Contributing to 'clearing'

As a new member of staff at MMU I was asked to be part of the history department’s clearing staff for this year. Many people try to avoid doing this as it means coming into the office during the treasured August break, but as I am not taking any holiday this month I was glad to come in and do my bit. Here’s what it involves…

I didn’t really imagine I’d ever find myself working in a call centre environment, but that is exactly what the clearing hub is: an extremely hot room with several hundred academics answering phones sitting in front of computer terminals. So while the working environment wasn’t all that pleasant, we were provided with free tea and coffee and lunch so it was not all bad! Basically we had to answer the phone to prospective students who had entered clearing either because they hadn’t made their grades or because they had changed their minds about the choices on their UCAS forms.

My job was to give students a mini-interview on the phone and if they sounded vaguely ‘with it’, and had the required grades, then I could offer them a place. Some students were desperate to come to MMU to do history and were really relieved to be told they could come. Others were simply shopping around, contacting several institutions to see whether they would be accepted. Many really were not prepared to say why they wanted to come to MMU to study history: in answer to my enquiry one even said that he wanted to come to Manchester because it was along way from his home town and wanted to get away from his parents! Others were more promising, being prepared to talk about aspects of history they enjoyed and books they had read. Those are the students that I hope I end up teaching in September!

At the end of my four-hour stint I had taken about 12 phone calls and made about 9 offers. Although it was along way for me to commute to do it it’s these sorts of tasks that make you feel part of the life of the department as a whole. I learned a lot about how a department sets its required grades and how the formulae are tweaked from year to year depending on application patterns and how it’s important not to take on too many or two few students, so it was a valuable part of my training too. I probably won’t have to do it again next year: it’ll be someone else’s turn, but it’s another skill that I can add to my ever expanding CV.

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About Catherine Armstrong

Dr Catherine Armstrong is a Senior Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, specialising in North American History. She is a former teaching fellow in History at the University of Warwick and Oxford Brookes University. Catherine was also Director of Historical Studies in the Open Studies department at the University of Warwick. Her first book ‘Writing North America in the Seventeenth Century’ was published by Ashgate in June 2007. As a long-time jobseeker for an academic role herself, Catherine is in a unique position to understand and offer her knowledge and experience to those developing an academic career.

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