With the onslaught of unsurities surrounding the Please Talk campaign, Student Advisor, Aisling O’Grady speaks to Peter Molloy about what good the initiative does.
It’s been a very busy week for Aisling O’Grady. O’Grady is speaking outside the Student Centre on a snow-veiled Thursday afternoon, where the Student Adviser for Arts is about to take her turn at the Please Talk campaign stand as part of Refresher’s Day.
She explains that the bi-annual release of exam results brings a dramatic upsurge in traffic to the door of her office in the Newman Building.
“It’s a time of reckoning for a lot of students. Most people have a fair idea when they haven’t done well in exams, but it’s still really important to get help and to get feedback. A lot of students do what I call ‘an ostrich’ on it, and hope that by ignoring things, it will go away. It doesn’t, and the more you ignore it, the more difficult it becomes. Don’t wait until this week to come and talk to someone.”
For O’Grady, the peak in demand for her services that occurs every February and June is merely one feature of a year-round effort that sees her helping students deal with a bewildering variety of problems and issues.
“When one part of your life starts to go wrong, it becomes more difficult to focus on other parts of your life – things become more difficult as it progresses. If you’re not doing well academically, you’re feeling down, it’s hard to go to college so you feel bad and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”
Student concerns like money worries are coming to occupy an increasing portion of O’Grady’s working time; “A lot of people out there are really hurting.”
The Student Adviser – and UCD graduate herself – is at pains to stress that the difficulties she encounters with students on a daily basis can almost always be solved.
“Share your difficulties – talk to someone. When you think something is insurmountable, usually there is something that can be done about it. It mightn’t be easy, and it might take you longer than you thought [but it’s achievable]. Make small changes and that can often make you feel better about things.”
Achieving equilibrium, she says, is the most essential part of securing a successful and worry free route through university.
“It should be balance – you don’t have to spend 24/7 in the library… My three key messages are always: ‘Get involved, balance, and relax’”.
O’Grady is markedly supportive of the Please Talk campaign she’s helping to promote. The question then arises as to whether she feels the initiative had been a success to date.
“It’s very hard to measure, but if we can get the word out there – to talk to someone – [then that’s a good thing]. We measure it by things that don’t happen, which is very hard to measure. The message is ‘Talk to someone – you do not have to do things on your own’. It’s a sign of strength to talk to someone, not a weakness… it’s just getting that message across, and we can’t reinforce it enough. We’re a community here, and we care for each other.”
O’Grady identifies proposals to extend the scheme to other Irish third-level institutions as being a positive development. “I think it’s great that it’s being brought out – it’s fantastic that it’s going across the country. [The campaign] is sending out a message to these young people so that they’re aware that it’s not always easy.”
O’Grady concludes our conversation by emphasising once again that both she, and other Student Advisers like her, is always available to offer advice for any student who may feel that they are going under without any fear of censure or criticism.
“I was a poor student in first year, so I have a lot of empathy for students who don’t do well! We come back two weeks before term starts, so we’re here if people want to come and talk to us at that stage. We’re here during the summer… there’s always somebody here”.