Zoe Hancox, MEng Biomedical Engineering.
A chance to connect with peers studying the same course as you
One of the greatest fears a lot of people have when going to university is the fear of not being able to make any friends. It may be daunting to strike up a conversation with new faces. Whilst there are so many societies for students to join and meet with like-minded people, there remains a hidden gem at the University of Bradford that allows you to connect with your classmates – PAL.
PAL stands for Peer Assisted Learning, and that’s exactly what it is! Students in their second or third-year run timetabled sessions fortnightly for fresher students who are studying the same course. These sessions are completely student-led. In the initial PAL session, the hour is focused entirely on the group getting to know each other through icebreakers, giving you the chance to put names to faces of people you see in lectures.
Having that connection with people from your course not only allows you to make friends, but it provides you with a supporting group of classmates that you can go to when deadlines are coming up and exams are looming. Also, knowing students from the years above you can give you sneaky hints and tips on upcoming coursework and exams. Because after all, they were in your shoes last year and can help you tackle problems that you thought you’d never get through.
Learn skills from students who have been where you are
First-year students can request specific topics they would like to cover in upcoming sessions, whether it be on how to reference, how to lay out a report or specific sessions. The best thing being that PAL is nothing like lectures, the second- or third-year students plan the hour and facilitate the learning, allowing the first years to have interactive sessions, based on what previous years think will help them retain that knowledge in a fun and creative way.
How you can help freshers and what being a PAL leader requires from you
I gained so much from PAL in my first year that in the second year, I decided to become a PAL leader myself. This involved organising and facilitating the PAL sessions with another medical engineering second-year student. To do this, I attended two days of leadership and facilitation training, enabling me to build up my confidence and give me the skills to successfully run PAL sessions. I learned how to plan, facilitate and answer any questions that students might have.
What you can gain from being a PAL leader
As you go through the year you get given the opportunity to produce a portfolio documenting each session on PebblePad, this allows you to improve future sessions tailored towards the first years’ needs. It also gives you the opportunity to showcase your leadership skills to potential employers. Each session with first years is followed by a feedback session with PAL staff and PAL leaders from other courses, this allows you to talk about how you could improve the next PAL session, perhaps hearing from other ideas that inspire an interesting activity. On top of that, at the end of semester two, the PAL staff run sessions on how you can use what you’ve learnt from PAL to enhance your employability, whether it be how to answer SMART interview questions or how to add it to your CV to make you stand out.
I feel like being a PAL leader not only improved my confidence, communication and team leading skills to develop my employability, but it also allowed me to give back to the first-year students. After all, I remember how much my PAL leaders helped me overcome the feeling of vulnerability and the fear of the unknown.