal tutor with helping her stick with her degree.

"If students choose not to meet their adviser, I feel they're wasting a resource that has been given to them. Students should definitely get an appointment with their adviser in the first semester of first year, because there is always going to be a time where we need help.

"Sometimes students need someone to talk to, someone that understands how university works. I contact my personal adviser regularly, just for general questions I might have concerning my degree and student life. He makes it clear that I can always contact him, no matter what my concern is.

"He helps me make decisions concerning my course. One of the most important decisions was when I decided to intercalate a year. He advised me what would be best to do and what paperwork I should complete.

"I would have probably dropped out of uni if my tutor hadn't told me the options that I had at the time. He has been really helpful over the years.

"He also wrote a reference letter to the university for my year abroad in Japan. This meant a lot as it is crucial that I have good references in order to go on my year abroad."

two students reading books

'We support students personally and academically'

Three personal tutors, Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani from UEA and Dr Juan Sagaseta from University of Surrey, explain how their role works.

How would you describe your personal tutor role?

"Our role is to help students with any issue, personal or academic, which might affect their academic progress and/or performance. We’ll work with you to keep an eye on how your studies are going and on wellbeing too.

"We’ll also check up from time to time that you’re attending all your classes and keeping up-to-date with your work (but we won’t remind you to do your work like your mum might, you have to learn to manage yourself!). Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani

"My role consists mainly of providing support and guidance to students on academic and non-academic matters which might affect their student experience and future development. In many cases this consists in directing the student to the suitable supporting team within university. In some other cases the help can have a more pastoral nature." Dr Juan Sagaseta

What do you consider to be the most important thing a personal tutor does?

"To support students, helping them achieve their best academic potential, and also personal and professional potential if we can. We’re not there to judge, but we are there to listen to our students, hopefully cheer them up a bit when things are getting a bit stressful, and often just reassure them that things are going OK.

"It’s often good to know that lots of others have been feeling just the same as you, and that everything has been fine for them. It’s really great when a student turns a corner, or flourishes, because of us.

"For example, sometimes students think the pressure is too much, or they’re failing, or that they should drop out - but after speaking to us once, or maybe a few times, they get everything into perspective and can see how well they’re already doing and how well they can go on to do. It’s great to have a final chat with those students on their graduation day ( and to have a laugh with each other about how we look in our caps and gowns)." Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani

lecture theatre

How many students at your university have access to a personal tutor?

"All students have a personal tutor at UEA - we call them ‘academic advisors’ here. We have a couple of ‘open office’ hours each week when our students can drop by to see us for a chat, and we’ll usually also offer to meet students by arrangement at other times (especially if something urgent crops up that they need help with)." Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani

How many students do you meet with in a typical week?

"Perhaps four or five, depending on the time of year. They usually need more attention support from us as the end of the semester approaches. We can often have good and helpful discussions by email too, and lots of students contact us this way - at all times of day and night (but don’t expect an instant answer if you email us at 4am on a Saturday - we do ‘have a life’ too)." Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani

How regular are your meetings with any individual student?

"At least three times during the semester academic year, and we are sure to invite our students to meet us regularly to catch up and check on progress, even if they’re not experiencing any kind of problem. We’re there to hear about their successes and achievements, not only to help out with problems." Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani, UEA student advisers

"This depends highly on the individuals and also on the year of their studies. Some first year students need meetings more regularly, say every other week, whereas others you only get to see at the beginning of the semester. Some students are fairly independent and well settled in whereas others might have different backgrounds and they are still adapting to life at Surrey." Dr Juan Sagaseta

student and professor working

How do you help students with their employment decisions?

"We encourage them to make use of Careers Central, a fantastic service at UEA where students get advice on any aspect of employment and choice of career. We also talk about the great job options that other students we know have taken up in the past. Another thing we do is write references for our students when they apply for jobs - holiday jobs, or jobs after graduation, so it’s important that we know about our students’ skills, strengths and interests to be able to do this well." Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani

"I give them neutral information so that they can make their own informed decisions. I often referred them to the Employability & Careers Centre and/or professional training coordinator. I remind them to consider all the sources of information available to build their own conclusions and give themselves some time to digest all this information, there is no need to rush any decisions." Dr Juan Sagaseta

How do you help students understand the course options available to them?

"We go over the course profiles for their specific degree programme with them and we discuss options according to their personal preferences. We can talk about which module options fit together best (since we do allow a fair bit of choice at times) and how to make the most of the pathways that our courses might offer. Sometimes students want advice on whether they should switch their course altogether, so we can help with that - spelling out the pros and cons of changing. Sometimes it might seem like less of a good idea when the implications are spelled out, other times it’s OK." Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani

"I start by referring the student to the student’s handbook and regulations. It is important that the students check for themselves the options available; then I am happy to discuss the options and see which ones the student feels more comfortable with."Dr Juan Sagaseta

What three tips would you give to a current sixth former on how to make the transition to uni

"First, lead your own student experience by being proactive and seeking exciting new opportunities such as learning multi-disciplinary topics, professional training, international mobility exchange programmes. Second, think ahead of your studies and think about which areas you would be very interested to pursue in your professional life (these prospects should be a source of motivation during your studies). Finally, make informed decisions on how you want to tackle the degree that suits your personality (optional modules, sandwich year, extracurricular activities)." Dr Juan Sagaseta

"Choose the course on the area/s you are passionate about. Be open-minded to change. Be ready to meet new people who will be in the same situation. You're all in the same boat!" Dr Carlos de Pablos-Ortega and Dr Giulio Pagani, UEA student advisers

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