For the last year I’ve been President of the Postgraduate Society at the University of Surrey. It’s been an incredible year and something I’ll remember for a long time, but it started with a very simple idea…
Back when I started my PhD a year and a half ago, there was a Postgraduate Society on campus, but it was very small and didn’t seem to hold many events. It certainly wasn’t the heart of the postgraduate community.
I thought this was a real shame, because although postgraduates are encouraged to join other Societies and take part in Union events, it does seem that when you do, you are encroaching on the undergraduate activities slightly.
For example, I’ve been a casual member of the Climbing club since my first year, but as a postgraduate I do suddenly feel a bit out of place amongst all the freshers talking about going into town for the first time. It’s not that you are excluded, it’s just a bit awkward.
And that’s just me, what about the postgraduates with families, or those who commute into Guildford every day? Societies often don’t consider these factors when organising their own sessions or events so they can often be very difficult to attend for some people.
I also think that this feeling of being overlooked is what makes most postgraduates feel like the Student’s Union isn’t for them.
A Postgraduate Society can change all that.
By considering what is easiest for researchers and masters students, events can be organised at convenient times and places, with the option to leave early if necessary. It might also be good to have less of a focus on alcohol, because we don’t always have the time for a hangover.
The current society seemed like such a missed opportunity to me.
So I ran for President. The election was a democracy, but only 10 people attended the meeting, and I was uncontested. The other newly-elected committee members were just as enthusiastic as I was, and we got to work right away.
Our first event was a Games Night, held in the University bar, which is more chilled out than the SU bar. Our idea was a casual evening with giant jenga, pool, darts, cards and board games – allowing people the chance to chat and get to know each other.
I remember just before the event thinking that if just one postgraduate shows up who none of us knew before then it was a success. And sure enough, not one minute after the start time a guy came up to me and asked if he was in the right place for the postgraduate games night. I was chuffed :) And then another postgraduate showed up… and another… and another… until the bar was filled with everyone playing games, drinking and chatting. It was a success!
The committee were all convinced that postgraduates wouldn’t be as interested in alcohol-related events as undergraduates, and would want something different (I didn’t say civilized, just different :P). So we came up with a list of events we could hold that wouldn’t be all about drinking: BBQs, outdoor cinema, quiz night, lunches, bowling, ice skating, Thorpe Park, etc.
We started with the BBQ. Posters went up, emails went out, and we waited. We held the BBQ on the balcony of the bar, and we filled the place.
While we had everyone in one place we did some market research and asked them what events they’d attend from our list of ideas (which we’d added Pub Crawl too just for the hell of it), and the results were interesting…
Pub Crawl came out on top! Who’d have thought it! So sure enough, we organised a pub crawl. But with a difference… We called it “Pub Thesis”.
The idea being that at each pub you would ‘write’ another chapter of your thesis. Starting with a title, then taking a photo of a table with something on (a table of contents), then getting a photo with someone you’ve never met before (introduction), and so on. It was meant to be a good laugh. Little did we know…
We started in the first bar, and by the time we left to go to bar two we’d gathered over 130 postgrads! Far too many to do pub thesis, but who cares! Wow, just wow. (It didn’t stop a few people from tweeting though)
By this point we’d shown the potential of the society. And we went from strength to strength…
By the end of the year we had put on 17 events and had over 300 members on our mailing list. The Postgraduate Society was back!
But that’s not all, every year the Student’s Union host the Student Awards – an event where outstanding students and societies are celebrated. To my disbelief, the Postgradute Society had been nominated for TWO awards. Student-Run Service of the Year, and Society Improvement and Development Award.
Societies are nominated by students, so this meant that we must’ve made an impact to some people. It was an incredible feeling to just be nominated.
But then the awards night came, and not only did we win both of the awards we’d been short-listed for, but we also won the most prestigious award any society can achieve – “Society of the Year”.
It was such an amazing evening, and it proves that over the past year we’ve really put Postgraduates on the Student Union map!
We recently had our Annual General Meeting and a whole new committee has been voted in. I know they are going to do a fantastic job and I can’t wait to see what events they come up with! The whole Surrey Postgraduate community has grown closer together this year, and it was great to be a part of that. The pressures of a PhD can wear you down, and it’s really important to have a society like this that fosters a sense of community for encouragement, support and, sometimes, a good drink!