Open Day and Subject Fair

Today was the Postgraduate Open Day for Cardiff University, so I trooped off at lunchtime to man person the School of Physics & Astronomy stand in the Great Hall of the Students in the Students’ Union for the Subject Fair. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in the Great Hall, in fact, for no other reason than it’s for the students not the staff. Anyway, I have to say it didn’t look all that great, although at least it was warm. There’s no heating in my office right now, you see. And they provided coffee and biscuits.

Other than that it was just me, some leaflets and an uncountable infinity of Herschel Space Observatory souvenir pens sitting there for two hours. And there was lousy mobile coverage so I couldn’t even tweet. I got a bit bored, actually. I wish I’d taken my knitting. I did take a picture though…

It has to be said that a general Postgraduate Open Day like this isn’t a very effective method of recruiting postgraduate students, not in Physics and Astronomy at least. Most potential applicants come to apply by looking at web pages and/or listening to advice from people in the department where they are doing or did their first degree. People have already decided between Physics and, say, Astronomy and certainly between either of those and Sociology, so the idea of stalls competing for custom is a bit absurd.

Still, as Director of Postgraduate Studies I decided that it was good for Physics and Astronomy to show willing by maintaining a presence at such events, and if as a bonus we recruit even one promising PhD student then it’s probably worth the investment in time. The additional complication with this now is that I’m soon leaving to go to Sussex University, so I was tempted to tell visitors about opportunities there. I didn’t though. Mainly because I hardly spoke to anyone all afternoon…

The moral of this tale – if there is one – is that recruitment in different subjects is very different, so the “one size fits all” centralised approach isn’t always the right way to proceed. Schools and departments know their market better than anyone, so they need to be allowed to do their own thing at least part of the time.

I suspect this is an argument I’ll shortly be making elsewhere.

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3 Responses to “Open Day and Subject Fair”

  1. John Peacock Says:

    We have the same problem at Edinburgh. The university means well, but has no idea how we actually recruit students. As with a lot of similar things, it’s easier to waste a little staff time going along with it than more time fighting to get it changed. But the waste mounts up over the years.

    • Monica Grady Says:

      We take part in more general postgrad fairs, organised by the Geological Society, at different venues around the country. maybe we could get the RAS to organise something similar? Though, to be honest, we recruit most of our postgrads from direct applications.

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    I used to be responsible for publicising postgraduate opportunities – taught MSc and PhD – in astronomy and astrophysics for my then university department (but not responsible for recruitment). There were several established methods for reaching potential students. These included sending posters to various university departments and placing advertisements in popular astronomy magazines.

    However, I wanted to understand how the MSc students we actually signed up had learnt about the course, so I added appropriate questions to module questionnaires. The responses showed that most students had found information online. Therefore having a high visibility online was critically important, including ranking in Google searches. I was able to improve the Google ranking of the course web pages I had control over. A lot of effort went into ensuring that various online lists of educational courses had appropriate information for the MSc.

    Other, competitor, departments may care to note this. :)

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