Introducing Declan Clear, UCL School of Management’s Student Experience and Wellbeing Officer. Declan joined the school three years ago and has vast experience working in higher education both in the UK and Ireland.
We sat down with Declan to learn more about what his role entails, the new inventive ways he’s used technology and digital channels to engage with students, his top tips for things to do in London and his favourite places around campus.
What do you do and what does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different which is one of the good things about the job. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, it would have been a lot of face-to-face interaction with students through 1:1 support meetings, organising events and working alongside staff and tutors to create a positive student experience for everyone.
A couple of examples of things I have been working on are new community-building initiatives within the school, supporting on designing the student study and social spaces on level 50, supporting the UCL SoM society and student reps to plan social events (now virtually) for their class, as well as a variety of other things.
What services are available at UCL SoM and in UCL in general?
I am more than happy to talk through things with students and they can reach me on most platforms such as Facebook, email, Twitter and of course via a phone call or a Zoom meeting, whatever is the most comfortable way to chat.
A lot of the time students come to me with something that can be resolved quite easily and they just need someone to talk to and use as a soundboard, so what seems like a big problem might not actually be that big, and we can work it out together.
I am not a trained clinical psychologist and UCL has a wonderful team who have the right training to support with more complex matters, but as the first port of call students usually come to me and we can then take it further together if that is what they would like to do.
I am a qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor and have lots of experience working with students on mental health issues and also have worked with over 50 UCL School of Management staff to teach them basic mental health first aid.
A great thing about UCL is there is a lot of support available, and I am sure every student will be able to find something that works for them. We don’t just have the Student Support and Wellbeing team; we also have the chaplaincy team as for some students, depending on their background and culture, this might be a more comfortable way to discuss their worries than with a councillor.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I know it is going to sound cheesy but it has to be helping the students. I get a real buzz if I have helped a student overcome a difficulty or problem they have been facing, or just generally acclimatise to the school as it can be challenging for everyone, especially those coming to study their undergraduate degree, and also international postgraduate students who are learning about new cultures while also understanding what’s taught on their programme.
Another big win for me is when an event I have organised comes together. Event management can be stressful at times so I generally don’t enjoy the first two or three hours of big events (I am sure you will see some snaps on our social channels of me at the start of the night looking on edge!), but once the event is going and I can see everyone’s having a good time that makes it all worthwhile – cheesy I know!
What kind of events do you organise?
Pre COVID-19, it would have been a lot of school-wide and specific cohort social events and cultural events surrounding international days, for example, Chinese New Year, the Christmas Ball, Mini Golf, Halloween parties and much more.
One of the things I did when I took this role on at the School of Management was to research student demographics and rethink how to tailor events to wants and interests of UCL SoM’s diverse cohorts, as I believe a lot of universities fall down on this aspect. Typically, British universities are renowned for events revolving around alcohol and a ‘good booze-up’ but I saw this as somewhat of a dying entity. And I am proud to say that UCL School of Management avoids this, and while there may sometimes be drinking and dancing involved, it is not the main focus. It’s not just about that. That’s why I use venues like the Transport Museum and London Film Museum to add other elements to the event.
We also cater to the diversity of our students and offer excellent foods from a wide variety of cultures, working to ensure there are options for everyone from Kosher to Halal, and vegetarian to vegan, just to name a few. I aim to do my very best to try and accommodate everyone coming to a UCL SoM event.
It is such a pity that this term we are not able to facilitate this type of social interaction, however, since the pandemic began, we have been working hard to connect students with their peers virtually through quizzes, socials and competitions. Some students have even organised their own watch parties on Netflix and Facebook, so there’s a lot of good stuff that we are doing online.
Obviously, it’s very hard to replicate the on-campus in-person experience. But we’re doing our best and I’m definitely open to ideas. So if any students are reading this and have some cool ideas that they think might work, please let me know.
What achievement are you are most proud of so far as Student Experience and Wellbeing OFficer?
It would probably have to be getting qualified as a Mental Health First Aider and as part of that getting to teach it at UCL and also go and teach it at Cambridge University, that has been really cool.
And I have to say the events. I am proud of some of the events I’ve organised for the school as I really like connecting people through events, whether that be virtual or in person. When people are gelling and the classes are coming together, it is a great feeling.
What were your top tips for international students currently arriving to London in terms of wellbeing?
There’s some really good stuff happening for students that UCL Student Support and Wellbeing are organising to support with the transition to London and generally to help you take care of your mental health during this strange time.
And of course, even if we have not met yet, if anyone’s feeling down or a bit lonely or in general have something they want to discuss then I am always here to talk. Ask anyone at the School, they will confirm that I can talk for Ireland!
I would also say it is important to keep connected with your family and friends. Keep going and try to do your best. Connect with new people, stay safe and look after yourself.
Try your best to get involved in whatever you can get involved in, societies are doing some fun stuff, so attend Zoom socials and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Starting university can be a bit intimidating but we are here to support you throughout your time with us!
What are your favourite things to do in London, for new people arriving to the big city?
My favourite thing to do in London is to go for long walks in the parks. London has some absolutely incredible parks. My personal favourites are Hampstead Heath, Regents Park, Victoria Park, Greenwich and Hyde Park just to name a few. London is such a big and busy city it can be nice to sometimes just feel like you’re kind of almost escaping a little bit and some of the bigger parks make you really feel like you’re in the countryside. So it’s just nice to go and listen to your favourite podcast, go for a walk, sit on a bench have a picnic, you know, just chill out.
My second tip would be to go to see all the awesome free museums London has to offer and as a student even the paid ones offer discounts! The British Museum, The V&A, Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern and many more.
London has so much amazing culture, so even doing a walking tour can be a great way to get to know the city and see all those famous landmarks you’ve seen in films and guidebooks up close!
And if you are looking for something eery to do this Halloween, Highgate Cemetery is a good one for a spooky visit, because it’s like something out of a film – it’s very cool. Slightly random, I know, but worth a visit if you are close by.