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So, you’ve just arrived in Lancaster. Tearfully waving goodbye to your parents, you’re now stuck in a brand-new place with no friends and no idea what happens next. From where your first lectures are, to how you should email your professors, everything seems confusing and scary. You feel like you need a place you can call home, a community. That’s where societies come in!
So, back to that image of you, unsure of what comes next, and startled by all the novelty around you at your first week of university. To help people like you, the Lancaster University Students’ Union (or, Lancaster SU) puts on a handy event (this year on Thursday, 3rd October) called the ‘Freshers’ Fair’. This is where all the societies affiliated with the Union are crammed into two big buildings, each with a little stall and a few members of their exec. waiting to talk to you! There will be a plethora of friendly faces, useful information and even a few freebies to get your hands on if you’re lucky.
Of course, like the rest of Freshers’ Week, you’ll be bombarded with a load of new information that, somehow, you’re supposed to remember. A lot of societies will give out handy little fliers with all their details on, but some will not, and others might not have even thought to produce any!
It’s important when going around the Fair, to prioritise effectively. Freshers are typically quite unaware of how much they’re signing up for, or how little they’ll want to get involved with. Deep down, you know that you’re not going to have the time or motivation to juggle three separate societies in your first year, so don’t oversubscribe yourself! It’s a good idea to have one or two groups to join, but I would advise not to go too far.
Now, I’ve been involved with a fair few student societies in my time at Lancaster. From academic to sporting organisations, I’ve got some experience. With that in mind, I feel dutybound to give you, fresh-faced Fresher, a few handy tips about societies from what I know.
My first piece of advice: some societies might make money off you. There’s nothing really unethical about it (which is why I’m not calling it something more alarming like a ‘scheme’!), but often, societies require an entry fee -something to stay alert to! Given that we’ve all been Freshers in the past, we’re aware of how those right at the start of their university career don’t realise how much (or little) they’ll typically get involved with societies.
With that in mind, some societies will try to encourage you to ‘sign up’ to their group (which you do via the Students’ Union website) – at a price, of course. They know there’s a possibility you won’t ever show any interest again, but they want to capitalise on your initial curiosity in their society by making you pay up as soon as possible.
I should clarify: don’t be put off by society sign-up fees! They’re essential to the upkeep of the society and mean they can put on lots of interesting events. All I want to say is that you shouldn’t part with your cash too prematurely.
Second, I want to give some advice about what it’s actually like being on an exec, and what it entails. Being elected by your peers to a position is, of course, a privilege, as is being trusted with the possibility to make a real impact on the lives of students interested in your niche. What’s more, being an exec member comes with responsibility, and all too often that isn’t realised by those who take it for granted. It’s important to care about the quality of what you do – otherwise, your society will get a reputation for being sub-par, and the interest in it will shrink.
This being said, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, in the end, being a member of an exec committee should be an enjoyable and fruitful experience. It should be fun to put on events, to increase the pleasure derived by those within your society in its niche, and to build the experiences you’ll cherish after you graduate. I fear, however, that is disregarded by too many – including me, sometimes!
It’s very easy to get sucked into student politics (not the student political societies, that is!), drama, and other silly nonsense. It’s even easier to take yourself far too seriously and consider yourself to be of such great importance just because you hold a position in society. Personally, I’ve seen plenty of occasions where the ‘power’ gets to people’s heads, and they end up making insensible and, more to the point, unwarranted, choices.
As a general point, teams work best when they’re built with equals working toward a shared goal. Successful collaboration needs mutual respect, a shared vision, a passion, and a work ethic. It also requires that you treat people as people. It’s not OK to demand something of somebody at 10 pm, or when they’re visiting home, or if they have a deadline coming up. Equally, it’s not OK to fail to meet your role’s requirements: you sign up for the workload you get, and when it’s managed well, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get things done.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend that you join a society. They’re wonderful little groups of enthusiastic, helpful, and encouraging people who are all ready and waiting for you to join them. Being a member of an exec committee should be a delightful experience and provide you with a bunch of fond memories for you to look back on. Take every opportunity you can with two hands, after all, what do you really have to lose?