Reflections on Clearing Week

Stunt planes over the Plymouth Hoe, Friday 16th August 2013 - about 1800h.

Part of the deal with getting my research team a better lab presence is that I've promised myself that I need to start blogging again and I've decided to focus on my work, my work-life balance and bits of my life that are relevant, for this new blog. 

Well, what a week. Every year the A-level results week seems to become more of a big deal in my life and longer hours but greater overall reward. 10 years ago, I was managing a Hall of Residence in London and would've spent this week signing students' contracts, allocating their bedrooms - trying to make communities of people who would get along well (I am responsible for several marriages and at least four children, all the product of people who fell for the boy/girl next door during their first year of university!) and shielding literally hundreds of phone calls a day from parents upset about where their child had ended up. It was long, hard work and it's pretty tiring explaining for the 57th time in one day that someone's son/daughter can't have an en suite  bedroom because the College doesn't have any en suite  bedrooms left to have as they are all already full. 

Ten years later and I'm still involved in the A-level results process but now more of a managerial/backstage role - in my Communications Officer role in the School of Biological Sciences, part of what I deal (jointly with one of my friends and colleagues) with is our online presence through various different media and over the Clearing period, I lead quite a large (though I can only see that in hindsight) online marketing campaign to push our science programmes. There's nothing like a busy, stressful week to make a team pull together and the amount of conversations I've been party to this week in which people were just giving one another a kind word and a bit of encouragement was amazing - I think everyone all too often forgets to do this day-to-day so when you're hearing it all the time it seems very odd - but it's very genuine. One of my favourite things about my job is working with such a tight, supportive, well rounded team of individuals in my School and our recently separated School of Biomedical & Healthcare Sciences - until 1st August 2013, we were all one School, but in a University restructure, we've separated though at present only on paper - they're still my corridor mates and they're still (hopefully!) our pub-mates on a Friday evening. It'll be strange not working with them but we'll still be working near them for the time being and that's a good thing: 

You don't know what you've got till it's gone

as Joni Mitchell once sang.  Restructuring is one of those things that unis like to do, it seems, as everywhere I've ever worked has done it lots of times. It's not a bad thing but it does mean change and humans aren't very good at change but, as changes go, I think this one is very positive and our new School has got a real chance at present and I for one intend to try very hard to make sure we flourish.

The main working week finished for me about 1800h on Friday. For once, I eschewed the pub in favour of finishing up some paperwork and going home for an early night (which didn't happen) as my spinal pain was playing up (I was born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and a very mild type of spina bifida)  from having spent a few weeks desk-bound owing to not being able to do lab work for a while following some major surgery at the end of July - all a long story but in short, I wasn't in the mood for the pub. About 20 minutes before I'd intended to leave, I happened to glance out of my office window and saw a really amazing sight. Just as I looked out of my Portland Square office, over towards Mount Batten, a group of 5 or 6 stunt plants (not sure which ones) were doing formation flying down over Mount Batten and along the water of the Sound, inside of the Breakwater. By the time I'd gotten my camera out, they'd moved on to looping the loop over the Sound - I just about managed to get one awful snapshot of them as I spent a lot of time just staring in awe. The view from my window of the Sound is extraordinary and I can't get over still how relaxing and inspiring the Sound and Channel can be. I love the sea very much and I find visiting it very relaxing - even better when it's a 10 minute walk from my house! So after a good 10 minutes staring out at the Sound and watching those amazing planes, I packed up and went home. 

Clearing Week must've exhausted me - I'm not great on my energy levels at the best of times and I've learnt to work when I have energy and not try and work when I have none. It's not tiredness, it's not laziness, it's fatigue.  Fatigue caused by the constant pain and the presence of hardcore pain relief in my blood 24/7. Fatigue caused by pushing against my body's failings so that I can do the job that I enjoy so much. With A-level results coming out at 0001h on Thursday, if you're doing any kind of online marketing, you need to be there at 0001h seeing peoples' response as it comes and responding to it - which is what I did. Quite a few big swigs of my trusty Metatone and a lot of cups of coffee got me through it...and when I finally went to bed on Friday night, I slept for 15h solid. Had I overdone it? Hard to say - I know my limits and I had not knowingly gone beyond them but when you love your job and you're having fun, it never seems so bad. Besides, we work hard and play hard in the team I am in and we managed to slot in a much needed trip to the pub on Thursday night for a bit of R&R after a long and busy day for a lot of people.

Worth it? Hell yeah! I used to enjoy, back in my Hall Of Residence days, knowing I'd found someone a place to live, knowing I'd made someone's day by finding their daughter a place in another Hall that was better suited to her disability, knowing I'd helped someone's first steps at life in London just a little bit easier. I rediscovered some of that feeling this week - though I didn't speak to any students on the phone, just via Twitter and other social media, I know from our statistics that I helped in some way through what I was doing backstage to help a lot of people find a place at university that they'd perhaps given up hope of finding. That's what Clearing does - it clears the panic of not quite getting the results you were hoping for by giving you alternative options and if I've helped one person this week find themselves a place on a degree programme then the hours put in by the hundreds of people involved in Clearing here were worth it.