This week we meet Penny Longman, Senior Careers Consultant at UCL Careers Extra, who chats to us about her current projects, love of maps and favourite spots in the UK for scenic walks.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m a Senior Careers Consultant and am responsible for UCL Careers Extra. This is a programme of additional careers support for UK undergraduate students from a range of backgrounds, including Black students, students who are the first in their family to go to university, those with disabilities and students from low income households.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined in September 2016. Before that, I was a Careers and Higher Education Adviser at a school and a sixth form college, and was responsible for the Careers Education programmes at both places while also doing a lot of work providing guidance to students applying to university or jobs. That means I have advised thousands of students on their personal statements and university choices and processed thousands of UCAS forms!
Alongside that, I completed a Master’s in Widening Participation, conducting research into students’ perceptions of their university experience with a particular focus on its value to them and what we in schools and colleges could do to ensure they go off to university equipped to make the most of it.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I think I would have to say Careers Extra. I was involved in its development from the start and a lot of thought and research went into deciding the shape of the programme, with input from students at every stage. We knew ’career relevant’ experience is really advantageous and that these opportunities are often unpaid, which can be an impossible barrier if your family doesn’t have the kind of income to help you out. Students confirmed to us that being able to afford to take on this kind of experience would be a real help so we set up a small bursary scheme for gaining work-based experience.
Careers Extra has also given us a lot of openings to discuss diversity (in all its forms) with employers, encouraging them to think through what they mean when they use the word and also to examine their recruitment processes to see where they could be more accessible to different student groups. It also provides a mechanism for letting students know about targeted events and initiatives employers and other organisations offer.
But I think perhaps one of the biggest plus points of Careers Extra is the personalised relationship it enables students to have with UCL Careers as a whole, encouraging engagement and hopefully building students’ confidence. Again, the importance of that sense of belonging and relationship rather than just being one in a crowd is something that research has shown is really significant for students - and UCL is a big place.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I’m exploring how students can be more involved in running Careers Extra - I’m looking at recruiting a small ’steering group’ of students to meet with me on a regular basis and have further input into what we offer, how we offer it and how we communicate with and ’reach’ students who might not be aware of us.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
That’s pretty hard to choose. Before COVID I was reading on my commute to work so I was getting through a lot of novels. Recent favourites have been Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and White Teeth. I also really enjoyed Cousins by Salley Vickers. On films, I have to say I do love Billy Elliot.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
Not necessarily a favourite joke for all time but this made me smile in the moment:
One week into lockdown and the mixed herbs are no longer mixed.
It kind of needs the picture it came with. I’ve been enjoying some of the Bernie Sanders and his mittens memes.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
I would love the chance to learn more about my grandparents’ lives and the generation before them, so I’d choose to invite them when they were young (if that doesn’t sound weird). They were involved in some really interesting things which I only know a tiny bit about.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I was really, really shy and although my time at university was amazing I think I would advise my younger self to be braver about meeting more people and trying new things.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I’m fascinated by maps and can happily spend time poring over a nice OS Explorer.
What is your favourite place?
I like going for walks, which is lucky as that’s pretty much the only thing we’ve been able to do these past months. So my favourite places tend to be where there is beautiful countryside and scenic beaches. The Galway coast is beautiful and so is Pembrokeshire.