For the past 18 months Donald Lush has worked as the Careers Consultant at Birkbeck College. Since Christmas 2013, he has seen an increase in the number of students attending the Careers Service Workshops and One-to-One Sessions.
Here he talks about his impressive career journey and the highlights of helping thousands of students who study at Birkbeck College.
You seem to be caring by nature, is this why you chose to become a Career’s Consultant at Birkbeck?
I read a quote from Dorothy Parker and it’s brilliant. She was asked what the cure for boredom was? and she said, ‘the cure for boredom is curiosity.’ There is no cure for curiosity and that’s the thing that drives me. There’s nothing more stimulating than trying to get into your head, trying to find out what’s going on and helping you figure out where you are trying to get to.
Some of your previous work includes: Support Service Management, Counselling Officer and now Careers Consultant. What has been the best highlights and why?
One of the biggest highlights was working at a charity called the Harrington Scheme for a year as maternity cover. It’s an extraordinary charity. It trains young people with learning difficulties. There was one particular student called Anna and when I first met her she was extremely autistic. One of the things that autistic people do is try to restrict as much information as possible because they find it hard to cope with. She was determined not to communicate to anybody and for her to say hello and start being friendly was just a massive break through for me.
Have you been able to work closely with students with disabilities at Birkbeck?
It’s a really interesting area. I know we have a great disabilities team. I’ve worked with them quite a bit but, to an extent, disabilities is hidden here and not talked about in the mainstream so I’m never fully aware. I’ve had quite a few people be upfront and say, “I have anxiety,” or “I have depression,” or a physical condition. Very often, people have gone away and wondered – have I missed something? Is there more I could have done? Is there something I’m not aware of? There are lots and lots of people in this institution that move in and out of depression. From the lack of self-confidence to the bigger spectrum like not being able to function – this needs more attention.
Do you think Birkbeck Careers and the Disabilities Service need to work more closely together?
The Disabilities and Dyslexia Office is quite close to me and they have attended a few of my workshops in the past and advised me on how to do that. Overall the student services team is brilliant but you can always do more joint stuff. One of the things I would love to see happen is a central student record. If you came to see me, I wouldn’t be able to find out what you have done in the past or have any other information in order to help you. It [would] absolutely transforms the experience for the student and make them feel cared for because they are properly understood.
Where has been the most rewarding place to work?
I’ve never come home feeling tired or stressed from being at Birkbeck. I’ve always come home thinking, ‘I’ve had a really good day.’ I think the most rewarding thing, which can be in any one of those settings is when the ‘light bulb’ comes on in somebody’s head and they know what they want to do.
What has been the toughest challenge you have faced throughout your career journey?
I think it’s very hard sacking people. I know I have this reputation for being nice but it’s hard sacking people. A tougher challenge is when I worked for Child Protection Services and several times I had to remove someone from their home using Child Protection and Police Services. The thing you have to hang onto is that you’re looking out for the child’s interests.
You are very much a “people” person. What is it about students that make you want to assist them?
[Laughs] I go back to curiosity. What comes through the door and what I have to do to help them get to where they want to be.
Could you give us a rough idea, or statistic, of how many students have found work after graduation?
Overall the employment rate is about 80% There was a big boost last year at Birkbeck; the graduate salary was the highest. It was only by £5 but it was still high.
The unique thing about Birkbeck is that nearly all of you already work. Your probably trying to develop or change what it is that you’re doing. So you’re already well equipped with the skills often with a degree previously.
Recently, you were a guest speaker for the ‘Preparing for Work in the Film and Media and Cultural Industries’ module that was organised by Dr Lorraine Lim.
Do you think the college should have more workshops like this?
Right across the country people are saying, “careers stuff has got to be built into you’re teaching time.” But, it really ought to focus on what you are learning and be integrated into that. That’s the way forward and it’s going to happen everywhere. Birkbeck does have a careers strategy and that’s a big part of how it’s going to happen. I found the academics incredibly welcome to that idea. That’s how I got involved with Lorraine’s scheme, I just put myself forward and she asked, “well would you?” Lots of others are doing the same thing.
Birkbeck provides a good Careers Service however, the process for booking appointments can sometimes be disappointing.
What do you think the college needs to do to improve this?
The real problem is that there just isn’t enough of us. We’re a team of two covering a week. If there was a team of four people covering a week, there would be a lot more appointments and they would be available every day. The university has understood this and they are taking steps towards boosting the careers service. Birkbeck is really good at listening to students and if they hear that there is a lot of demand they will respond. We [also] need more employers coming in, that’s the one thing that students really appreciate – the chance to meet real employers. Whenever we have got involved in things like that, it’s always been really productive. There’s a couple of posts that Birkbeck have shared recently asking to give some more resources to help us start doing that. Employers are desperate to get in here. They really want to meet you because of your experience, your skills and maturity.
Do you think more could be done to promote the Birkbeck Careers Service?
Yes and no. Myself and [Phillipa] have done everything humanly possible that we could think of to get the word out. We are relentless in talking to people. One of the things that I’m really aware of is that there are 400 members in the careers module and there are about 400 followers on twitter. There are members who are involved interactively so we have just scratched the surface. We are very aware that there is lack of awareness but it’s developing.
What’s next for Donald Lush?
I’m off to the University of Hertfordshire to work as a team leader. It’s the same job but I will have a team and I will be a lot closer to home.
Will you consider making a return to Birkbeck College?
I’m hoping to reconnect with Birkbeck at some point. It’s a wonderful institution. I’ve been quite lucky to be on the inside of it for 18 months and I don’t really want that to end.
Donald Lush will have leaving drinks on the 16th July 2014 at 6pm in the Institute of Education Bar.
Written by Susie Kellie (Co-founder and Chief Editor of Flock To The Crown)