Felix: For the people that don’t know, can each of you explain what your role is.
James: I’m DPCS. My role is two-fold in looking after our 370-odd clubs and societies, their creation, their day-to-day running and, when things go wrong, basically helping them out of a pickle and supporting them through that. It’s also to do with the representation side, which we all work on. When a club, society or general student has an issue that they want to make better - be it about spaces, be it about the activities theyre doing, be it about how College is supporting them - taking that to College, working with them and trying to make that change.
Becky: I’m DPW. I work with College quite a lot to look at some of the student services and look at how they can be improved and how they work for students and look at different policies and things that are in place around welfare. I also work with two teams of students: the wellbeing reps, which are really important because College is actually talking about wellbeing now rather than being a bit afraid of it. Students are talking about wellbeing, which is really exciting. Then I also work with the Liberation and Community officers, who we’re trying to build a bigger platform for.
Dan: Hi I’m Dan, I’m the President of the School of Medicine’s Students’ Union. I look after the Students’ Union along with 19 other volunteer officers. Our main role is to ensure that all of medical school life runs smoothly in ICSM and then also ensuring that the unique interests of medical students and BSC Medical Biosciences students are represented and taken into account at all levels of the College, Union and the faculty.
Claudia: Hi I’m Claudia, I’m DPFS. My role comes in two parts: the finance part is looking at the general overall Union finances, contributing to annual budgeting as well as looking at our investment strategies and where our money goes. I also look at club finances, so helping advise on event budgets, financial planning and helping them out with any day-to-day transactions. The other half is the services side; looking at commercial services within the Union, what else we provide in terms of health and safety in the Union and then also working with College, looking at the kind of special projects they’ve got going around 24 hour vending, looking at catering, looking at how sustainable the College is.
Rob: I’m Rob, I’m the Union President. I probably touch on a little bit of everything in the way that, in the Union, I support all my Deputy Presidents and then also I take control of things such as governance and democracy. In terms of what I tackle at College, my main role is probably ensuring that the student voice is heard at all levels. So all the meetings all the way up to top of College Council to individual one-on-ones in areas that we really want to prioritise - working on things like widening participation, wellbeing, educational reform and so on.
Alejandro: I’m Alejandro, I’m this year’s DPE. My role is similar to the other OTs in that it has two parts. The first is to lead and manage the Academic Representation Network. That’s a network of over 500 volunteers and that consists of everything from the election process, through training and support, right up to making sure that they’re embedded in decision making at all levels; that includes departments, faculties and College-wide. The other side of my role is representing all students at the higher levels - influencing College policy to improve it and keep students at the centre and essentially helping College to shape some of their projects.
How have you found it so far?
Becky: It’s been really good. It’s been surprising that College actually listens to us. Basically, I didn’t expect College to listen to us at all but College can’t listen to 19,500 people at the same time, they have to listen to one voice. They can’t reply to every single student’s e-mail so it’s actually really important to talk to us and then what we say is really important because College does make big decisions based on what we say.
Claudia: I’d agree with Becky, I think the most surprising thing for me has been working with College, how much they listen to you.
Do the rest of you think similarly, you’ve been surprised with how much interaction you’ve had with College?
Alejandro: Not just the level of interaction but the level of partnership that exists that I didn’t think existed when I first went into the role. So, like Becky, I didn’t think they’d listen as much as they do and it’s hard to quantify that but the way that I would describe it is, when any of us are sitting around a table with a bunch of College staff, we’re an equal at that table and our voice is just as relevant and important.
Over the course of the year, how much change do you think you can actually effect?
Claudia: I think we all had our manifestos coming in but, although they’re things we want to achieve and, if we solely focus on that, we could achieve most of them, coming into the role, I’ve noticed certain issues and bigger priorities so some points on my manifesto have been put on the side to address bigger issues. I think it’s important to do things that are relevant to our current students. My priorities have changed throughout the year, addressing other things.
Rob: There’s the projects that are handed over from a previous year, which can be of varying scale. It could be just a little thing that needs a tick-off. To be honest, the main project that I have to do at the moment is a disciplinary review, which was delightfully handed over by Chippy. That now takes up a lot of my time. I do think that, actually, we’d be surprised with how much we can tick off our manifestos. The first month, you’re figuring out what the hell are we doing and the second month, all of a sudden, you get that wave of all the easy wins that you can have, with the little changes happening one after the other. After that, things slowed down, but the second month for me was a really productive one. There are things that seem like they will be a big fight and, for whatever reason, you meet the right person in College and it works or it could be that there’s just loops and loops and loops. My biggest frustration so far has been the excuse, “we’re doing it because we’ve always done it this way” or “it’s a step forward”, when actually we’re like, “well if you’re making a step forward, let’s make the right step forward”. So, in that way, it’s been frustrating and that’s been both in the Union and in College. Probably, just because of my role, it’s mainly in College. It’s one of my largest frustrations of being there.
Give me a description of what a typical day or week looks like.
Alejandro: I go to a lot of meetings. We all go to a lot of meetings but, Rob and I in particular, go to a lot of meetings. The idea behind that is to get the student voice and opinion embedded into all levels of decision making. I go to certain meetings to try and help departments to develop action plans and then also to keep them accountable to those action plans. The whole idea behind that is just to improve the local student experience in every department. The academic reps are heavily involved in that as well, they’re working with departmental staff to develop those action plans, together with all the work that’s happening with the curriculum review to just improve the overall situation. But a typical week, I’ll be working on some of that, I’ll be doing some Union projects, we might have something like Union Council or Board of Trustees or a sub-committee which requires some additional preparation. In one day I can train reps and work with reps, so that’s a very local level of working, and then, later on in the day I’ll have a meeting with the OTs to discuss a Union project. So it’s all different levels that I can work on and any day could look like that or it could be different.
