I took a call from a pushy mum this morning that left me feeling distinctly ill at ease. The woman's daughter is applying for university (Oxford, in fact) and will have to fill in a UCAS form, including the "personal statement". Would I be available in early September?
Gut feeling told me this was a job not to accept. Thinking on my feet, I said I'd be away at a conference for the whole first week of that month (partly true - I will be at a conference but only for 3 days). Pushy mum persisted - her daughter really needs someone to help her with her statement. I politely but firmly told her I'd feel uncomfortable taking on a job I feel should be the student's sole responsibility. I also informed her that I don't take on editorial work for students unless they have the permission of their tutor.
Pushy mum remained undeterred and said she wouldn't be asking me to rewrite anything or even change anything, well except for the odd word here and there (if that was the case why was she trying to hire me?). Then she let slip that UCAS had told her they had no objection to candidates receiving parental help. I pointed out that there was a big difference between a parent going through a personal statement and hiring a professional wordsmith. And I mentioned that I am bound by the code of practice of my professional body (not to mention my own moral code). She asked if I knew any other editors who would help. I do, I said, but commented that they too would be probably be unwilling to take on a job like this.
I was adamant in my refusal and by now distinctly irritated. If the daughter is bright enough to apply for Oxford, surely she is bright enough to write a decent personal statement.
But I really resented the enormous pressure this woman was putting on me to cave in. She was relentless in her attempts to dismantle every barrier I put up to taking on such a job (even offering to pay me double my normal rate!). In the end, I suggested she buy a booklet called Perfect Statements and then call me again in late August if she really felt her daughter still needed help. Not that I have any intention of helping, but if she does call I'll be able to say I'm too busy to take on this job at short notice. I hate being railroaded - I can be very stubborn and the more someone tries to get me to agree to do something I have already said is ethically unacceptable to me, the more I am going to refuse.