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Homepage / 12 months on…navigating the new norm

12 months on…navigating the new norm


Students and the Career Development Service working together!

We can’t hear you…. You’re on mute!! No, I haven’t lost the art of communicating (heaven forbid) I’m on zoom! It is one of those annoying but most popular phrases of the last 12 months…The last 12 months?! Where do I start? I never thought for one moment that this surreal end-of-days film set I became part of, would still be my reality now. If I reflect back to the start of term, did I think we’d be where we still are now? No of course I didn’t. Call me naive if you want, although I’d prefer to be referred to as an optimist.

I felt fortunate that before the start of the new academic year I’d managed to escape to Europe twice. I spent two wonderful weeks last August in Provence, France with my family and then a mini break to Milan, Italy. It didn’t dampen my spirits that we missed the air bridge between England and France by six hours and then had to quarantine for 14 days back home. We got through it with online grocery deliveries, fresh bread, fruit and of course chocolate (bet you didn’t know I was a chocoholic!) dropped off by caring neighbours. But it was hard, we really couldn’t leave the house or garden – even for exercise. So, kudos to all our students who’ve also had to quarantine, some more than once. That shows their dedication and focus.

It’s been a roller coaster, but the one constant has been my job as a Career Development Manager at Cranfield University (yes, it is still the best place to work. Okay I’m slightly biased as I’m part of a great team with a fantastic and extremely supportive Line Manager). As the start of the first term approached, the Career Development Service was exploring how to effectively deliver our provision to students. Even at that stage, the big question was would we be face to face or online? The Governments’ facts and figures kept changing, which in turn impacted our planning. But we kept our options open with plans A and B, continuing to think outside the box to provide engaging, entertaining and enticing careers activities for our students.

Fast forward to Spring 2021, each day I walk downstairs to my dining room (it’s a split-level house), log on and plan my schedule. For me, I’m able to continue to do what I love; work with our postgraduate talent and empowering them to fulfil their career aspirations. I enjoy meeting with and supporting our students – finding out how things are going, what’s happening in their home country and how their family and friends are. Most importantly though, how they are navigating this very different norm. I probably amuse them too, with my attempts to showcase my new-found linguistic skills developed over lockdown as I try my hand at Italian…. or French.

I’m still in awe that so many of our students made the positive choice to be with us, at a time when there is so much uncertainty in our lives – we can’t control what happens next in a global pandemic. Our students give me hope, positivity and motivation. Their determination to succeed, focus on their goals and make the most of this situation is truly inspiring; especially as many of them are experiencing living away from home for the first time, developing resilience and strength along the way.

Zoom backgrounds create a talking point, where are you in the world I ask? On a moving boat (I did feel seasick, the student changed their background), The Golden Gate Bridge, Hogwarts or an uber trendy residence? Don’t forget the fab Cranfield backgrounds that get used too.

Wi-Fi connections are another issue, although in the University halls of residence there is always a perfect connection. Believe me, poor Wi-Fi (mine, note I’ve now upgraded), background noise (our family’s new puppy), screen freezing (don’t worry it’s not a bad freeze!) have given me some anxious moments. This is when I need to take a reality check, as it’s all out of my control. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter.

We may be in a national UK lockdown, but the job market is still active, and recruitment is happening. Applications, offers, the highs and lows of the career journey lifecycle, we’re there for our students. CV reviews, mock interviews, LinkedIn advice and assessment centre preparation. The success of reaching out to alumni to support our current postgraduate talent, never ceases to amaze me. I am truly proud to be part of the global Cranfield community.

I’ve continued to engage in social media, as that’s another way to connect. Instead of the Instagram “student selfies” I may have been known for, I’m sharing another side of my life. This pandemic has brought down barriers for all, we may be separated by distance but life through a screen creates a closer connection between us, as we see into each other’s lives. I’m part of the online community just as you are, where we all need to focus on the positive and embrace how technology has empowered us. I’ve been taken out of my normal zone, making the most of the opportunities this new world presents to virtually support our students. From the Open Doors project where I explored the impressive ARIC hanger (you know that huge yellow building next to the digital control tower on campus), presenting at webinars and open days, to being part of the careers panel for the first Manufacturing and Materials week. Like our students, I’d like to think I’m constantly learning and making the most out of life. 

Creativity has to be the undercurrent to everything, how do we all continue to work with each other, engage, network, make new friends and brainstorm? Some of the old norm will return but in the meantime we all need to make the most of opportunities and focus on our future. Continue to reach out to others using the mediums available, it is never too late. It’s great to see our student societies with a virtual presence, from the CSA to the Toast Masters, the Consulting Club to the newly formed Cranfield Autonomous society who boasted an impressive number of attendees for a recent talk. They are thinking outside the box and creating a platform for new relationships, creating strong networks.

You are now associating in a digital world, if 70% of jobs aren’t advertised, use your contacts, connect with academics, visiting lecturers and alum to assist you. Also check out our Careers Factsheet on ‘The Hidden Market’ – you can find it on Symplicity or here on the intranet. Also watch the on-demand presentation by our visiting expert Julian Childs, who will teach you the ‘REVEAL’ method. If this still seems alien to you to do, ask for help. Student Experience is a good place to start. The art of communication (it’s the one employability skill all employers look for) has never been so important, understanding friends and family, being sympathetic, providing empathy, being there. What is important is being part of a support network, virtual, unknown or unofficially not yet acknowledged. Feel inspired, be creative, whatever your interests and passion keep creating those networks and developing your connections.  

Laughter filling the air, giggles when a situation occurs that wouldn’t have happened had you all been in the same place at the same time but in a virtual world, we all function differently. Since when do you enthusiastically wave goodbye at the end of a meeting? I still eat my lunch with my coworkers and catch up with life, except it’s through a screen. We still have those “I must bottle it up” laughter moments. In fact have you considered how good laughter is for the soul? I’m grateful for my friends near and far who keep in touch and share how life is treating them. Friendships have never been so special or important to me (I hope they are for you too). Thank you, you know who you are. You’ve kept me sane.

I have continued to be an optimistic and upbeat person, I honestly can’t tell you why but I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection, reevaluation and learning. It’s okay if my house is upside down, or a “bomb” has hit the kitchen (there are 5 of us living, working and studying at home). I try to pick my battles and realise that life is too short. This experience has shaped me and in so many positive ways. One thing I can say for certain I will never take anything for granted again. Let’s look forward, not back. Here’s to the future!

Katrina Armstrong

Written By: Cranfield University

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  1. Helen Dalling 17/03/2021 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Fabulous Katrina, so glad you’ve written this ‘sequel’ 12 months later. We’ve all learnt so much about resilience and how to navigate through some really touch times, but we made it together and it’s been totally life changing hasn’t it? Proud to call you my friend and colleague – love these pictures too. Missing campus and hope to back there soon (and get away from my dining room office/messy house too!!!)

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