Interning with digital communications

Nick Simon
Thursday 3 August 2017

Four weeks ago, the digital communications team gained an extra temporary team member. Nope, not talking about Gunner, the dog Carley sometimes brings in. Unfortunately for them, they were stuck with me, Nick Simon, a third-year geography student.

A Norwegian elkhound wearing a graduation robe with a camera around his neck.
Not an intern. Gunner, the Norwegian elkhound with attached dog cam!

What was a geography student doing in the digital communications team I hear you ask? Well was there as part of the Careers Centre summer internship scheme. After university, I am looking to go into marketing and branding. Considering the digital communications team is responsible for all the outward facing components of both the website and the social media channels, it was a perfect match for what I want to do.

So what have I been up to for the last four weeks? Apart from looking after Gunner occasionally, (the semi-resident team Norwegian elk hound who played a staring roll as the ‘dog cam’ at graduation) I have been working hard on two different projects. The main project Carley assigned me was pre-project research for a redesign of the Study Abroad and Collaborations team website.

Study abroad

St Andrews, with its strong international reputation, takes in hundreds of study abroad students from all around the world. These students stay for either a semester or a full year and face the imposing task of having to jump into courses with potentially very little understanding of the Scottish academic system or the many weird St Andrews student traditions. In addition to inbound students, many St Andrews students head abroad each year on a variety of international work placements or embedded semesters at other universities.

So where do you start with a web redesign project? With the current state of the website of course. My first task was going through the hundreds of pages which fall under /studyabroad. Within these pages, I noted what works and what doesn’t, and how easy or complicated it is to find simple information, such as on a study abroad programme within Europe. The other question I bore in mind was: is any important content buried in an obscure location, and can it be linked to more efficiently?

After analysing our current Study Abroad website, I repeated the steps with some of St Andrews’ UK competitors, researching how their websites present Study Abroad information. I also noted down any stand-out features which we could potentially incorporate into the redesigned website.

The next step was mapping out the current student website. All I can honestly say is – wow. Having studied geology for my first two years at university before switching to geography, I was pretty confident in my mapping ability. Boy was I wrong! Website mapping is an intensive task which requires you to note down every single link on a page and its destination.

It starts with a simple map:

Study abroad website mindmap, the simplified version with only a few branches

and ends up looking something like this…

An extremely complicated mindmap of the Study Abroad website showing hundreds of different branches

My final task for the study abroad pre-project work was writing a basic Google Analytics report on the /studyabroad website. Google Analytics is fantastic: it gives you a massive mountain of data on absolutely everything possible to measure on a website. The challenge with so much data is how to narrow it down to the most important statistics which present relevant useful data for a redesign project.

Social media

The University maintains several social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the main platforms. One of the highlights of my internship was getting to work with John, who only joined the team in June, to boost our presence on Instagram. The strategy we came up for this was to run a series of student takeovers over the summer, sharing a few images taken by students during the course of their internships.

The University's Instagram front page showing the images taken by students on their internships abroad

The current focus for the Instagram student takeover is the international opportunities students get to enjoy, and a few St Andrews-based students are sharing their internship experiences and photos. The campaign, which has been running for two weeks now, is already showing some success with a growth in reach and engagement for the University’s Instagram page.


Overall, the biggest challenge of the internship wasn’t learning about what the digital communications team can do, but what they can’t do. The digital communications team is lucky to have a wide range of skills spread among developers, content writers, and project managers, which allows them to overcome almost any problem. The limiting factor appears to be primarily time. Within each sprint (a two-week period), hours are assigned to tasks and carefully accounted for to ensure maximum productivity. This also means that whilst working on a project, the DCT can only work on content and design which is within the scope of the project.

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