What’s it really like being an Academic Rep?

Although I had shied away from the opportunity to apply for the position of Course Rep as a first year, in my second year I put my worries aside and took the plunge. I wrote my manifesto and got elected as the Rep for Part 2 of BA English Language. A year later, I am still happy that I didn’t let my concerns stop me from doing what proved to be a rewarding experience. This is why I thought I would share with you some of my experiences of being a Rep.

So, what is an Academic Representative, exactly? This is an umbrella term for different types of student volunteers working under the Students’ Union, who get elected by their peers on their course to represent, and push for positive change in, their field of study. Within each cohort of Academic Reps, there are School Reps and Course Reps.

Whilst the former is a heftier role and may be centred around organising events, campaigns or developments to your whole school as well as chairing meetings with Course Reps from other departments, the latter role comes with fewer responsibilities and is focused on your specific degree.

Anyone is eligible to apply for either role within your School, regardless of how much or little experience you have. The most important things to show off in your manifesto are enthusiasm, as well as dedication to making your course run more smoothly and become a better experience for all students.

As a Course Rep, I gathered both positive and negative feedback, comments and requests for change from my peers. I did this through a number of methods, such as simply popping a message into the course group chat, privately messaging classmates, and asking my Student Support Coordinator to email out a survey to my cohort. This was the first time I had created an online survey and I learnt a lot during the process about how to maximise the impact of my questions and gain rich yet useful answers, for example by avoiding leading questions and striking a fine balance between multiple-choice questions, “agree-disagree” options, and comment boxes.

Surprisingly, though, despite all of that, the method of data collection which brought back the most useful responses was messaging students on social media. I believe this was because people felt more at ease chatting informally on an online platform they were familiar with, and so ventured into more detail and came up with important requests.

Every term, in a small meeting, I relayed these requests to the Head of Department and the Course Reps for the other year groups. Often, debates would arise about whether the changes suggested were feasible or how they could be implemented.

I noticed my critical thinking developing from participating in these meetings. In one session, following feedback that our Week 11 was too stressful, we discussed the timings of our exams in close conjunction to one another, and the benefits and drawbacks of spreading them out.

One small success I was pleased with during my time as Course Rep was managing to persuade several of my lecturers to create discussion boards on the Blackboard module pages. When the time came to get started on our assignments, many students took to the discussion boards and got their questions answered in an easy and non-intimidating way.

Being Course Rep was not only a worthwhile experience but also one that, even as someone with shocking time management, I found easy to fit around my studies. If you are considering putting yourself up for a role like this, I urge you to go for it!

Written by Sabita Burke

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