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Arts Editor Alina Young aruges that students' relationships with their tutors needn't be formal, and that a good relationship can improve wellbeing as well as your academic grades.
Tutors and lecturers are at the centre of our academic life at university, and with a £9,000 a year price tag, it's important to make the most of this relationship. Yet to do so, we must realise that the best way to benefit from them is to not confine our interractions to being formal. Personability inspires enthusiasm- it's undeniable that when we enjoy the company of a tutor we try harder to come to their seminars, and try harder to complete the work they set us.
That's not to say that a formal relationship is disadvantageous, and you can naturally still be inspired and enthusiastic through a purely intellectual connection. In certain situations, a sense of distance from your tutors may increase productivity- if a class is too 'matey' with their tutor, discussion can perhaps be less focussed. Considering we may only get an hour a week with a tutor, it could be said this limits our potential understanding of the subject matter.
"The friendlier you are with your tutor, the more your academic work improves"
A further argument is that over-friendliness with figures of authority can impact your ability to remain professional later in the workplace. In my experience, however, the friendlier you are with your tutor, the more your academic work improves. It is in fact an important skill to be able to interact with your superiors with a good balance of respect and amicability- an ability which is useful both in education and in professional life.
Friendliness can in fact help your studies. Thinking back to school, many people can agree that their most successful classes depended upon a teacher who was engaged with the students as well as the subject matter. Likewise at university, even a module that you originally thought you would resent can quickly become your favourite. Sometimes, it can even take the sting out of a 9am start when you know the seminar will be enjoyable, as well as useful.
"It's invaluable to visit your tutor during their office hours"
Although you don't need to be best friends with your tutor, what makes the difference is a relaxed group atmosphere. In a friendly environment, all students feel they can talk freely. This helps both improve the peer dynamic amongst the students, as well as encouraging original discussion since individuals feel at ease. This is the basis for truly academic discourse- a space where ideas are offered and explored.
To help you achieve your best, it's invaluable to visit your tutor during their office hours (although this is a lesson I learnt later than I should have). When seeking assistance, it's natural that the conversation will be more useful when both parties feel comfortable. It's less intimidating to ask for help, and to question further regardless of how 'stupid' you think you sound. Knowing you more personally, tutors can tailor their advice better towards your needs.
🎉🎈 finished our last day at uni and our personal tutor had this cake made for us 😂 pic.twitter.com/4QQPpuKnaV— Lynsay Ward (@Lynz16) February 16, 2018
For young people who find group situations difficult and offering ideas a source of anxiety, an amicable relationship with the tutor leading the group is essential to help them grow. If the tutor is intimidating, many such students could feel pressured into silence. With so many students feeling let down about the mental health services at the university, social stress connected to learning must be minimised.
With this in mind, it is important to consider the potential pastoral role that a tutor can play. It's true that they may not be trained to deal with personal issues, or in fact have any official responsibility except helping your academic progress, but generally fostering a good relationship with them may help you in a time of need. After all, personal issues unavoidably impact studies. Your tutors are the most easily accessible staff at the university; even if they feel they cannot help, they can point you towards the right person to contact, and provide a second opinion on your situation if needed. They may not have personal power to, for example, approve extenuating circumstances, but will have a better understanding of a process which can often seem too unclear.
"It is important to consider the potential pastoral role that a tutor can play"
In many faculties, students are assigned a personal tutor to bridge the gap between academic and pastoral, however many of my fellow students - myself included- don't have a clue who they are or how to reach them. My tutor assigned in first year went on a sabbatical, without proper warning from the faculty, and I was simply told at the beginning of second year through word-of-mouth that new members of staff would replace her. Several of my friends had a similar situation and were contacted by their new personal tutors; others, like me, were not. I accept that there must be ways for me to start forming a new relationship with this unknown person, but at the end of the day, the relationships most useful and most immediate are those of my module tutors.
All tutors have an understanding of the stresses of the course, and much experience with prior students. They have once been students once themselves, and can relate to the strains of developing new skills and the difficulty of time management, and offer brilliant advice. I prefer to think of my informal relationships with tutors as not 'less academic', but rather 'not only academic'. With unrestrained communication, they can enhance both our academic progress and our lives at university.
Featured Image: (Epigram/Cameron Scheijde)