What is it like to be President of a Students’ Union?
To sum it up- it’s the best time of your life!
Being President does not start the day you take office, some might say the process begins at least 12 months before. Your first hurdle is getting elected and in order to do that you need to be networking and socialising and getting your name around campus. The most popular ways of doing this is through being a committee member in a society or sports club; taking up academic rep positions (School Rep/Faculty Rep/Course Rep); Part-time Officer positions; or Student Trustee. Not only do these activities help you to build a great network but it gives you a chance to prove yourself, gives you a chance to get experience and also to figure out your manifesto.
When you take up any position of responsibility it is very important to manage expectations but also to ensure you deliver on what you promise and if you can’t to explain why you haven’t. This is your opportunity to gain credibility, once you have that, you will have advocates, who will promote you during your election campaign.
The second hurdle is your election campaign. If you have spent the last 12 months networking and listening, you will know the problems students are facing and building a solid and realistic manifesto will be a breeze. Now you need to communicate it. For this you must get out and about, listening to students and speaking to students you have never spoken to before. You will need to get up in front of lecture theatres full of students and give them good reasons to vote for you. You will need to think of ideas that really are out of the box. This campaign is essentially a big marketing campaign of yourself and your manifesto.
Once you have successfully won your position, you can’t just put your feet up and relax. You have probably taken a considerable amount of time away from writing essays or working on your final year project so ensure you are completely up to date- there would be nothing worse than achieving this massive success only to let your degree slip! Also, in order to make your year as President as successful as possible, begin to get to know the current President and staff members of the Students’ Union. The current President will have lots of useful information and your induction is short so make the most of it whilst they are still around. The staff will be the people that ensure you deliver on your manifesto successfully so get to know them and get their feedback on your ideas too!
Day one in office! This is an amazing achievement in itself so be proud but remain grounded. First impressions are really important and there are a lot of people you will be meeting for the first time. You need to come across professional yet approachable to ensure you are taken seriously. You will begin your induction and learn lots and lots of new things and meet tonnes and tonnes of new people- it’s tiring and a bit of information overload so lots of down time in between is definitely necessary.
You normally take office during July, in the university calendar; this is your quiet time. It’s probably also the most important time of your year in office. Use it to plan how you will deliver on your manifesto, get the attention of people who will be too busy in September and map out your year. One thing I wish I knew when I was President was just how quickly the year goes by and so having solid plans is the best way to achieve as many things as possible during your year. It’s also important to remember, other people have agendas that they will try to push on to every new President. Never commit to something without thinking it through and getting some advice. Remember- this is your year not theirs!
The summer is so exciting, there are hopes, dreams and chance at every turn. It’s hard not to feel like all the new stuff is scary but you WILL get your head around it all and then things will fall in to place.
The best thing about this year is that not any one day is the same. There are lots of meetings, lots of consulting students and the best bit is fighting for changes and seeing them happen and finding out how much difference it makes to your students.
Every day is different but everyday you need to remember you are in politics. You have to have a different face for each different audience- the university, the students, the Union staff and external bodies. There is no off switch on this position- you are representing students and so your actions can always have consequences.
The enormity of how much you have achieved will not hit you until it comes to the end of your time in office and you reflect on everything you have done. Or when you are in a job interview and the interviewer asks you about your year as President. It’s those achievements, memories and moments that cannot be put in to words.
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