Joan Muszynski is a Student Support Advisor in the Directorate of Student Services. She’s always on hand to support our students, and if you need a question answered Joan will most likely have the answer, or knows who will. She lives near Markinch, out in the Fife countryside.

ABOUT YOUR WORK

What’s your role at the University? I work as part of the Student Support Team from the Enquiry Centre, providing support to all students though I also have particular groups of students who I am the named contact for – Care Experienced Students, Student Carers, Estranged Students and Under 18 Students. I am the lead person for the University’s Corporate Parenting (for Care Experienced Young people).  I also manage the University’s welcoming, mentoring and buddying scheme Peer Connections. I have responsibility for organising and managing the University’s Socialisation and Orientation programme (events/ activities/ tours) for all new students and I work with colleagues across the wider University to achieve this and as part of the Welcome and Induction Planning Group. I manage the team of Student Welcome Ambassadors we use for Welcome. I created and manage the LIVE Smart and Support Smart toolkits for staff and students.  I run resilience/stress management workshops for students and staff. I am also a suicide prevention trainer running ASIST and safeTALK workshops for staff and students. I also work with my colleagues from the Enquiry Centre, SWITCH and Global room to organise welfare and wellbeing campaigns and events from the Enquiry Centre. I get to know a lot of people from all parts of the University!

What do you do at work? My own role is multifaceted. I work with my colleagues from the Student Support team which is an integrated team including Residences Support and the SWITCH programme. I also work with a wider group of colleagues in Student Services via referrals and on individual casework as required. I also liaise with social workers, guidance teachers and youth workers in relation to Care Experienced young people or students. I speak with academic colleagues about the support needed for some students. I meet with students for appointments i.e. students needing support to stay on their course, they are experiencing all types of difficulties, life events, issues with their mental health. This involves a lot of listening and supporting the students to pick apart the issues they are facing and to suggest services or resources that may help. I also deal with phone calls and emails from students’ family members who may have concerns about their student – this can involve calming upset parents and ensuring data protection is upheld. I recruit, train and manage the Peer Connectors (mentor/buddies), also the Student Welcome ambassadors. I give presentations to students or staff about wellbeing, Student Services, mental health and Stay on Course. I keep the LIVE Smart toolkits up to date along with one of my colleagues in Academic Skills Centre – our most recent addition is a University Glossary for Students. 

No day is the same as the next, I can be organising a rota for Welcome ambassadors, speaking to a student, on the phone to a parent, matching up a mentor with a mentee, listening to a student with suicidal thoughts or running a training session, planning an event – or handing out cups of tea at an event!

What gives you satisfaction in your work? Helping people – seeing students who were struggling managing to continue and be successful with their studies. Knowing you made that difference. Making sure people have the resources to help themselves or others. Meeting people from different cultures all over the world. Working with my lovely colleagues.

And what challenges do you face? How do you deal with them? Balancing the reactive work with the proactive or routine elements. Dealing with people in distress. I practice what I preach in terms of stress management and resilience.

The best thing about your work? The satisfaction of knowing you really helped someone who was in a very difficult situation, and the wide variety of the work I do. I also would say the support of my colleagues.

And the hardest? Moving between pro-active support and the more reactive aspects of the job – so perhaps working on planning an event, emailing a student or sorting out online resources, then suddenly dropping that to immediately deal with an immediate crisis or distressed student. Also occasionally dealing with family members of students who are upset.

How do you deal with this? I work on my stress management a lot – so lots of self-care. I like to garden, walk, read and do crafts to keep my equilibrium. I’m quite calm in a crisis. I try to empathise with people and understand their perspective. I am also an avid planner. My colleagues and I give a lot of support to each other. 

WORKING FROM HOME

How has the current lockdown/work from home situation affected what you do? All my work has shifted online. I’ve had to adapt and run training online rather than in-person.

Have you found working from home to be more or less effective in terms of work delivery and the job that you do? I think that I can still do my work effectively but would prefer to be working face to face with people – particularly those who are distressed. I have learned to adapt and developed new skills through online training.

How have the needs and demands of students changed and what are you doing that is notably different from normal in the current situation? Over the past seven years there has been a tremendous increase in the number of students experiencing mental health difficulties especially depression and anxiety – this has continued during the pandemic but the social isolation due to lockdown has been exacerbating mental health issues for some students. There has also been an increase in students becoming estranged from their families as the lockdown appears to have strained already difficult relationships. Students are missing the everyday interactions whether that be the short chat after a lecture, or the coffees with friends. All our interaction is currently online.

Has there been a particular support? We’ve been running online social activities and doing our usual appointments but using Teams video calls for this instead of face to face. We have paired up new Masters students and those studying remotely with some of our PhD students who have acted as buddy/mentors for them.

Is there anything new within the current situation that you hope will continue after we return to campus? We will continue use online events and peer support for students who still cannot join us on campus and also for students who are distance learning.

CAMPUS LIFE

Do you miss the campus you work on?
I miss the office banter and my daily interactions with colleagues – seeing people. I do not miss my commute up and down the A92.

What do you most look forward to doing once you are back on campus? Catching up with colleagues in person.

Campus hotspot? Geddes Quadrangle – it’s a nice place to relax at lunchtime in the summer.
How would you describe the University to someone who doesn’t know it? A community of learning and great opportunities in the heart of Dundee. A mix of modern and old, innovation and tradition and a melting pot of cultures.

ABOUT YOU

What do you do outside of work? I do a lot of gardening – flowers, fruit and organic vegetables. I listen to music, do DIY, arts and crafts, and I like reading. I help my husband with maintenance (painting) and creating areas to encourage biodiversity at our trout fishery (reservoir) close to our home in Fife. Beach walks picking sea glass are a firm favourite too.

Tell us something we don’t know about you? I have a very wide-ranging skillset, for example I used to compete in carriage driving competitions and train ponies for carriage driving;  I used to play viola in the National Youth String Orchestra of Scotland (NYSOS); I made and decorated my oldest daughter’s wedding cake; I used to face paint for charity events; once changed a car exhaust. And I can cut slabs with an angle grinder! I listen to loud rock music when I iron.

Who would you invite to a dinner party? Noam Chomsky, Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand, Miriam Margolyes, Julie Walters, Sandi Toksvig, Dave Grohl, Michelle Obama, Jennifer Saunders, Ewan McGregor, David Tennant and James McAvoy – my fantasy guests!

Why Dundee? It’s a vibrant small city with interesting history, friendly people and lots of good places to shop, eat, drink or visit. The setting on the Tay is beautiful.