Rob: Things rotate round because of how many College meetings all rotate on a monthly basis. Probably about a third to half of my time is spent in those meetings, which can range from anything from a half an hour quick chat with someone to 3-6 hour stints in certain committees on all sorts of topics. The project work fits in around that. Also, because of Union Board and Union Council, quite a lot of the mandated things tend to end up coming toward my direction so I have to fit that into my timetabling as well. It’s tough because it’s so variable.
Claudia: I would say I probably have a more average month than an average week. I think one of the most important things to highlight is that the OTs meet up once a week for at least two hours and we catch eachother up on all the different projects. We get eachother’s views on things and then we also discuss any papers coming up to any of the meetings happening that week so we have a kind of collaborative view. We’ve thought of the student perspectives from all different thoughts and gathered our group’s knowledge. The rest of the week, it varies between doing e-mails and meeting with a lot of clubs and societies to talk over event budgets, looking at POs, dealing with financial issues. You won’t always find me at my desk because, like the other sabbs, we have meetings we’re going in and out of.
Dan: None of my days are regular 9-5. I’ll either have early stuff so I attempt to finish early. A lot of it going between campuses, meeting with faculty students. Just ensuring all of the volunteer officers under me aren’t overburdened. I can facilitate them with any projects they want to work on. If there’s anything that they need help with then ensuring that I can help with that. A lot of it is quite student-facing but it completely varies day on day. Some days I have absolutely nothing, I can sit down, smash through some emails, do general admin, but then some days are lots of meetings with different stakeholders. It’s nice to keep it quite varied to be honest, doesn’t get monotonous at all.
Becky: I probably get two or three students coming to me with their individual welfare related problems. They can be really serious ones, really little ones. Sometimes people come to me when their friend has an issue and they want to know what to do. Then I tend to be in touch with the wellbeing reps at some point. Normally one of them or some of them have some sort of questions or something they want to know and so, between me and someone in the Education & Welfare team, that question is normally answered. There will normally be something the Liberation & Community officers want to do so there will be something around that. Maybe it’s an event that I’ll help them do or an event that I go to to go and see what’s going on. Then there’s Union projects that are happening.
James: My days are split a bit reactively and a bit proactively. It’s quite nice, I get the consistency of working on projects much similar to a uni project - plan it, execute it, evaluate it at the end. But also the chaos of students getting up to things, which is great fun. It’s also quite worth saying, a normal week for all of us as a team is quite an odd concept.
How have you found working together as a team?
Becky: We’re all quite different, we all have our strengths and our weaknesses but they seem to work quite well together. We all have very good knowledge bases of different areas that also gel quite well together. We haven’t had any major fallouts yet, which is pretty impressive.
Claudia: We’re quite willing to challenge eachother. I’ve noticed Becky challenges a lot on accessibility so I’ve actually become better at challenging now College when they mention something. Trying to think of all the OT’s perspectives, “have you thought about this in terms of policy? Have you thought of this in terms of accessibility? Have you thought about how it’s going to affect all the clubs and societies that use this?” Its quite nice. I think we push eachother quite well.
Do you have any specific plans for getting more involvmenet and engagement across the student body with the Union?
Becky: One of our team goals is communication. It’s definitely something that’s on our radar and something that we’re trying to work on to improve. We’re trying different methods of communication to see what the students are interested in. We’re trying to engage people that we’ve previously not been as good at engaging - post-grads, people on different campuses.
Claudia: I think communication is two things. We have team and Union goals of how to do it but also it can be quite personal for communicating what we do as an OT or a sabb. We’re each trying our own different styles in some ways because I would say the best way to connect with someone is actually feeling like they’re not a robot just telling you stuff. You actually feel a bit more of a personal connection, so your methods of communication change there. I’ve tried it with writing Felix articles and blogging. We’re open to ideas.
Alejandro: We have a feeling of what we could do better and we’re all working on that individually. I think the postgrad one is an example of where it’s a systematic problem that we have to not just tackle in throwing more messages at them but actually asking yourselves “why don’t we get postgrads engaged?” They’re not very well represented at council, that’s a contributing factor.
Sum up the first term of being a sabb. What have your prioritised this term?
Dan: It’s been a really steep learning curve but a really fulfilling experience being able to work with a bunch of really passionate individuals from a lot of different backgrounds trying to achieve mostly a common cause. Trying to empower my volunteers to get done what they want. I can’t say I’ve done it correctly all of the time but I’ve tried my best. Also trying to ensure that the new curriculum that’s coming in next year and one of the national exams that’s coming in is consulted with students as much as possible.
James: Let’s start with a cliché. It’s been a whirlwind. It’s not at all been like what it was advertised as.
Alejandro: I didn’t expect to be so challenged and to learn as much as I have learned. This role is like a supercharged graduate scheme in that you are thrown into the mix and you have to pick things up and you have a lot of responsibility from day one, which is great.
Rob: Cliché-wise It’s definitely like trying to go on to a moving treadmill in that, if you don’t hit the ground absolutely running, you’re going to fall flat on your face. In terms of what I’ve prioritised, graduate student engagement, that’s a big bit of work that we’re going through. Progress is being made.
Claudia: A big priority I want to tackle this year is looking at our food supply on campus. Looking at the variety we offer, especially in College after certain hours, there isn’t much available for people studying late at night so we’re looking into 24 hour vending.
Who has the most banter in the group chat?
Becky: NOT CLAUDIA