Samantha Organ

A week in the life of…

SAMANTHA ORGAN
SAMANTHA ORGAN

The English artist John Constable once noted “The world is wide; no two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of the world”. Indeed, this could also be said of the surveying profession. Most certainly it could be said of my week!

Alongside the diversity that the profession boasts, the variety within surveying was certainly something that drew me to it as a career. For almost two years I have split my working week between two jobs – the first half I spend as a Senior Lecturer in Building Surveying at The University of the West of England, Bristol; the second half I spend as a Building Surveyor at The National Trust.

Monday

I’m working from home today. I start my day early to get a head start on my swollen inbox in a hope that I can read through and reply to everything before 9.30am. I manage to munch on breakfast and sip a peppermint tea before moving onto a hot chocolate sweetened with honey.

I’ve four academic papers under review with journals at the moment, and I hope that at least two will make it through the review process. Today I make a start on transcribing one of the research interviews to inform the next paper I have planned. Transcription is a lengthy, slow process but it gives me the opportunity to revisit and get a little closer to the content of the interviews. I’m excited about the research as it’s a new area which could inform both wider academia but also industry. Despite the early start I work until 5pm – I want to make more headway with the research before lecturing tomorrow.

This evening I’m attending my former school for a committee meeting. The Science, Engineering, Maths and Technology committee is in Gloucester, and I arrive with minutes to go before the official start. I look around the room and there is a balance of industry partners and teaching staff, although it seems a little maths and engineering heavy. I notice that few people still understand what surveying represents, and I start considering whether I rethink the content of the workshop I’ve been preparing for a pupil enrichment session next month. Despite the lack of understanding, the school is undertaking an Art and Maths field trip to Venice next year – my enthusiasm bubbled over as I cried out that Venice is a World Heritage Site and ‘all about’ surveying.

Apprenticeships are, of course, discussed with enthusiasm. But the committee highlights the challenges of the timetable for applying and starting apprenticeships, and in finding apprenticeships.

Despite my best efforts, as the committee meeting progresses towards the finish line I become distracted by some cracks in the room. It happens each time I sit in this room. Despite previously suggesting the school calls in a surveyor, the cracks appear to have widened since my last visit. I silently start trying to diagnose the issue from my chair.

I head home, and my twin’s partner has kindly prepared dinner which is absolutely delicious. Despite the lateness of the evening I need to prepare breakfast, lunch and supper for tomorrow, but also things for the evening charity activity.

Tuesday

Tuesday’s early start, with plastic bricks and compressed sponges at the ready, and the Berlin Wall book I’m reading all in the background.

I’m sat in the office early with a drink in a mug given to me by my students. I have a brief chat with the housekeeping staff before returning to make final preparations before my 9am lecture. My 8am meeting with a student starts at 8.20am, cutting down on the time I am able to spend discussing their dissertation before my lecture.

The large mug given to me by my students last year.

I grab a bag of ‘clickers’ from a colleague in ‘The Project Room’. These little gadgets look like Old Skool calculators but enable my students to interactively answer questions embedded within the lecture slides. Not only does it help me to identify whether they have understood various concepts, it also gives the students an opportunity for self-assessment. Providing a ‘game show’ vibe, this tool also provides the chance for me to receive regular feedback on whether the pace and style of lecture is appropriate for this group of students.

This week’s lecture is a one-hour introduction on soils. The lecture is held in a different building to my office and other teaching rooms, so lately I’ve been having flashbacks to the Friends episode where Ross decides that the only way to make it across the city to his next lecture is to don a pair rollerskates. I decide that for my situation this might be a little melodramatic, and also knowing my skills on rollerskates that it’s safer for everyone if I keep my feet firmly secure in regular shoes.

As theme music for the lecture, I play The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Higher Ground as the students enter the lecture room. Whilst I reflect on how thrilled I am to have such a lovely group of students this year, I make a dash across campus to deliver two two-hour tutorials, stopping off at my office en route to grab water, a tray, mini plastic bricks and compressed sponges for a demonstration.

Despite the early lecture and having already suffered me for an hour, most of the students are engaged. There is very little which can motivate a lecturer more than seeing this! It’s fantastic news to hear that so many of them are already enjoying the module. They explain that this is because the subject of construction is tangible. They also say they enjoy the level of interaction through the embedded questions in the lecture slides and through the style of delivery. It’s nice to hear.

Students are trickling in late – sometimes 40 minutes late. Although they’ve missed the lecture and are late, I’ve made it clear that I’d rather they turn up late than miss my sessions. It appears to be working. My final tutorial finishes at 2pm, and I head to my office to quickly eat some lunch before I meet with a second year student.

A colleague I have huge respect for drops into the office to say hello and he mentions some of the arrangements for a field trip to Berlin that I’m attending in a few weeks. It’s a trip that I love attending and I’ve learnt something new every time I’ve been. I dash off for another two meetings and then back to my office to start marking the work I collected during the tutorials.

I have a message from a former student who has returned from a placement in industry. We head to the Student Union for a chat before I head back to my office for dinner and prepare for the Charity Student Sleep Out that I’ve organised with the RAG Officer and the Student Union Real Estate Society. The aim of the Sleep Out is to raise money and awareness on behalf of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ Pledge 150.

