Skeggie lad enjoys pasta and Carnage

November 22, 2002

Money's tight and a 9am seminar is no fun with a hangover, but Liam Twigg is still happy to be the first in his family to enrol at university. Harriet Swain joined him in Birmingham for the fourth part of our series All in a Day's Work.

: Liam Twigg

Post : Psychology student

Time at university : In second year

Salary : Student loan - £3,500 a year, plus about ten hours' work a week at £4.70 an hour

Loves : Gaining new friends from different backgrounds and a broader view of the world; having more free time than at school

Hates : Sometimes being treated like a kid; having money troubles; having to work when his friends don't

It is a half-hour walk to Birmingham University from the house Liam Twigg shares with four other male students. Today it is drizzling, but he is quite glad to leave. The landlord is refitting the kitchen and laying new carpet throughout, and the house is in chaos.

Twigg arrives at the university and pops into the Guild of Students, where he works as a senior marketing assistant, to check on ticket sales for various events.

He visits the psychology department to check his post and to see whether there is anything worth reading on the notice board, then makes his way to the computer room to check emails. A handful of students are gazing at their screens. Twigg has half a dozen emails about future lectures and seminars and voluntary essays - he hasn't done one of these yet because he hasn't felt the need, but he may well do this year. He also browses through the online questions his tutors have been asked and have answered, which are made available to all students, and checks this morning's lecture notes. On another email account are a flurry of emails on forthcoming American football fixtures. He has discovered the sport since arriving at Birmingham University and plays in a match most weekends.

Twigg makes his way to the lecture theatre, where he meets a couple of friends from his tutorial group. About 150 students, mainly girls, are settling down, setting out drinks, rustling papers and chattering.

The lecture begins. The course tutor hands round the lecture notes then goes through administrative matters, including when the exams will be, what they will cover and the subjects of future lectures. After telling them that a third-year student will speak to them briefly after the lecture, he begins his talk, which is on the perception of lightness, brightness and colour.

This is one of Twigg's two main weekly lectures. He also has to attend a couple of seminars. Yesterday he had one that started at 9am. It seemed particularly harsh because the night before was the annual university pub crawl, "Carnage", organised by the Guild of Students for charity. "I still made it for 9am though," he says proudly.

Twigg says that although work is not too onerous, "if you don't keep an eye on it, it tends to build up and you find yourself having to do everything at once".

He says he had never really thought about going to university - no one in his immediate family is a graduate - but when he started doing A levels at Skegness Grammar School, people seemed to assume that he would continue studying. His psychology teacher at Skegness suggested that Birmingham was a good place to study the subject. He is now getting into it, he says, and wouldn't mind psychology as a career but is daunted by the length of postgraduate training it would entail. As it is, he expects to leave with a debt of £15,000. Meanwhile, he is starting to become more interested in the marketing work he is doing for the student guild.

The lecture audience is getting restless. The group of girls in front have started to write notes to each other.

The lecture over, the third-year student gets up to talk about a questionnaire on resolving conflicts between students and parents. He says that if it's too distressing, they should send in the questionnaire anyway and they will find phone numbers for counsellors at the bottom. They will receive course credits if they hand it in.

Twigg leaves the lecture theatre and stops to chat to a couple of friends outside. Then he is off to the library to find the journal articles he needs for a presentation he is giving tomorrow in front of the eight others in his tutorial group. Behind him in the queue to the library is someone else from the group. "How's it going?" she asks. Both claim they have hardly started their work, but after a bit of conversation it becomes clear that both have merely been thinking about it quite hard. Twigg photocopies the articles he needs. He will take them home to work on his presentation tonight.

Over to the Guild of Students, where he bumps into his boss, the marketing officer, and tells him he will come in after lunch. The guild's cafe offers pasta with two choices of sauce plus garlic bread.

The café is almost full. "I never thought when I was in Skegness that I'd be in a place like this," Twigg says. "Skegness has about the same number of people as the university." He wasn't homesick when he arrived, but it did hit him after the first few weeks. He is always pleased when friends from home visit - one stayed over last night. But with his football fixtures, he rarely gets home for a weekend in term time.

Twigg goes to the marketing office, where a large "to do" file awaits him. He works in the office as many hours as he wants - up to a maximum of 16. It is usually about ten, however. He has recently been promoted to senior assistant as part of a restructuring of the marketing department that aims to give student workers more responsibility, and his pay has risen to £4.70 an hour. This is roughly the same as he was getting in the supermarket at home where he worked for 18 months while he did A levels. Over the summer, he also worked in a bar.

He signs in and changes into a Guild of Students T-shirt printed with his title, "senior marketing assistant", and the name of the sponsor, Accenture, before going through the file. Twigg's new job involves checking poster boards around the guild, taking down old posters and putting up new ones, and distributing the student newspaper, Redbrick, as well as watching ticket sales and liaising with the bar managers about forthcoming promotions. His file is full of new posters. "I've put loads of this feminist stuff up already," he grumbles.

Twigg leaves to do a tour of the building's notice-boards, ripping down posters for events that have passed and putting up some of his new stock. There are only a few official poster sites, and all posters have to be signed off by the marketing departments. Part of his job is removing those put up unofficially.

Today there are dozens of these, all advertising a national newspaper. Twigg says they have probably been put up by student "brand managers". These are students who are paid by companies to flypost on their behalf. The guild will not allow anything to be put up without its approval and is unlikely to approve posters from brand managers because other companies pay the guild directly to advertise.

Twigg again checks the box office to see how ticket sales are going. If sales for an event are poor, he will blitz the union with posters advertising it. The guild has something on almost every night, and most events are popular, although Twigg is relatively picky about those he attends.

In any case, there is enough to do outside, thanks to Birmingham's burgeoning city-centre nightlife. "You could go out every night, but it depends what you can afford," he says. Monday was "Carnage", last night he went for a drink to celebrate someone's birthday, tonight (Wednesday) he would be going to Snobs nightclub were it not for having to work on his presentation.

The poster round done, Twigg returns to the office for another load and pops into the guild shop for Blu-Tack.

Twigg returns from his second run, discusses his future shift patterns and agrees to set up meetings with the bar managers.

He calls into the bar managers' room to set up a regular meeting time.

Back to the office, where everyone is discussing the fallout from Carnage.

Yet another round of putting up posters.

Twigg returns to the marketing office, where they want him to help hang a banner from the roof advertising the student travel company STA Travel. It has paid to have the poster made and also pays to have it put up from time to time.

Two other student assistants help cut string and attach it to the banner while they all discuss the amount of work they have that night. Twigg goes off to fetch sticky tape and returns with his payslip. "Don't you hate it when your pay arrives and you've already spent it?" he says.

The banner has been hung, despite the pouring rain, and the students return to the office where the permanent staff are all struggling to find something for them to do.

Twigg leaves, but says he will be in the following afternoon to make up for arriving late. He sets off to walk home.

Most of the decorating work has finished by the time he returns, and he can make himself something to eat in the new kitchen. He rings the head coach of the American football team to explain that he cannot make this evening's practice because of his academic work.

He finally gets around to writing his presentation. He had already prepared about half of it, but he finds that he must rewrite a lot of it and redesign the presentation slides.

Halfway through the evening, his housemates set off for Snobs, leaving him to work in peace.

His presentation finally complete, Twigg settles down to wait for his housemates' return.

Next week: Marianne Bhavsar, PA to director of the Careers Services at the University of East Anglia

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