In June 2022, I was accepted into the University of Aberdeen Student Ambassador Network. I worked as a student ambassador all throughout my final year, and my only regret is not having joined the scheme earlier. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the absolute highlight of my university experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to complete lots of exciting and varied work, I gained invaluable experience and skills while doing so - experience and skills which I can apply to my future legal career.
What is a student ambassador?
The primary role of a student ambassador is to promote the university at a range of events throughout the year, provide an authentic student voice and provide administrative support for short- and long-term projects. But what does this mean? At their core, student ambassadors are the face of the university. Their responsibilities largely involve providing insight about university life to prospective students, giving campus tours to new students and campus guests, and providing general assistance during events like open days. Student ambassadors are a cornerstone in boosting engagement between the University and both its current and prospective students. Work is completed on an ad hoc basis, and ambassadors are free to sign up to shifts as and when their own schedules allow it.
How are Student Ambassadors selected?
The application process was lengthier than I anticipated. Upon further reflection, the selection process seems appropriate given the nature of the role. The initial stage was a very short online application. Following this, I was invited to an interview and assessment centre. Admittedly, this was the first time I had ever done an assessment centre. While I was incredibly nervous to begin with, I grew calmer as the day progressed, especially once I got talking with the other candidates (many of whom, I found out, were law students as well). For those like me with no prior experience, this is an excellent introduction to interviews and assessment centres. Why is this? Although there are quite a few stages to overcome, the overall process is relatively informal and relaxed. The assessment centre takes place on university grounds, so the environment is familiar to most candidates. There’s no requirement to dress formally - the vast majority of candidates I saw were dressed in regular, day-to-day attire. And the interviewers and assessors also do a good job of ensuring the atmosphere stays calm.
More importantly, the assessment centre and interview structure is broadly similar to that of many law firms as well as companies in other industries. It’s quite common to be asked to complete team exercises. And of course, behavioural questions during interviews are to be expected for many roles. For example, you may be asked (as I was), “tell me about a time you experienced a conflict. How did you resolve it?” At the very least, this is an opportunity to see how you respond under pressure and to identify which interview skills you ought to work on. Although I was able to provide acceptable answers to all of the questions that came up in my first interview, I recognise that I would have benefited from greater preparation beforehand. I now know to prepare answers for a wider range of possible questions and rehearse them more thoroughly.
What does a student ambassador do?
During my time as a student ambassador, I took on a huge range of different shifts, some of which I will never forget. The most memorable was definitely my time spent assisting with orienteering events during welcome week, which found me handing out leaflets outside the Sir Duncan Rice Library in a seagull costume. I doubt the onlookers that stopped to stare at me will have any trouble remembering that day either, nor will my face be erased from the photo galleries of those who approached me to ask for a selfie. I also have a clear (albeit now rose-tinted) memory of my first open day, the morning of which I spent shivering outside of St Magnus House, shepherding groups of guests onto shuttle buses. There will always be a small place in my heart for the kind old lady who offered to grab me a hot drink from the nearby Costa. I must admit, I almost regretted not taking her up on her offer.
Another interesting one was the meet and greet shift at Aberdeen Airport. It was our job to greet and provide guidance regarding transport and accommodation to new students arriving in Aberdeen. Because the last flight didn’t arrive until very late, myself and the other ambassador on shift found ourselves at the airport past midnight! This was also the day I learned never to drive through the airport drop-off point lest I wish to incur the wrath of the parking metre demon (which still charges you a small fortune even if you don’t actually park at the drop-off point). Despite this, the shift was really interesting because I met students from so many different countries, some of which I had never heard of before! The University is proud of its diverse and international community, and it celebrates this openly. However, it wasn’t until working as a student ambassador that I developed a real appreciation of what diversity looks like at the University of Aberdeen.
Ambassadors are contacted as and when their assistance is required. This means that as well as working on university-wide initiatives, they have the opportunity to work closely within specific departments and disciplines. I spent my year assisting the School of Law’s lovely Marketing Team. My core responsibilities included responding to comments and messages on the School of Law Facebook page. I also monitored the Offer Holder Facebook groups. Unlike other shifts I’d done, this one was flexible and constant - it required a few hours’ commitment per week over the course of the whole year. The work was to be completed remotely, which made it convenient. Other shifts were more standard, like campus tours and open day assistance. I also helped out with applicant evenings and school visits where I delivered talks about student life and answered questions about my experience of studying at the University of Aberdeen. I even helped out with the 2022 and 2023 summer graduations - these were some of my favourite shifts because the atmosphere was so fun and lively! Other ambassadors helped the Enquiry team in their office. Some even shot, edited and starred in videos for various departments in the University (you can view examples on the University’s YouTube and social media pages). As you can see, the work of a student ambassador is extremely wide-ranging!
