What the Guardian University Rankings Won’t Tell You

University rankings remind me of the Daily Mail. We all know we shouldn’t take them seriously but we also want to know what they’re saying.

So the Guardian’s “University Guide” for 2014 has been released, comprised of a variety of metrics comprising that elusive “Guardian Score.”

I’m currently a graduand of Sheffield’s Politics department, so I’m using Sheffield in the Guardian’s Politics league table as my example. It currently ranks 21st out of 77 institution and 13th out of the Russell Group. Not dreadful, but it’s not exactly something the Politics department want to be shouting about.

Yet ranking institutions in terms of their “Guardian” hides some really interesting stats and I guess, more “marketable” stats:

  • It’s second in the Russell Group (to Cambridge) for “course satisfaction” and “teaching satisfaction” (95%)
  • First in the Russell Group for “feedback satisfaction” (77%)

(I use the Russell Group as a proxy measure for prestige, whether I should or not is obviously debate-able).

Sheffield admittedly ranks poor in some areas, one of them being student:staff ratio, which is 23.1:1. Only Leeds University has a higher ratio in the Russell Group.

But, despite this, Sheffield is actually very good at student:staff interaction. In my final year, I wasn’t once taught by a PhD student (a.k.a GTA). The amount of interaction with professors and lecturers you get in your final year is brilliant, and it’s a key selling point of Sheffield.

Sure, it’s not the Oxbridge tutorial system but you won’t find this kind of interaction at the London School of Economics, who have the lowest student:staff ratio (10.7:1). In other words, having a lower student:staff ratio doesn’t mean that you’re more likely to be able to spend time with your academics.

There’s a similar problem with the “spend per student” metric, where Sheffield gets a pretty poor 4/10. But what does this actually mean? Will you actually get more resources at your disposal, or is it actually paying a top-of-the-range academic that doesn’t interact with undergraduate students? It’s not obvious from the statistic.

I’m not saying rankings aren’t useful. Graduate job statistics are always worth considering, especially given how high the fees are (and Sheffield isn’t exactly stellar in this regard). But are the graduates getting jobs you’re interested in? You have to dig deeper than the rankings to find this stuff out.

How To Make The Most of An Internship

After having summer internships in a number of marketing-related companies (McCann-Erickson, Bristol 2010 and Warc, London 2011) I thought I’d share some advice on how to make the most of an internship. After all, internships are not only highly competitive to get, they don’t last forever.

Write Down Every Task You’re Given, As Soon As You’re Given It.

This is my strongest piece of advice. As an intern, you’ll probably be asked to do a variety of tasks. Even by the end of the day, you may not remember every task you were given, especially if they were a number of short tasks. So I write down every task in my notebook before I begin it. That evening, I write a more detailed account of what was involved. It will take less than a minute of your time in the office and a couple more later on the evening. But what you gain is a bank of examples that can be used for your CV and examples of using specific skills for interviews. If you leave it all to the end, you’ll probably struggle to remember some of the smaller tasks, but these could be brilliant examples of your skills.

Ask For Career Guidance

In industries where internships are common, its very likely that your senior colleagues  have experience interning. If there’s someone in the company who is in a role you are interested in when you graduate, ask them how they got there and what they’d recommend you doing (e.g. is a postgraduate degree particularly beneficial?). Or if you happen to know the people who interview candidates for such a position ask what will make you stand out on paper or typical interview questions. This will probably benefit you far more than a careers adviser at university ever would.

Let Them Know Your Interests

Some internships are more flexible than others. If you’re in an internship which hasn’t been meticulously planned from start to finished, you may be asked what you’d like to get involved or what your career goals are, and given tasks to match. You’ll probably only get asked this once (if it all), so if you do, make sure you give an honest answer. Equally, if you feel you are repeatedly being given tasks which don’t match the job description, you should always speak up. It’s obviously unprofessional to refuse a task because you think it’s boring or would rather be doing something else, but if you do find yourself stuffing envelopes day-in-day-out when that wasn’t what you signed up for, it’s unlikely anything will change unless you speak up.

Use LinkedIn

I’ve put this as the last piece of advice because I’m currently sceptical of whether LinkedIn actually benefits getting a job. However, it can be useful in staying in touch with people that you’ve met in your working life as an intern, although I’d argue that LinkedIn is probably more useful in B2B than if you’re looking for a graduate/permanent position. Still, getting a positive recommendation for all to see can’t hurt.

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