Meet our speakers: Jo Thompson, the University of Sheffield

As we look ahead to our virtual conference on the future of student recruitment post covid-19, we'll be bringing you guest blogs from our conference speakers. Today, we hear from the University of Sheffield's senior UK student recruitment officer, Jo Thompson.

Our conference takes place on Thursday 4 June and is completely free to join - sign up now to get access to all sessions - live and on demand. You'll find the full lineup in this blog post.


When the extent of the pandemic became clear - particularly how it would affect your work - what did you think?

We were definitely thinking short-term- urgent tasks were to bring our then imminent applicant open days online as fast as possible. It was a case of pulling together as an institution with a can-do attitude and getting all hands on deck to pull it off. As time’s gone on, the reality is that all of these changes we’re making are going to be much longer term and we as a team are now very much in the spotlight. There are very challenging times ahead.

Was it difficult to transition into a new way of working?

There was definitely a feeling of shock and initial uncertainty, but there really was no time to dwell because of what we needed to achieve in a short space of time. We adjusted fairly quickly  and the initial discomfort with online meetings soon dissipated and became the norm. As time goes on, the challenge becomes greater as we plan to build in virtual communication at every level and stage of our student recruitment.

On a personal level, I have a young family which does present big challenges to my day to day working. My new norm features lots of early morning and late night working with some brief and intermittent home schooling, but after over two months, we are all becoming used to this new normal and the kids are often active participants in both mine and my husband’s Zoom meetings!

Is there anything you’ve had to stop doing that, on reflection, you didn’t need to be doing and you actually won’t pick up again once things are back to something resembling normality?

I wouldn’t say we have ‘stopped’ doing anything. Some projects and activities were inevitably paused as we switched our working practices and other priorities have come to the fore. What these events have done is to open our eyes to other ways we can deliver activities and this is what we will take forward once we start to get back to normal.

Thinking specifically about your job and your work, what do you think will be covid-19’s most notable legacy on it?

Exactly what I mentioned above. Student recruitment hasn’t changed a lot during my 17 years of working in this area. Recent events have given us a big wake up call and will leave a huge legacy on the way we deliver our activities. We will still continue with traditional events but will continue to embrace our new way of delivering activities. Now feels like an exciting time to be working in student recruitment. 

One positive change has been that even though my team and the institution have become more physically distant, in some ways, we are working more closely together as some of the constraints of the office are no longer in place.

Finally - something positive to end on. Can you recommend a good book, podcast, movie, or series that you’d say is worth giving some quarantine downtime to?

Downtime has not been something I’ve had a lot of during this quarantine period. I am a big Ben Watt fan and enjoy listening to his ‘Spin Cycle’ playlist on Spotify to unwind once the kids are in bed. It’s an eclectic mix of old and new tunes, which Ben is always adding to and it always helps me relax. His was the last gig I went to two weeks before lock down started. I have great memories of that night- enjoying fantastic live music and not fully knowing the challenges and changes that lay so shortly ahead. I highly recommend!

Jo's session will form part of our virtual conference on Thursday 4 June - book your free place now!