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Wednesday 27 August 2014

An interview with the new Vice-Chancellor

A short time ago, recently graduated journalism student Simon Poynter got the opportunity to record an interview with Southampton Solent University’s new Vice Chancellor, Professor Graham Baldwin (pictured).

In the interview, which can be seen below, Graham got a chance to talk about what attracted him to Southampton, what he thinks makes a successful university and what his first impressions of the Solent campus were. Take a look:

Simon did an amazing job with the interview, so we thought it might be interesting to turn the interviewer into the interviewee and find out how he feels about the time he spent talking to the Vice Chancellor.

We also took the opportunity to ask Simon about his time at Solent, what he thinks the future might hold for the University, and what advice he would give to budding young journalists about to start their first year.

The full interview, lightly edited for clarity, can be read below:

How did you prepare for your interview with Graham?

I didn’t have a lot to go on. I went on his information page at his previous position at the University of Central Lancashire and it gave me an idea of his professional background, but that was it. I think it worked well because during the interview, which was supposed to introduce him to Solent, I was finding this stuff out for the first time too.

My questions had to reflect how little I knew about him, as would Solent. It gave it a more authentic feel at the time, whether or not it came across on screen.

Did you consult other students when thinking of questions to ask him? What did the students want to know?

The academic year had already ended when I was given the opportunity, so there was no one left to talk to! Solent’s administration had given me a good idea of what they wanted discussed in the interview but also made it clear I could ask questions too. Having finished three years at Solent and not being too aware of our previous VC, I wanted to focus on the relationship Graham would have with the students, and the direct effects of his work.

Were you nervous about the interview in the days leading up to it? Or have you had experience of interviewing people in senior positions before?

I had interviewed people in senior positions before, for example decision-makers from the BBC and regional managers from the company I did my work experience with in Belgium. But since this was an interview designed to introduce Graham to the University, and was one of the first times that anyone from the University had spoken to him, I was a little nervous.

What were your first impressions of Graham?

My first impression of Graham was perfect from a professional viewpoint. He was courteous and friendly, and we broke the ice by talking about sport – he’s a big fan of cycling and I had luckily recently caught up with the latest Tour de France news. He was just as friendly off-screen, and after the interview we had a chat about my future plans.

Was there anything you wish you could have asked him, but didn’t?

Since it was an introductory interview I didn’t want to grill him or put him on the spot about anything. We touched on issues such as value for money with the rise in tuition fees and what it might mean for students and how the University is run, but I didn’t want to dwell on the subject.

What changes do you think Graham will bring to the University?

I think that Graham will do a lot to strengthen the communication between the administration and the students.

Solent is going through big changes at the moment, both financially and physically (with the building of new blocks), so it’s an ideal time for him to make his mark on the University. An increased staff-student relationship would be the final flourish to a bigger and better Solent.

How did it feel to be the journalism student trusted to conduct the interview?

I was surprised to be asked, since I’ve been out of television journalism for a couple of years, and of course honoured, too. It wasn’t just another interview; it was an important one to the University and I was pleased to be able to give a little back.

What’s your fondest Solent memory?

My fondest memory – going back four years now – is the first week at Solent. The Journalism course had set up a special news reporting event with a staged car crash right outside the main university building, and a staged crime scene around the corner.

We had to act as investigative reporters and ask bystanders, police and repair workers (all actors) what happened and make a news report about it. It made such a change from the academia of college and was a great start to the course. There have been lots of great memories since then of course but that week set it all up really nicely.

What are your future career plans?

I’m currently establishing myself as a freelance writer. Journalism isn’t in particularly high demand at the moment, at least on a freelance basis, so I’ve fallen into PR – I’ve had a lot more work from this.

I’m currently in Finland (I moved to stay with my girlfriend) and the great thing about freelance work is that I can do it from here and still get clients in the UK. I haven’t abandoned journalism though and I’ve recently written a piece for the Helsinki Times.

What advice would you give to students just starting a journalism degree?

Be proactive. It’s not a course where you can get by on book smarts. Confidence is the key to everything – looking and sounding professional on camera, getting key interviews and drawing good answers out of a tough interviewee. It’s hard to establish that confidence later in your third year when you really need it, so throw yourself into the deep end in your first year.

Get out of your comfort zone and don’t just do phone interviews. Show your face – everyone can call or send an email, but if you knock their door, they’ll remember you.

Would you recommend your course and Solent University to others? If so, why?

I would absolutely recommend it – it was a great mix of practical work and theory. The practical stuff really lets you discover where your own strengths lie, and offers support all the way. It’s a lot of fun and you come out of every year with a new level of confidence.

Thanks for that Simon, everyone here at Solent is wishing you the best of luck in the future.

Considering following in Simon’s footsteps and pursuing a career in journalism? Check him out on Twitter and LinkedIn, and be sure to take a look at ourundergraduate journalism courses.