How did I manage being PG rep whilst doing a PhD?

Managing my time as PG rep was sometimes quite difficult as I taught two seminar groups and had the PhD to be cracking on with at the same time.  However, with effective planning and prioritisation I managed to juggle all of my commitments.  The Students’ Union support staff were also very understanding and would assist me in any way they could to ensure that my academic work was not affected by my role.  The same can be said for the team in the Doctoral School, who were always willing and enthusiastic about supporting the role.  As well as this, Union meetings tended to be in the early evening, which meant I could maintain my working routine in the day as normal and attend Union commitments when I could at the end of the day.

What did I achieve in my role?

My proudest achievements whilst working as PG Rep was building a connection between the Union and the Doctoral School and raising awareness within the Union of the PGR experience.  Throughout my role I sought to ensure that staff and full-time student representatives at the Students’ Union actively considered PGR students as well as the rest of the student body.  This would apply during policy considerations, for example supporting strike action for PhD teaching pay, and other initiatives such as organising informative discussions with the Union Advice Centre to ensure they understand the unique challenges PGR students face.  Collaborating with other reps to run events was also a positive experience, for example, the Women’s Rep and I ran a showcase event of PG research on women’s history in celebration of women’s history month.  The Union is often viewed as something for undergraduates, I believe my work with the Union and the Doctoral School has helped to start changing that SU culture.

I have also done a lot of work to raise awareness of PGR Student Wellbeing during my time as PG Rep.  This included setting up a Hallam Guild Group with the Doctoral School which sought to promote positive approaches and attitudes to PGR wellbeing.  We also conducted a research project with the Students’ Union to investigate PGR wellbeing at SHU.  This data has proved useful for understanding the extent to which PGRs feel happy and healthy at SHU and has helped to inform how the university could work to improve this in the future.

Other achievements include strengthening the PGR community at SHU by supporting initiatives such as the Postgraduate Research Society and the Postgraduate Women in Academia Network.  This support was given both financially by successfully applying for funding from the SU on behalf of these groups, as well as promoting their activities via social media, and offering any other help I could within the remit of my role.  Part of strengthening the PGR community also involved organising socials including a Prosecco and Pizza Night for Welcome Week, and a PGR Breakfast at the SU.

What did I enjoy/ gain professionally and personally?

The best part of my role was being given the opportunity to make the PGR voice heard, when on an institutional level it feels it often isn’t.  I really benefitted personally from witnessing such a positive response to my efforts from the SU and University staff to attempts to improve the PGR experience.  This made me feel valued as a student and as a union representative.  I also had the opportunity to meet some wonderful student representatives in similar roles, some of whom I remain friends with today.  This also expanded my professional networks which could prove helpful for me in the future.

This role also contributed to my professional development in that my time management and organisational skills were tested, I developed my ability to be assertive and my leadership skills.  It also gave me the confidence to make myself known and heard.  The role has certainly enriched my academic CV, and I believe that having this experience will help give me an edge in the highly competitive ECR job market.

Why do I think the PG Rep Role is important?

Completing a research degree is tough, regardless of personal experiences or institution.  It is certainly the most challenging opportunity I have ever undertaken.  At a university that is so heavily focussed on teaching and the undergraduate experience these unique challenges that PGR’s face can seem particularly difficult at times.  That is why having a PG rep is so important.  Our academic work can be isolating by nature, but knowing that there is someone who is facing similar challenges to you who is also fighting our corner is invaluable.  That is why it is important for all of us that someone, if they are willing and able, takes the baton.  The community can only benefit from it.  We need you!