Why do we think the icing should be perfect on the first attempt? My Internship as a PGR Online Gateway Officer with the University Graduate School

By Jasmin Samra, BUIP Intern

Over the summer, I have been working with the University Graduate School (UGS) team as a Postgraduate Researcher Online Gateway Officer.

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By Francisclarke (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I would say that there are three core reasons to why I applied for the BUIP programme. Being an undergraduate student, I never really thought much about what actually goes on ‘behind the scenes’ at a University, but it is something that seemed interesting. BUIP was the perfect opportunity to delve deep into the world of Higher Education (HE). Furthermore, I like to take part in projects that make a real difference to a group of individuals and I felt that a project within HE would allow me to make a positive contribution to a student community. Lastly, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and manage a project by myself for the first time so that I could build upon my project management skills from my previous internship where I also co-managed a project.

The majority of my time has been spent managing the Online Gateway project. As this is was an uncompleted project, I was given a hand-over document, alongside other reading materials. I began to understand the project objectives, which I concluded (in simple terms), were to research and develop the UGS webpages so that they are more user-friendly, clear and organised and up to date with the latest information.

I was given the freedom to manage my own time and to coordinate the project in a way that worked for me. My plan of action firstly involved developing my knowledge around web development, as being new to it I was a little apprehensive. Nonetheless, I sought out this goal by gathering secondary research on other graduate school webpages, reading articles on web design as well as going on a training course for using the university’s web management system, Contensis.

From conducting secondary research I recognised that successful web design is far more than just making a pretty website, it needs to meet the user’s needs. In some sense, you have to treat it like baking a cake, it’s not all about what it looks like it needs to taste nice too, and so, there is no use in designing a visually appealing webpage, if it doesn’t do a basic job that a user requires with relative ease.

Therefore, I invested a large proportion of my time to conducting primary research to understand exactly what my audience required. I began by building upon the previous year’s focus group, which found that PGRs had a negative user experience. I had set out to investigate why and what can be done to enhance their user experience through using Google analytics – a user experience research tool.

Google provided me with a lot of useful statistical data about user activity. Even so, these same statistics left me with more questions such as “why has there been an increase in the bounce rate?” and “why has there been an increase in users?”. Thus, I conducted another focus group in search for more answers.

This focus group was invaluable and demonstrated that things are looking up as the student perception of the UGS webpages has improved massively since last year, however even so, PGRs made many suggestions, indicating room for further improvements. A user testing session followed this focus group and revealed which web-components require development.

I reflected on this research alongside having some valuable meetings with project stakeholders. Some key themes emerged and it is these themes which inspired the planning of the developments. I then implemented these developments which involved creating new web pages as well as updating existing pages. Mostly, I worked on re-designing the landing page, some of the key changes being adding in a Twitter stream, more images and a popular links section.

It seems like I got the icing on the cake right on my first attempt, but, that’s most definitely far from the reality… it’s actually been a real trial and error process. In particular, I found it challenging to meet everyone’s preferences; with such a diverse audience (with even more diverse opinions). This was a near impossible target (with the time scale). Therefore, I have learned that problem-solving is a continual learning process and that it’s ok not to get things right on the first attempt.

I implemented my changes as a pilot and I hope to obtain as much feedback as possible from PGRs, their supervisors, and staff. I will then leave this feedback in the capable hands of the UGS team and I hope to re-visit the web pages in the near future and look forward to seeing further developments.

I think that this internship has been an eye-opening experience as I did not know a great deal about the services that are provided by the university as well as the various projects that you can get involved with. In particular, if it was not for this experience, I would never have considered a career in anything digital or relating to web management or even in marketing or communications, but, now I have so much more insight into the opportunities out there.

For any student reading this who isn’t sure about their future career, I would advise them to be open to the opportunities around you, as gaining experience will help you learn about different organisational settings, see where your skill-set lies and establish what you really enjoy doing most. I really think that more students should utilise the Careers Network as there is so much support and guidance available and sometimes talking things through with a professional can clarify your thoughts.

I most definitely recommend the BUIP programme. The internship has really helped with my personal and professional development, given me the opportunity to work and receive guidance from great minds and allowed me to transfer my academic skill set and knowledge to the world of work whilst developing new knowledge from attending various events and seminars.

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About Bethany Baxter

University of Birmingham Careers Network Student Employability Team Member (Information Team Support Assistant)

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