I’m not a sales person. I have all the sales persuasion of a poorly spelled side-effects pamphlet. However, there are times when I get some insight into the life of a sales person when I have to travel up and down the country seeing various people and trying to persuade them to work with us.

Begging for collaborationsAfter several years experience and no small amount of therapy, I have finally accepted that I can’t do everything. In fact, there are some fields of science that I may actually not fully understand. I realise this will come as a shock to many. So to help me with these very small gaps in my knowledge I like to try and branch out and collaborate with people who claim to understand these things better than me.

Email and Skype is good and all but it’s not even close to as good as actually having a really good face to face chat with people, about some of the random crossovers between my science and theirs. And face to face meetings are quite hard without travelling up and down the motorways seeing all the attractive concrete buildings and cheap hotels/B&Bs the country has to offer.

Of course my first impression of any other university is its parking facilities. If you are a university planner and want to make an impression on your visitors, for the love of a deity, provide LOTS of parking. I have got into the habit of making sure I arrive at least 45 minutes early for any meeting at a university purely because I budget that time for driving round whatever insane one way system the university has to find the one remaining parking space.

Some universities have dedicated visitor parking which is great. However, the few times I’ve been to places with visitor parking allocation is almost always about 5 spaces – all of which are occupied by delivery trucks. I’ve also been to enough universities to know better than to risk it and park ‘illegally’ . No one is more aggressive with a wheel clamp than a university security officer.

University campus parking

Once on campus and parked up, then comes phase 2 of the 45 minute quest – finding the right office. Universities grow in fits and starts, new buildings go up and extensions get added on to old ones at random intervals. Whenever there is a new slew of development, someone will always have the bright idea of a new building naming or number scheme, although obviously they don’t want to cause confusion by changing the existing ones. The result is universities with a random mix of buildings with name, letters, numbers and codes in seemingly no order whatsoever.

The same is true of room numbers. Take my building for example – in my part of it the number scheme is simple, in order and by floor (1XXX – ground, 2XX -1st floor, 3XX -2nd floor). However, go down one corridor and suddenly it becomes all floors = 500 and some rooms are s5XX. I’ve asked people that have been at the university 20+ years, none have a clue why. Then we have conference rooms, some are numbered (not in any order) and others are given colours. If you were purposely trying to confuse people this is the system you should use.

But this isn’t just a problem at my University, it’s one that seems endemic in all UK universities. Maybe it’s just the result of an academic’s subconscious desire to never have their students find them…

Finally, much like sales, these meetings can sometimes be highly productive but sometimes they are a giant waste of time. Sometimes, people have amazing science but after 10mins talking, I realise that either a) they don’t have any time or b) it’s not as amazing as I originally thought. Which then means about 2 more hours of smiling politely while knowing perfectly well that this is now a total waste of my time. But 5 pointless trips are worth the 1 fascinating one, where I discover that I can start some crazy new project.


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