What to expect from university staff

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

You’ll encounter lots of different types of staff at university. Find out what you can expect from them.

There are many different types of staff within a university, and most of them are there to support you and your peers in some way. Understanding these roles and your relationships with the people in them can help smooth your journey through university.

Your relationships with university staff are likely to be different from any previous relationship you have known, for example with your school teachers or employers. You may be expected to be more proactive in your role. In some ways the relationships may feel less formal and in some ways more so. This can take a while to get used, particularly as these differences may not be consistent from person to person. Being prepared for this can help you adjust and make the most of these relationships.

Tutors and lecturers

You may find significant differences in how academic staff behave towards you and your peers, even in the same role.

Some of the factors that might influence this include:

  • The type of university or academic discipline you are in: Some disciplines are more formal than others. Also, some academics are more focused on research and so may be less available.

  • The size of your class: if your lecturer is teaching 200 students, they will be less able to have an individual relationship with all of you.

  • Practical arrangements: some subjects require students and tutors to be in a lab, workshop or studio together for many hours each day. This might create a closer relationship

  • How your lecturers are employed: some lecturers are only employed for the hours they teach on one module, meaning they won’t be around at other times.

Working out your relationship with academic staff

This means that you may have to spend time working out your relationship with each lecturer. It is ok to ask specific questions to get this clarity. You might want to know:

  • When and how can I contact you?

  • What can I ask you about?

  • How soon should I expect a response to a query? (Be aware that lecturers will have many students to respond to and an email response is unlikely to be immediate)

  • How should I address you?

Do remember that most lecturers care about their students and really want you to succeed. Try not to be put off by the fact that they feel different from others you have known or from each other.

Professional Staff

Universities also contain a range of professional staff, who will be able to support you with specific aspects of your university experience.

These will vary depending on your university, but may include:

  • librarians

  • accommodation staff

  • careers advisors

  • wellbeing teams

  • counsellors and mental health professionals

  • disability teams

  • study skills advisors.

It is worth remembering that staff in these roles may offer different types of support to those in similar roles you’ve come across before. For example, subject librarians can often help you with research searches and direction.

at university you will have minimal contact hours with staff and thus sadly much less likely for them to pick up on symptoms of poor mental wellbeing, unless you bring it to their attention. It is very important that you speak to your tutors and also the wellbeing centre when you need that additional support.

Each service will usually have its own section on the university intranet, that explains what they can offer and how you can work with them. You can also use our directory to find information about what support is available at your university.

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Page last reviewed: October 2023