The Sleep Out is held outside the Student Union, and everyone is in good spirits. Whilst it doesn’t simulate the real challenges faced by those facing homelessness it draws us closer to the problem of homelessness and brings the issue more clearly into view. I am delighted to see many of those who have joined us are familiar faces from my lectures last year. Not only is it lovely to hear updates about how they’re finding second year, I am impressed with a number of them regarding their continuing academic performance, enthusiasm for surveying and their overall dedication.

Settling down for the night outside the UWE Student Union.

Wednesday

It’s warmer than I expected but bedding down in my sleeping bag on cardboard is far from comfortable. Some of the students enter into a discussion with me about a number of challenges facing both society and built environment professionals today. They want to know how we resolve issues such as homelessness, climate change and sustainability. Unable to sleep on our thin, brown mattresses we discuss these matters into the early hours and I find their views insightful and thoughtful.

We aren’t the only ones unable to sleep – the Student Radio is opened, and the DJ proclaims he too couldn’t sleep. Interest gathers from those leaving the Student Union bar and a few come over to chat.

I am soothed to sleep by the beats pouring out from the Student Radio. Somewhere in the distance there is the chatter and laughter of happy students. The temperature has dropped so I wake at 3am after an hour of sleep. The fog rolls in and it shrouds the surrounding buildings like big fluffy blankets. The time also gives me the chance to reflect on my own previous homelessness experience.

The Sleep Outers make it through to 7am and I wander back to my office to collect my things and check my emails. I take the opportunity to undertake some printing for next week’s tutorials and eat a banana.

A fellow Sleep Outer knocks on my office door to offer help with carrying my things to the car. A talented individual, she has shown a flair for surveying and a passion for life generally. I drive back to Cheltenham to complete some work. I work half a day on Wednesday so I use the afternoon to run errands around the town on my bicycle. Using the bike appeals to my inner eco-warrior, but also saves cost and is easier to get around the town. I also take the opportunity to prepare for the next RICS Matrics Gloucestershire committee meeting and review any outstanding tasks.

Thursday:

I check my long list of new emails in my inbox whilst eating breakfast. I hop into the car and head off to brave the school traffic and fight my way to the office. I’ve a busy day ahead at The National Trust’s Ebworth Centre today. It’s a beautiful site more widely known for its beech woodland.

I catch up with one of the rangers and he tells me about a potential problem at a site we both oversee. We plan to take a trip to investigate this tomorrow. I take the opportunity to make some phone calls to contractors and my Business Support colleagues for updates on some smaller projects and works.

Both the Assistant Rural Surveyor and my new manager, the Senior Surveyor, arrive. The Rural Surveyor arrives to discuss multiple sites that we both oversee, including possible options for one local property in the next 5 – 10 years.

My Building Surveying colleague arrives – it’s his first time at Ebworth and at lunchtime he takes the opportunity to walk his cocker spaniel in the woodland. Over lunch I continue planning the next work social.

More meetings and project planning ensue before I head over to a derelict cottage with my colleagues. I’ve already carefully read a previous structural report and written a risk assessment. I ensure we’re all wearing suitable personal protective equipment before entering the building. It’s in a better condition than I anticipated!

In the evening I meet my co-chair for RICS Matrics Gloucestershire from her office and we head to dinner. It’s great to catch up before next week’s committee meeting.

Friday

I work from home for the first hour to action important emails and make phone calls to contractors. I have additional building inspections today, so unusually I’m back at Ebworth.

I arrive at Ebworth in wind and rain. To my delight I see one of my colleagues in the satellite office who I’ve not had a chance to speak with for a few weeks. I briefly make the most of being in the office with lots of friendly dogs – definitely a good stress reliever, before I return to work tasks. I review a structural report I received in December prior to my site visit this afternoon.

I take the opportunity to access the loft of the compostable toilets. A few weeks before I’d read a previous condition assessment, and this had raised some questions in my mind. Despite the smell and a few cobwebs, the roof was in better condition than I expected, but needs reviewing as part of a wider improvement project.

I head across to a holiday cottage on site with the Holiday Cottage Manager. The small cottage has a high number of guests throughout the year. We inspect the cottage and discuss improvements for the year. I don’t identify anything serious, just cosmetic improvements on this occasion. The changes I’ve made to the gulley outside the front door appear to be holding up, which is pleasing to see.

After a quick lunch with the property team, one of my ranger colleagues and I head to Woodchester Park with his dog to inspect some structures. The weather has eased, but there is some debris around the Park. The lakes look stunning against the changing autumn colours of Woodchester, and I reflect on John Constable’s quote – no two leaves, and no two days are the same.

Out on site amongst the beautiful wooded section of Woodchester Park

One of the reservoirs at Woodchester Park

I finish my working day by researching options for a new roof covering, and making phone calls and sending emails to colleagues and contractors about new and on-going work. As I close up for the day, I notice an email about a problem with a communal boiler, but since I’m not back in the office until next Thursday I am relieved to see that one of my exceptional team members already has this in hand. After work I see my twin before heading home to cook. Although I’m glad the week is over, I also really enjoyed it. I’ll spend time over the weekend exercising but also catching up with friends – what more could you ask for?

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