As I’m coming to the end of my year as PG Academic Officer, it’s time to reflect on my experiences as a student representative.
Being the first PG Academic Officer was exciting, but scary at the same time. It gave me the chance to define the role without having to live up to too many expectations. However, this often left me wondering where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. The University has always overlooked postgraduates, so I am delighted I was able to represent you and keep reminding the University that postgraduates matter just as much as undergraduates. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Students’ Union, but I am now looking forward to a new chapter in my life. Doing a PhD and working as a Student Officer at the same time took its toll on my mental and physical health, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I have always been open about my struggles with mental illness, which is why one of my priorities focused on the wellbeing of PGRs and PGTs. Over the last few months I have been advocating for PGR mental health within Durham University. I was so excited when the University secured funding for a project to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of PGR students by focusing on the postgraduate research supervisory relationship. The recognition that the supervisory relationship can be both a powerful vehicle for the identification of mental health difficulties and a major driver of wellbeing throughout the postgraduate research experience was a crucial step in the right direction. I am hopeful that this research can make a real difference. This project is one of the really positive outcomes of the work that has been taking place between Durham SU and the University. Furthermore, our very first PG Mental Health Matters Campaign received a lot of good feedback and highlights the importance of talking about mental health to fight stigma.
Another project I worked on involved the quality of supervision of PhD students. There seems to be a huge variability of experience depending on the department and college – it almost seems like a lottery whether you’re going to have a good time or not. This leaves PGRs in a very vulnerable position when things go wrong. With this in mind, we completed a piece of research focused on students’ experiences with their supervisors. We received a lot of responses and many of them were positive: students highlighted that their supervisors were very supportive, the feedback was constructive and they worked in a collaborative environment. However, there were some reports which were very concerning and I urged the University to take these seriously and consider employing an ombudsman. As you can imagine, this is a bigger project, whichis still in progress. This year we completed the groundwork and I’m really hopeful that it will get taken forward.
Study space has been an ongoing issue and I have been involved in various projects, such as the development of the new Teaching and Learning Centre (due for completion by 2019/20) and the refurbishment and expansion of the library (due by the end of this year). The University’s strategy aims to deliver education that is challenging, enabling and transformative to offer students the chance to fulfil their full career potential. The new Centre for Teaching and Learning will host a range of learning environments and technologies. I am also very excited and relieved that the University finally agreed to provide lecture capture, despite some resistance from academics. Lecture capture is an important tool for accessibility and an acknowledgement of different learning styles. Durham SU has been working with the University on this project for many years and I am so happy that it is finally happening!
Despite enjoying my year as a student representative, I can’t ignore the downsides. At the last University Council meeting, Megan put a paper forward addressing the unacceptable behaviour where student representatives, especially women, have been delegitimised by a number of University colleagues. Many times I sat in a room being treated like a child, dismissed and laughed at. This behaviour must be challenged publicly and stopped. As leaders in our community we want to make Durham better and a place for all students, and this kind of behaviour is counterproductive.
Last but not least, I want to say thank you to our fantastic and dedicated course and faculty reps. They ensure that your voice gets heard and make suggestions for improvements to the Departments and University. I also want to thank Richard Bruce, our Education Policy Coordinator. Without him I wouldn’t have made it through this year. He’s been there for me when I needed a good rant or any last minute advice on papers that once again were submitted late by the University. The Students’ Union is lucky to have him!
So thank you again for giving me the opportunity to represent you this year – it’s been great! #overandout