Kayleigh McCluskey

Current employer: National Probation Service

Current job title: Probation Officer

Current location: Exeter

"The most supportive element for me was the criminology staff. All of the lecturers were so knowledgeable, and had a lot of experience working across different fields such as police, probation, victim work and research."

Tell us what you have been doing since completing your studies.

I graduated with First Class Honours in Criminology with Criminal Justice Studies from the University of Plymouth in 2014. I was fortunate to secure a position within Victim Support as an Anti-Social Behaviour Caseworker which I went straight into from University. This was an excellent start to my career in criminal justice and I learnt valuable skills.

I then decided after a year to take my qualification further, and train to be a Probation Officer. This consisted of 15 months of work-based learning and I also completed a Graduate Diploma in Community Justice. I worked in both Magistrates and Crown Court, HMP Exeter and in the community. The training was hard, but I have developed so many transferable skills and have also increased my academic profile.

Once I had qualified, I then took a six month secondment to the Home Office, working on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, as a Victim and Survivor Liaison Manager. This involved working directly with survivors of child sexual abuse, and also gave me managerial experience and project management skills.

I am now back at the National Probation Service. I manage a case load of medium and high risk offenders both in custody and the community. My job is challenging but I love what I do and would encourage anyone with an interest in probation practice to go for it!

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

My career isn’t necessarily fun or exciting, but it is certainly rewarding. The best times I have had in my career are seeing people succeed. I often start working with people whilst they are at the lowest point in their life, and have experienced numerous difficulties. Helping them turn their lives around and go on to lead successful lives without offending is a great feeling and it keeps me going when things get stressful.

What would you do differently since graduating?

I wouldn’t have done anything differently! I am really glad that I focussed on my career and have managed to get the experience I have at such a young age.

Imagine you were about to start university again - with the benefit of hindsight - what would you now tell yourself to have done differently?

Probably to have a bit more fun! I was very focussed on my studies at University (apart from Freshers, of course) and at times it was very stressful. I think it is really important to have a good balance at University of studying and having fun.

What was your main reason for choosing to study your course at Plymouth? With hindsight how significant was this for you?

I knew that Plymouth was very good for the course I wanted to do. They offered a flexible choice of modules, and I felt like I could choose modules I was interested in and which fitted the career I wanted. I also really liked the idea of doing a work based learning module in my third year, and I was lucky enough to do mine at HMP Channings Wood in the psychology department which was a huge eye opener into what it was really like to work with offenders. I got a really good feel about the University at the open day, and for me it was an easy choice.

How did we support you in your studies? If you used any support services whilst at the University how did they enable you to get to where you are today?

The library at the University is excellent. You can use the online system to order books, extend your loan or to access E-Books online. The library itself is very big and there are lots of small private rooms you can rent out to have a quiet place to study.

The most supportive element for me was the criminology staff. All of my lecturers were so helpful, and you are allocated a tutor who you meet with regularly to discuss both personal and educational issues with. All of the lecturers were so knowledgeable, and had a lot of experience working across different fields such as police, probation, victim work and research. Nothing was ever too much to ask.

How did studying at Plymouth change your career aspirations and plans?

When I started University I did not know exactly what I wanted to do as a career. I knew I wanted to work with people, and to help those in need, but my knowledge of the Criminal Justice System itself was limited. Studying at Plymouth, I developed a deeper understanding of the different career paths I could go down. The knowledge of my lecturers meant they could give me real advice on what it is like to be a Probation Officer, which helped me make the decision I did. Whilst at Plymouth, I also took up the opportunity of being President of the Howard League for Penal Reform Society, which is a national organisation fighting for penal reform and an improved Criminal Justice System. This allowed me to get further knowledge and experience, especially with vulnerable groups such as female offenders and young people, which made me even more certain I wanted to work with these groups of individuals when I graduated.

What is your favourite memory of studying for your degree at Plymouth?

My favourite memory has to be attending the Howard League for Penal Reform National Conference in London. It was an amazing opportunity to network with professionals, fellow students, and we even met Olympic Gold medal winner Katherine Grainger who was there to support the cause. We heard from great speakers, and met individuals who had previously been involved in the Criminal Justice System but had turned their lives around and were now helping others, which was extremely inspirational.

How well did Plymouth prepare you for the challenges that you have faced, or will face, in your career?

I think Plymouth really focuses on employability and preparing you for the workplace. As well as the academic work, we had regular workshops on how to write a CV, how to prepare for interviews, and throughout our course were encouraged to develop skills in presentation, public speaking and team work which prepares you for employment. This gave me the confidence to give presentations and have successful job interviews throughout my career.

Why would you recommend undertaking a course with the University of Plymouth?

I couldn’t think of a better place to have done my degree than Plymouth. The University itself is modern, well-equipped and diverse – you meet so many people from all over the country, even the world, and make friends for life. The staff are all so helpful and encouraging, and genuinely want to see you succeed. The student union is one of the best in the country, not just for the nights in the SU bar (although they are pretty good!) but for the support services they offer as well. There is a huge number of societies you can join, whether for academic or leisure purposes, from politics to sports. Plymouth is a great city for students, with plenty of shopping, nightlife and the historical Hoe and seaside a stone's throw away.

Surveillance camera and graffiti (image courtesy of iStock - 000011792920)

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For more information about our range of Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies courses within the School of Society and Culture, please visit the school page.

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