What skills do you develop as a student ambassador?
More valuable, however, are the skills gained once you begin working. I could speak at length about all of the various competencies I developed through my work. The resulting article would likely exceed 6000 words, so I’ll keep it brief. I’ll highlight just 2 key skills which I feel are essential to a career in law.
Like I mentioned earlier, engagement is central to the role of a student ambassador. And this requires ambassadors to have excellent interpersonal skills. These skills are also integral to the work of a lawyer. Not only do lawyers have to be able to interact and communicate effectively with clients, but they also often work in teams, and maintaining good relationships with one’s teammates is conducive to a high standard of work. Sometimes teams are formed virtually, with members across multiple different countries. Law firms are also increasingly recognising the value of diverse hiring practices. Those in the legal profession are faced with a growing need to be socially and culturally aware. Working as a student ambassador is an excellent way of preparing for this. Universities are generally known to be incredibly diverse institutions. The University of Aberdeen is no exception. At the time of writing, it’s home to roughly 14,000 students and 3,600 staff members, representing more than 130 nationalities. Diversity at Aberdeen is not limited to nationality, but extends to age, beliefs, disabilities and much more! The vast majority of people you interact with throughout the course of your work as a student ambassador will have completely different backgrounds to your own. Not only does this grant you an opportunity to learn about countless other cultures, but it also helps you become sensitive to the different needs, lived experiences and perspectives of others.
Working as a student ambassador is also a great opportunity to develop public speaking and, more broadly, communication skills. Of course, these are immensely important in the legal profession as the majority of jobs require some degree of public speaking.
You can develop your communication skills primarily through campus tours. Ambassadors all follow the same loose tour script. But they have discretion (and indeed are encouraged) to pepper their tours with anecdotes and additional commentary as they see fit. During tours, it’s important to communicate in a way that’s friendly without being overly relaxed - ambassadors represent the University, so it’s important to remain professional in every encounter. This will look slightly different depending on who you’re speaking to. Are you speaking with prospective applicants? A concerned parent? Primary school children? New international students? Other guests (like delegates from another university)? You will need to consider (i) what information ought to be conveyed, and (ii) how it should be conveyed. For instance, a group of Primary 7 pupils won’t care much for the history of Kings College, but they’ll listen attentively to the story of Sacrist Downie who, allegedly, still haunts the Quad. The best campus tours are also highly interactive - a chatty tour group is a happy tour group. Knowing how to keep conversation flowing is a skill that can be applied in many different professions.
As a student ambassador, you may also have opportunities to engage in more traditional forms of public speaking. As I mentioned before, I delivered talks during applicant evenings. These weren’t interactive, I was simply delivering a presentation to a hall full of people. The same considerations outlined above play a key role in these situations too. However, it’s also useful to bear in mind other factors like pacing, body language and eye contact. Knowing and understanding these elements of public speaking will greatly improve the quality of presentations you will no doubt have to deliver throughout your professional life.
Ultimately, you will get out of the student ambassador role what you put in. If you approach your work with a willingness to learn and a desire to create a positive experience for those around you, that is the result you will be greeted with. During my time as a student ambassador, I took on as many different shifts and maximised my range of experiences. For each role, I made sure to apply myself fully and try to learn as much as possible. Of course, this meant that I was constantly pushing myself out of my own comfort zone. But my enthusiasm and dedication allowed me to gain and consolidate a broad range of competencies. I am now an infinitely more confident individual and a far better communicator than before I started my role. I’ve met more people than I can count, and been exposed to cultures and perspectives that differ wildly from my own. At the end of the day, I’m leaving the University of Aberdeen with the knowledge that I’ve made a positive impact during my time here. I don’t know what the future holds for me. But what I do know is that the experience and knowledge I’ve gained in my time as a student ambassador will serve me well, wherever I go!